Iranian converts 'a God-given opportunity'
By Mark Brolly
Making the Word of God fully known to Iranians in Melbourne is “a God-given opportunity for the diocese”, according to Melbourne Assistant Bishop Paul Barker.
Bishop Barker commissioned the Revd Kaveh Hassanzadeh as Curate-in-Charge of the Emmanuel Iranian Anglican Congregation on 3 October and said diaspora ministry was one of the most significant Gospel opportunities the Church in Melbourne faced, whether refugees, migrants or foreign students.
The commissioning marked the congregation, based at St Michael’s and St Luke’s in North Dandenong and at Brimbank Anglican Church in East Keilor, as an Authorised Anglican Congregation [AAC].
“In recent decades, the world has seen one the greatest waves of conversion from Islam to Christianity in world history,” Bishop Barker said. “Iranians, both in Iran and throughout a global diaspora, are coming to Jesus in significant numbers. There may be tens of thousands of secret believers in Iran itself.”
Bishop Barker said he had baptised Iranian converts in a previous parish, knew of Iranian converts in Malaysia where had worked with the Church Missionary Society and noted that several parishes in Melbourne had parishioners from Iran. There was a small Anglican church in Iran and there had been a Pakistani bishop with the care of these congregations.
“The story of Iranian converts is not totally new. Former Archbishop [David] Penman (1984-89) had many links to Christians in Iran of course and I recall studying in the 1980s at Ridley with an Iranian convert. Nor is Iranian ministry totally new in Melbourne. The Revd Khalil Razmara faithfully pastored Iranians for many years.
“What is new is the authorisation of this congregation in the diocese. Diaspora ministry is one of the most significant gospel opportunities we face, whether refugees or immigrants or foreign students. When people transition from one society to another, they are often open to new things and people.”
Bishop Paul Barker commissions the Revd Kaveh Hassanzadeh as Curate-in-Charge of the Emmanuel Iranian Anglican Congregation on 3 October.
Bishop Barker praised the ministry of the Revd Dr Mark Durie and the generosity of the people of Dr Durie’s former Oaktree parish at St Mary’s Caulfield, saying it had borne remarkable fruit in the Iranian congregation.
“Mark has mentored Kaveh, his wife Hoda and other lay leaders for several years, and helped them locate themselves at St Michael’s and St Luke’s North Dandenong,” Bishop Barker said. “This shows the value of patient, persevering ministry over a long time. Already there is a new congregation in Brimbank as part of Emmanuel and I have little doubt more will follow.
“Making the Word of God fully known to Iranians in Melbourne is a God-given opportunity for the diocese.”
Mr Hassanzadeh, who was deaconed in February last year and hopes to be priested this month, told TMA that it had taken almost seven years to reach the stage of becoming an AAC. He paid particular tribute to Dr Durie as well as to the diocese and Ridley College for encouraging and supporting Iranian Christians.
“We are just trying to be faithful and praying that in future more leaders will be raised up for our people here and in Iran,” Mr Hassanzadeh said.
“Mark Durie helped us stay together to support each other and taught us how we could develop a supportive congregation. He always mentored me.
“Most of us have Muslim backgrounds and it is important that someone with more experience stands close to you and supports you and encourages you.”
Mr Hassanzadeh said there were more than 200 people registered with Emmanuel and attendance would be 120-130 people across the two centres at North Dandenong and Brimbank.
He said he was raised in a Muslim community in Mashad, in north-eastern Iran, but came to explore Christianity through an old Bible on his late father’s bookshelf.
“My father was not a believer but he has this book ... One day, I just took that book off his shelf and started reading it. It was hard to read because it was an old translation but I became interested.”
Mr Hassanzadeh lived in Indonesia for nine months before arriving on Christmas Island as a refugee in 2012, later being moved to Adelaide and coming to Melbourne the following year.
He was baptised in a Baptist church, attended a Church of Christ and then joined other Iranians at Oaktree. He and his wife Hoda have three young sons; his mother, who also has become a Christian, lives in Iran, as does his brother.
“I hope that we will be able to raise other people as leaders, in positions of leadership as ordained ministers. The Iranian community needs that, not just in Australia but around the world.”
“Diaspora ministry is one of the most significant gospel opportunities we face, whether refugees or immigrants or foreign students.”