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Online ministry helps plant secret house churches in closed countries

Using Instagram, YouTube and other online resources, Nathan Rostampour trains new converts in closed countries.

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP) – Nathan Rostampour expresses a heart for house churches. Among fellow Farsi speakers in his native Iran where he accepted Christ in secret, any outward display of salvation can be deadly.

Training new converts to plant secret house churches in religiously closed countries is his calling, using online platforms to first reach Farsi speakers in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. He hopes the model can be used in other countries suffering religious persecution.

“It’s a great need. This is the only way we can reach these people. This the only way I can mentor and coach my leaders,” Rostampour said. “I’m never going to be able to go back home. If I can’t go there physically, I can go there online.”

Rostampour has found a partner in the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., which he joined two years ago after immigrating to the U.S. in 2013 as a Christian refugee. The Summit Church, led by immediate past Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear, has commissioned him as a Summit International Partner to Central Asia.

“I have a heart for this. I’m designing a curriculum for training secret house churches online,” Rostampour said. “We need to invest more in house churches.”

He hosts a weekly online Sunday church service on Instagram, produces a podcast, and offers free sermons, worship songs, discipleship and leadership training resources on his website and YouTube, all in Farsi. Instagram offers the only platform for fellowship that the Iranian government doesn’t block. For security, Rostampour uses only end-to-end encrypted programs, avoiding texts, phone calls and Facebook.

He has helped plant 14 secret house churches in six states in Iran, he said, all through online outreach. House churches are limited to about 10 people each, necessary in keeping the locations and activities secret.

Lori Frances, Summit’s director of sending, hopes to find a way to baptize the new believers while maintaining their secrecy. With Rostampour leading the outreach, she hopes to take a team of ministers to countries neighboring the house churches and hold mass baptisms.

“Really, this is just providing a place for these leaders to baptize the people in their churches, because they can’t do it freely. They can’t meet freely,” Frances said. “We want to partner in any way possible to give these persecuted brothers and sisters not only a place of safety, but fellowship.

“We’re going to send a team, a large team, that will also just supply every need that they have in the city doing that, if that’s cooking meals, watching their children, whatever it is, we want to just come around them and let them know (they’re) seen and … loved.”

Navigating security concerns, Frances said the Summit Church doesn’t see any reason why the baptisms can’t be achieved.

Rostampour is not on staff at the Summit Church, but the church pastors, mentors and disciples him, and supports his ministry by providing a recording studio, equipment and a strong internet connection.

Frances believes Rostampour’s outreach is invaluable in reaching the 10:40 window, a geographical area spanning 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude, encompassing parts of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia where most people are Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist.

Rostampour grew up in house churches. He accepted Christ at age 17 after overhearing several conversations when a newly saved relative shared the Gospel with his mother, at that time a Muslim who encouraged her children to practice Islam.

“At that moment, when I heard her powerful words and the Bible verses, something changed in my heart. I had no clue what had happened. However, now I know that it was the Holy Spirit touching my heart with His presence and with His living Word through the Gospel message,” Rostampour said. “I remember having no idea about salvation prayer or the way people repent and receive Christ. So, I went to my room thinking about all those scriptures and her powerful statement. Suddenly, I found myself on my knees. As I looked up, I said, ‘Jesus, I know you are Lord. Save me!’ That was my simple salvation prayer.”

Soon, Rostampour’s family was saved, with secret house churches their only worship option. He planted house churches in Iran before fleeing to Turkey in 2010 for security reasons, later navigating to the U.S.

“My calling is to train healthy and mature Christian leaders for secret house churches in the persecuted church,” he said.

Rostampour is earning a doctorate in ecclesial leadership from Regent University and is employed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary’s missions department where he produces podcasts and provides administrative support. He encourages those interested in his ministry to contact him on Twitter @N_Rostampour.

“My wife and I have this opportunity to not only equip Persian Christians online but also to reach Muslims for Christ and share the Gospel with people who live in Islamic regions that we could never possibly visit,” he said. “My personal mission statement reflects my passion for God in fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission: To follow the Holy Spirit, to share the Gospel, to make faithful disciples, to train healthy Christian leaders, and to equip the persecuted church for Kingdom advance.”