The stories of the woman to be baptized, and the woman
who will baptize her encapsulate the risks and rewards of
being a Christian from Iran.
Lydia* greets arrivals at the door. She along with her husband Paul pastor this tiny plant. On any given Sunday there
might be 20 to 40 people. (Of the estimated 15- to 20,000 Iranians in Calgary, less than 1 per cent are Christians.) Some members also meet in homes for Bible studies. Some fear attending a
public church service out of concern for repercussions for their
family back home in Iran.
Choruses in Farsi set to beautiful Iranian music fill the room.
Lydia and Dana, the woman to
be baptized, appear in long white
gowns bearing a red cross. They are
helped into the hot tub. “I saw lots
of miracles in my life over the past
few years and I have been waiting
for this day,” Dana says. “I am sure
today that I am one of God’s children.” Her face radiates joy.
Dana’s life turned around after a
dream in which she saw Christ – a
common phenomenon with Muslims who convert. Because dreams
are held in high regard in Islam, they
seem to provide an opportunity for
the Holy Spirit to speak into the lives
of Muslims about Jesus Christ.
Pastor Paul blows a shofar, a
Jewish horn sounded as a warning,
a call to battle and a celebration of
victory. On this Sunday it is a spiritual victory.
Dana, a single mother, has spent three years being discipled
by Lydia. Like almost all Iranians she was raised a Muslim.
When she came to Canada she learned about Christianity.
“My baptism today shows that I really want to be a fol-
lower,” she says. “It is not enough just to read the Bible. I want
to live my full life for Jesus.”
It is music to Lydia’s ears. She began a home Bible study in
2006 in Calgary, and has not stopped teaching the Bible and
reaching out to Iranians. She translates Bible study materials
from Bible Study Fellowship International into Farsi.
She met her husband Paul at Bible College in Alberta.
Both are ordained by the Christian Brethren. Paul also has
a day job. So far, they have borne the bulk of the church’s
“I was a fanatic Muslim evangelist,” shares Lydia, whose life
trajectory resembles that of the Apostle Paul’s. Where she once
fiercely promoted Islam and hated Christians, she eventually
converted to Christianity. She has helped several family members leave Iran to find safe haven and Christianity in Europe.
“I was trained for Allah in the Islamic Army,” she says. Train-
ing for combat, including the use of firearms, self-defence, mil-
itary tactics, and misleading the enemy begins as part of regular
curricula in grade school in Iran.
Though Lydia was prepared to go to the front lines in
Iran’s war with Iraq, as a young teenager she questioned her
loyalty to the Iranian regime when her best friend was killed
for disagreeing with the government. She left Iran, making
the hazardous journey to Turkey, Greece and finally Canada,
alone. In Calgary she entered a church one night where she
experienced Christ for the first time.
Now growing the ministry is Lydia’s
passion. She is searching for a larger
church space for Shaban Niku to meet.
“Those who are sold out to Jesus want a
place to worship,” she says, Meeting in
someone’s home is not an option. People
fear their house will be in jeopardy.
Some Iranians fear interactions with
the government here because of their ex-
perience with the Iranian government.
Some worry if they returned to Iran to vis-
it, they would not be able to get back out.
“We have had some experiences where
people have said, ‘If you get baptized,
we will tell the authorities in Iran,’ ” says
Paul. Others want to associate with Chris-
tianity because they believe it will help
them with their immigration process.
“Iranians are the most open to the
gospel of any of the other people from
Muslim background countries,” be-
lieves Gord Martin, executive director
of Vision Ministries Canada, the organ-
ization providing relational support
and encouragement to the church. In Calgary, as in many
other places across Canada, existing congregations often initi-
ate church plants. Shaban Niku is organic, started by Lydia
and Paul, not another congregation or denominational office.
Martin says that VMC has had an interest in Iranians for
some time, and has been assisting the similar Iranian Spirit of
Truth Church in Toronto. VMC is now helping Shaban Niku
obtain charitable status.
Meanwhile, a few Iranians in Calgary, who have passed
over the narrow bridge from Islam to Christianity, meet faithfully and quietly for mutual support and to worship God
together in community. Their thoughts are never far from
loved ones in Iran.
Shaban Niku is no ordinary church plant, if there is such a
thing. The ancient practice of blowing the shofar still means
here what it did in the Old Testament – a warning, a call to
battle and a celebration of victory. FT
ALex ne WMAn of Toronto is a senior writer at Faith Today.
DOUg KOOP is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer
and spiritual care provider. RICHeLLe WISeMAn is
a freelance writer based in Calgary.
Pastor Paul blows
the shofar to cel-
ebrate a baptism.
* For security reasons, all the names of Iranian Christians in this
article have been changed.