A project to reach Farsi speakers energizes experts from both sides of the Atlantic.
Have you ever noticed how a red-hot charcoal briquette will lose its heat quickly if separated from the other coals? But if it’s surrounded by a pile of other briquettes, it will stay hot for a long time.
After serving as a pastor in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) in Oklahoma for over 12 years, I received a call to be a missionary in Hamburg, Germany, in early 2021. I was born in the Land of Luther and spent half of my life there, plus my dear wife, Lula, was born and raised there. So, this call made perfect sense. However, the LCMS Office of International Mission (OIM) did not task me to work with “regular” Germans. Rather, I was to learn a new language — Farsi — and share the Gospel with some of the 400,000 immigrants from Iran and Afghanistan now living in Germany.
“No problem,” I thought. Languages have always been my strength. I immediately started studying, expecting to be fluent in Persian by the fall. But by October, I was not nearly as good at Farsi as I had hoped to be.
While in Berlin last October, Lula and I decided to visit our friend Rev. Dr. Gottfried Martens, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Berlin-Steglitz, a Lutheran congregation of some 1,500 members — 1,400 of whom hail from Iran or Afghanistan. I shared with him my frustration at not being able to learn Farsi as easily as I had thought.
He commiserated and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be able to preach and teach in Farsi soon enough. But we have bigger fish to fry. For years I’ve wanted to reach the millions of Farsi speakers outside of Germany — the expatriates and even the people in Iran and Afghanistan. Especially in Iran, many people are starving for the Gospel. But most of them speak only Farsi. We need instructional videos in their own language to explain the basics of historic Christianity. There are well over 120 million Farsi speakers that we could potentially reach if we only had such videos.”
What a vision! I presented his idea to my colleagues at the OIM. As the Lord would have it, only a few weeks later several of them were planning to teach at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, only 40 minutes away from Berlin. So in mid-November, the Rev. Dr. John Bombaro, associate director of the LCMS Eurasia region; the Rev. Dr. Arthur Just Jr., a renowned professor of liturgics and New Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne; and I sat down with Martens in Berlin to discuss how we might produce such videos.
Within an hour and a half, we hashed out a plan to create three 10-minute videos on Christ’s atonement, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper — key components of Christianity that resonate strongly with Persians. Our idea was to record the videos in English, overdub them in Farsi, and distribute them around the globe via the internet. OIM leadership enthusiastically embraced this plan, and our goal is to go online by late spring. We now plan to add Arabic and Urdu versions as well.
The Lord has augmented my ministry and encouraged me greatly by giving me an additional project to draw together experts from both sides of the Atlantic to bring this plan to fruition. In the meantime, back in Hamburg, I am now teaching Iranian church members German, while they are teaching me Farsi. Our Lord is using the Holy Spirit to let us “encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thess. 5:11) using His people from back home, from Germany, and from Iran to keep this “missionary briquette” nice and hot. Thank You, Lord!
Photography by Erik M. Lunsford
The article by Rev. Tiews was first published in Lutherans Engage May 2022