Last week the European Union forced Serbia to end its visa-free travel with Iran.
In an effort to enhance the country’s tourism and foreign investment, Serbia allowed Iranians to enter visa-free starting in August 2017. The Washington Post reported that more than 15,000 Iranians entered the country since that time.
Nearly half of all Iranians are under the age of 30. Young Iranians are economically and politically dissatisfied. They desire a better life for themselves, but conditions in their country make it difficult to achieve. Widespread youth-led demonstrations at the end of 2017 and the beginning of this year led to at least 20 deaths and hundreds of arrests.
Here’s a remarkable story about one small group whose lives changed much more than they expected.
After fleeing home, Iranians become Christian
They were professionals—architects, engineers, and the like. But life in Iran had become unbearable. They wanted a way out.
These young Iranians suffered while in Iran not because of their faith—they were not Christians. Reasons other than religious persecution drove them to flee from their homeland. False charges and accusations of anti-government activism hurled against them led to beatings, harassment, and even wrongful jail time. Some had been tortured by the Islamic police.
Learning that Iranians could travel to Serbia with no visa—but having little or no knowledge of the country besides—these young Iranians decided to leave home and migrate to Serbia, in hopes of making their way to the European Union. They ended up in a refugee camp in Vranje, a city in central Serbia.
A ministry partner of Advancing Native Missions in Macedonia has an outreach to Iranian migrants at the Vranje refugee camp, about 58 miles northeast of Skopje, Macedonia. The ministry leader wrote to ANM recently, saying, “All of these people before were Muslims and they converted to Christianity when they came in the camp. So that means that we work with them from the very beginning of their faith.”
Ministry staff have shared the gospel with the young Iranians, and around 10 people passed the introductory course for baptism in spite of some communication problems as most of them can speak only Persian. Eight of them—six men and two women—recently followed the Lord in water baptism. Our partner found it interesting that three of the men who were baptized are named Muhammad and yet they joyfully accepted Jesus.
Many other Iranian refugees have gone through the baptism course and want to be baptized as well. They consider baptism to have such significance and approach it with great respect.
God is indeed doing a mighty work in Vranje. ANM’s ministry partner is in the process of planting a small church in the area with around 20 people.
Tragedy, triumph, and a new beginning
One of the young Iranian refugees and his young wife were on their way to the West. They had boarded a boat and as the boat was sailing on the Drina River which is between Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, it accidentally flipped. His body could not be found to the deep anguish and sorrow of his wife. What makes the tragic situation even harder for her is that she knows only Persian, unlike her husband who knew English as well. Our ministry partner shares, “One bright spot in these dark circumstances is that three days before this young Muslim husband drowned in the river, we had led him in a prayer of repentance and he accepted Jesus.”
Please remember his grieving widow in your prayers.
Most of the new Iranian believers have left the camp and moved on to the West as they originally planned. God brought a new group of Iranians, one Christian and six Muslims, to the ministry’s door. After hearing the gospel in two services conducted by our missionary partner, five of the Muslims gave their lives to Jesus.