The Story Behind Our Persian Translations

The Story Behind Our Persian Translations

It is illegal to own a satellite dish in Iran, because, according to the government, the Western channels available exist only to undermine Islam and the Iranian people (see the BBC report). But despite the law many Iranians still covertly install the devices and watch. It was through satellite programming in Iran, in fact, that our friend Hovik met his wife.

Hovik, whose real name we must withhold for security reasons, is a Persian translation partner with Desiring God. He was born and raised in Iran, but when he was twenty-two, to prevent them from having to fight in the Iran–Iraq War, Hovik’s father sent him and his brother to study in California. As an ethnic Armenian, Hovik had always identified himself as a Christian (ethnic Armenians are an accepted Christian minority in Iran) but it wasn’t until he attended church in the US that he first heard the gospel and was saved.

Crossing Borders with Broadcasting

Soon after his conversion, now about fifteen years ago, Hovik linked arms with another Persian-speaking believer to begin a Christian satellite program. They wanted to broadcast the gospel into Iran. “We preached and taught and implored people to come to Christ. We were so excited to see that people could hear the gospel in their own language in Iran. For centuries they had not had that opportunity."

If people had questions as a result of the program, they were invited to call in. This is how Hovik first got to know the woman who is now his wife. She was already a believer, having come to Christ from a Muslim background, but, due to the poor Christian teaching she encountered on other satellite programs, she was deeply confused. As she received spiritual help from Hovik over the phone, she also began to serve the ministry from within Iran by distributing Bibles to other callers. “She would wrap the Bible as a gift and mail it,” Hovik recalls. “That was dangerous.”

From Transmitting to Translating

A little while later, after they were married and the satellite ministry had run its course, the Lord put it on Hovik and his wife’s heart to begin thinking about translation work. “It's one thing for Muslims to become believers, but it's another for them to grow in the faith. There were books available in Persian, but it wasn't solid food.” So from their California home they began to translate, first completing Welcome to the Family by John MacArthur and then Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper.

It was at this point that a new question arose: “How do we get these books into the hands of people in Iran?” The Iranian government does not easily allow you to ship Christian books into the country. “They could be smuggled in, but that risks getting arrested,” Hovik thought. “The solution seems to be to put the books online in PDF format so that people can download them.”

Taking It to the Web

As the Lord would have it, it was at this point that we reached out to Hovik about the possibility of posting his translated Piper book on our website, unaware that God had already opened his heart to the idea. This initial request then turned into an agreement for Hovik to create a version of the Desiring God website in Persian, stocked (eventually) with 52 sermons by John Piper.

The Lord has blessed these plans, and already we have begun posting Persian content online. At present you can download two book translations — Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ and Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die (this second book through the generosity of Persian World Outreach) — as well as John Piper’s sermon “The Pleasure of God in His Son.” God willing, the Persian website will launch around the beginning of 2012.

This Is Why

The major concern for Hovik and his wife as they translate these materials is that right doctrine would replace the teaching of the prosperity gospel in Iran, where they observe its widespread influence. Their prayer is that these materials will help people follow Christ, “not because it will mean less suffering in this life, but because of who he is. God's blessings are not only in successes, but also in the suffering he gives, because it leads to spiritual growth.”

“We want [Iranian Christians] to have solid doctrine so that they will be bold in the midst of persecution. If they die, that's the highest honor, and God will build upon their testimony in Iran.”

Please pray with us for Hovik and his wife as they continue their translation work, and for the effect among Persian speakers that it will have.

If you are a skilled translator (or if you know one) who has a heart to make more Desiring God resources available in other languages, please contact us.

Tyler Kenney (@tylerkenney) is a former content strategist at Desiring God. He and his wife, Kristen, live in the Twin Cities.