Tired of Islam, Iranians Ask ' Who Is This Jesus?'

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UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Christians are the most persecuted religious minority group in Iran. Iranian believers, especially those who convert from Islam to Christianity, face even more scrutiny.

Now one television channel operating from multiple secret locations is beaming messages of hope directly into the Islamic country and Iranian authorities don't like it one bit.

These are very busy and exciting times at Mohabat TV as it carries out its mission of broadcasting Christianity into Iran.

"We are seeing a huge, huge number of Iranians who are reaching out to our channel and our phone center just to reach out and find out more about Jesus," Mike Ansari, who oversees the popular channel, said.

Thirsty for Truth

Since 2006, Mohabat TV has been beaming Christian programs via satellite to Middle East, Europe, and parts of Asia. But for the channel's cast, crew, production, and office staff, their main focus is the Islamic nation of Iran.

"Many of our viewers that are contacting us from Iran, they claim that Islam has not delivered to their expectations. So when they turn the channel on and see Mohabat TV they hear a new message of Jesus, of forgiveness of love of acceptance," Ansari said.

Nazanin Baghestani manages the phone call center operations for the channel.

"Persians are really thirsty for the truth, they really want to know who is this God that we talk about, who is this Jesus, is He real or is He just a prophet?" Baghestani said.

To answer those and many other questions, the channel has deployed Farsi-speaking Christian counselors in different time zones around the world.

Baghestani said they take an average between 8,000 and 10,000 calls a month from Iranians.

"That's when we open the subject, we preach the gospel and so many give their hearts, so many receive Him," Baghestani said.

Secret, Dangerous Broadcasting

But producing Christian programs for Iran is not without its challenges. The bulk of Ansari's productions for the channel are done outside of Iran from multiple secret locations for safety and security reasons.  

"Our channel and our signals are getting jammed on a daily basis inside Iran. It is true that the phone calls are being monitored and people who try to contact us may get persecuted," Ansari said.

In June 2011 a Christian man's house got raided by Iranian authorities as he was on the phone with a Mohabat counselor.

CBN News obtained an audio recording of the conversation between the phone counselor and a member of Iran's secret police. On the recording the police officer describes what happened when he broke into the house of the Christian man.

The audio has never been released to the public until now.

"I arrested him once before then released him," the Iranian agent told the Mohabat counselor.

"I warned him not to go to the city and tell others that he is a Christian and tell them to come and become one, too," he continued. "He has caused problems for others. I just arrested him again. I swear to God I beat him up so much, I beat him so hard, he's almost dead, there is blood all over, I swear to God. I feel bad for him. Listen, lady, you guys have caused a lot of trouble for Iran's youth."

The young Christian man was reportedly killed shortly after the conversation. But Ansari said the threats are not stopping Iranians from watching the channel, which provides 24-hour Christian programming.

"Remember in Iran there is no such thing as a church as you and I know outside of Iran. So many Iranians who are curious or have recently given their hearts to be called Christians find it easier, more private and more safe to be at home watching the channel," he said.

Persecution Fueling Growth

The official religion of Iran is Islam. Christians are officially less than half of one percent of the population. The overwhelming majority are Muslim.

Christians are routinely imprisoned and labeled as threats to national security.

Open Doors, a group that has served the persecuted church for decades, has ranked Iran No. 9 on its list of 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe.

"We have programming on the channel that is geared just towards that to give them hope and encourage them and yet tell them that persecution is definitely a part of a Christians life, that when you become a Christian and you reside in a country that is not predominantly Christian," Ansari told CBN News from an undisclosed location.

The United Nations says at least 49 Iranian Christians are being held in jails. Among them is American citizen and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini, who is serving an eight-year prison term for refusing to recant his faith. 

"We really don't want to see any of them jeopardize or being persecuted so we always tell them to act with wisdom and be wise about their new faith and the way they approach others," Ansari said.

Ansari said the harsh treatment of Christians is reportedly fueling the flames of church growth.

"We are seeing a new season right now, there are so many people who are reaching out on their own account. (It) seems that they are not afraid they just want to reach out and go beyond any kind of authority or limitations that may exist locally for them to just connect with somebody," he said.

Ansari, a native of Iran, is encouraging Christians worldwide to pray for Iran, especially now as they and millions of Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan.

"Our goal is just to be out there and just tell them {Muslims} that there is another choice: that the prophet Jesus whom they know very well through Islam, He is more than a prophet -- that believing in Him can bring a sense of hope and a sense of new beginnings," he said.

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