Women as agents of transformation in Iran: “They realize their identity in Christ and become fired up for Christ!”

By CDI Staff |
The Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran
The Azadi Tower in Tehran, Iran. | Alireza Heydarifard / Unsplash

Home to a diverse population of some 84 million people, Iran has often featured in the media as a politically destabilizing force in the region that feeds its proxies and allies in neighboring countries with weapons and financial support, while suppressing dissent at home.

There is, however, another story unfolding among the people in the Islamic Republic who have been coming to faith in Jesus Christ in large numbers in recent years, according to reports by different ministries who are active in the country.

In a conversation with Christian Daily International, Iran Alive Director for Partner Relations Lily Meschi shared about the unique role that women play in transforming Iran from the inside, once they find their identity in Christ.

Economic pressures, shifting attitudes in the younger generation, and recent events that led to public outcries against the government have led to a change in the atmosphere in society. Most notably the death of 22-year old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police who arrested her because she allegedly wasn’t wearing her hijab properly. Mass protests followed across the country but were suppressed by the government.

Still, despite the surveillance cameras and the threat of punishment by morality police, an increasing number of women are refusing to adhere to the strict dress code, which has been one of the ways the Islamic government has suppressed women.

But underneath the visible cultural shifts, there are spiritual changes taking place as well, Meschi notes, as she witnesses how many Iranians – the majority of them women – are coming to faith. This despite Iran being among the countries where Christians are experiencing the highest levels of persecution in the world.

Lily Meschi
Lily Meschi | Iran Alive Ministries

“Women are mostly oppressed in Iran through so many different laws that are just set against them. Inequality, wages, family laws: everything is just set up in a way that is against women. They are treated as second-class citizens as it is a very male dominant society in Iran,” Meschi shares.

“And so they are just fed up with being subjugated to all the rules, the Islamic rule and also the male dominance, and they have become braver and bolder just like the younger generation today,” she says.

After years of oppression and strict Islamic rules that restrict many aspects of public and private life, people have grown tired with the status quo and are longing for change.

“Especially the newer generation, Gen Z in particular, they are standing up for their rights, demanding freedom, something where their parents and grandparents could not prevail against this government. And they now are willing to put their lives on the line for their freedom,” Meschi comments.

Having lived in Iran until age 16, Meschi experienced the fear and shame in society when growing up, especially for women.

“I remember even as a young kid having to wear a hijab and making sure that no strands of our hair is showing or the morality police would stop us and question us. Then there were the little things like snarky, very sarcastic remarks from guys just walking down the street. There was this very strong presence of shame and honor culture,” she says.

She recalls how she was “growing up with a great amount of shame and embarrassment, and just anything we did could come across as something we did wrong. The whole Islamic practice in Iran is made up of rules and regulations and laws of a set of dos and don’ts. And if you don't do the rituals or if you don't abide by their expectations, they shame you.”

Although Meschi and her family emigrated to the United States, an arranged marriage to an abusive husband meant that she continued to experience some of the same struggles that many women face in Iran.

Eventually, however, she found freedom in Christ through friends who invited her to watch the Jesus film and shared the gospel with her. She also heard about Iran Alive Ministries and their programs in Farsi, which allowed her to grow deeper in her faith through messages she could listen to in her own mother tongue.

Today, she serves in the ministry that helped her and is passionate about leading other Iranians to Christ. She points out that among the more than one hundred thousand people they reached since the ministry began, the majority have been women.

“Women have been oppressed and under pressure for so long. When they realize their identity in Christ as the daughter of the Most High God who has bestowed His grace and mercy and favor upon them and has chosen them, blessed come, accepted them, they become fired up for Christ,” Meschi says.

“They become truly agents of transformation in their community, in their family, and in their circles. And the women that have become believers end up having great influence on other women.”

“It could be that they're just sick and tired of religious rhetoric and rules and laws that are against them. It's almost like a pregnant woman that has carried the child for so long and they're like, ‘we're ready for this baby to come out. We're done with this. We want our freedom,’” she says.

“So, it could be the intensified pressure from the government that has contributed to this, but women are strong and brave, and they are really putting their lives on the line for their freedom right now.”

For the near future, Meschi says she expects more difficulty and suffering for the people in Iran, referring to a prophecy in the latter part of Jeremiah 49 that speaks about Elam, which is modern-day Iran. However, she also pointed to the hope in the same passage because the prophecy concludes with God promising that His reign will prevail.

“If we all partner together, we can see God's throne established in Iran,” Meschi says.