Assignment Iran: Reaching Persians For Christ

Posted on April 8, 2013

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By David Ettinger

For First Orlando’s Vince Manna, ministry is a worldwide endeavor. That’s why he serves with equal passion in his neighborhood as well as 6,500 miles away in Armenia. “I’ve been doing this for several years and I love it,” he said.

“This” is Vince’s ministry to the Persian people. When you hear “Persia,” think “Iran.”

So, how does a guy who did not come to know Christ until the age of 27 develop a love and heart for the Persian people? “At the last church [First Baptist Oviedo] I served at before coming here, there was a [Christian] Persian group — the only one in Florida — that met there,” Vince explained. “They were all former Muslim believers. They asked me to come to speak to them one Sunday night, and I did. They asked me to come back the next two Sunday nights, and I did.”

The Persian believers finally asked Vince to become their pastor. He said yes and led the group for three eventful years. “It seemed that conflict resolution was the main thing I did with them,” he said.

In the meantime, First Oviedo had a relationship with Equip Ministries, which prepares, sends and supports evangelical missionaries to assist the Church around the world. “Our church liaison knew that I was working with the Persian people,” Vince said. “He told me that Equip was looking to expand into Iran and asked if I would be interested in doing some workshops there.”

The offer, which came in 2004, was too good to turn down. However, because Iran was, and still is, a dangerous place in which to do Christian work, the conferences were held in Armenia, a country of 3.2 million bordered by Turkey on the West, Georgia on the north, Azerbaijan on the East and Iran on the South. “The idea was to do two conferences a year, but it was too expensive flying in Persians from the different places where they lived, so we did just one,” Vince said.

But one was plenty as the conferences proved immensely popular. “They would last for five days,” Vince said. “They started early in the morning and ended late at night. The sessions were mostly about leadership, but because of the nature of this group of people, I had carte blanche to speak about whatever I wanted.”

And that’s exactly what he did. “We explored spiritual realms. It was very, very exciting.”

And in 2009, the excitement level is as high as ever. “Because of the three years I pastored the Persian church, I am able to understand their mindset. While in Oviedo, the Persian group was always giving me books on Islam just to prepare me culturally. That has gone a long way in helping me, as an outsider, go into a culture and be able to understand it. The people I minister to really respect that.”

In fact, the Persian believers have so much respect for Vince that they have invited him to visit Persian cell groups in Europe. It is a challenge he is looking forward to. “When you give your life to Christ in one of these ‘Level 3’ [highly dangerous] countries, your life is at risk,” he said. “They constantly live with the threat of torture, losing their families or watching their businesses suffer to the point where they no longer have a livelihood. The Church really has to be the Church in that they must help one another in every way.”

According to Vince, the lives of Persian believers bear no resemblance to those of their American counterparts. “At the end of church when they make their announcements, they say, ‘Our next meeting is going to be at this house, at this time, on this day.’ That’s it. They are always looking over their shoulders for informants who are trying to infiltrate their groups. They’ve had people who have been with them for two or three years but have been government informants all along.”

Because the lives of Persian Christians are so tough, they are immensely appreciative when outsiders come to share with them. “As far as I am concerned, I don’t even feel worthy to be in the same room as them,” Vince said. “But they are so grateful that God’s love for them is so strong that He would bring people from the other side of the globe just to minister to them.”

For Vince, the yearly ventures into Armenia have been incredibly fulfilling. “Watching their growth in their commitment to God and relationships with each other has been wonderful,” he said. “But the really impressive thing has been seeing their world view. The Armenian Church has a real vision about going into Iran. They have churches all over Europe that broadcast 24/7 into Iran.”

The media blitz also includes satellite TV, phone banks and various web sites. “Recently, there were more than 800,000 hits on one of their sites,” Vince said. “They are reaching out to drug addicts, prostitutes . . . all segments of [Iranian] society. Over the phone, they have had more than 10,000 professions of faith in Christ.”

This extraordinary response is miraculous, but does create a problem, Vince explained. “The major challenge is following up with these people and getting them connected. But they [the Armenian Church] has a vision for that and that’s what the leadership training [that Vince does] is all about. Our goal is to build leaders to head up the underground church. Tehran [Iran’s capital] has some [public] churches, but you can’t share the gospel with anyone. It’s a capital crime to convert a Muslim in Iran.”

But despite the extreme danger and challenges facing Christians in Iran and the Middle East, Vince knows that God is working powerfully. “The Lord is not only working in dreams and visions, but in the miraculous,” he said. “It is absolutely awesome what is happening there.”

However, there is still a massive amount of work to be done and Vince is encouraging First Orlando’s Christians to be praying for the Persian Christians of Iran and the struggling Christians of Armenia. “First of all, we need to be praying for the persecuted church in general,” he said. “That is a must. But also, we must be praying for a spirit of revival in America. Because, in the long run, we are all connected.”

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Posted in: World Missions