Published March 6, 2014
BURBANK, CA (BP) — For four years between 2005 to 2009 Iranian house church pastor Ara Torosian faced sporadic yet consistent physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his government. Caught trying to smuggle Bibles into the country, Torosian was constantly being pressured to reveal the identities of other Christian leaders.
“They tried to kill my spirit,” said Torosian, now a North American Mission Board church planter in Southern California. “And they are good at it. We decided to leave Iran because of family security and freedom.”
Yet, Torosian says, the isolation he and his young wife faced during those four years of house arrest and constant surveillance in Iran were by far the worst part. So when Los Angeles pastor Robby Pitt told him he had been praying for him on their first meeting in Southern California in 2009, Torosian was overwhelmed with gratitude. The International Mission Board had encouraged Southern Baptists throughout North America to pray for Torosian during his time of house arrest.
“I realized then that Southern Baptists knew me even before I arrived here,” said Torosian, whose American mentor in Iran had been Southern Baptist.
Torosian is one of six missionaries featured this year by the North American Mission Board (NAMB) as part of its 2014 Annie Armstrong Easter Offering® promotion. Los Angeles, where Torosian serves, is one of 32 Send North America cities NAMB is bringing special emphasis and resources to in its effort to help Southern Baptists start 15,000 new churches in 10 years. Half of NAMB’s financial support comes from the Annie offering.
Four years after arriving in Southern California, Torosian’s Southern Baptist family has been a key partner in multiple church planting and ministry efforts. In 2010 Torosian started what may be the first Armenian-language Southern Baptist church in the United States.
Most Armenians consider themselves Armenian Orthodox Christians. Historically, Armenia was the first government in the world to make Christianity its official religion.
But, Torosian says, the official language of the Orthodox Church is ancient and nearly obsolete. Most Armenians know little about the Gospel.
“They talked in a language I didn’t understand,” said Masis, Torosian’s brother-in-law, who came to faith in Christ through the ministry of Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank. “I didn’t know anything about Jesus or His story.”
Masis and his wife both gave their lives to Christ in the last several years after Torosian had been sharing the Gospel with them for more than 15 years. The couple finally made a decision for Christ after Torosian challenged them to pray for their long-standing desire for children. When God answered that prayer, they started attending to the Armenian Fellowship Church of Burbank, heard the Gospel, and responded affirmatively to it.
Torosian himself understands the challenge of coming to faith in Christ from an Armenian background. After a high-school injury put a promising soccer career on hold, the teenager began to soul-search – looking at a variety of religious traditions, including Islam, Hinduism, and finally biblical Christianity. After committing his life to Christ, he got involved in the growing house church movement in Iran, eventually starting his own house church.
On the way back to Iran from Turkey in 2005, Torosian and some friends were caught trying to smuggle Farsi Bibles into Iran. After three days of extreme physical and emotional cruelty, the government released him but he spent the next two years under house arrest and another two years under constant surveillance.
In addition to his church, Torosian feels particularly called to reach out to Muslims, which has led to a second Farsi-language church plant in Southern California.
“I know that there are freedoms here – freedom to talk, freedom of religion,” Torosian said. “I want to take this opportunity – each sacred moment – to preach the Gospel.”
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