“A Heart for the Nations”: Cultivating a Global Great Commission Community
Chad Burchett | May 17, 2023
Imprisoned and isolated in an Iranian cell because of his ministry, Kambiz Saghaey did not know that God would one day use he and his wife, Sepideh Gholibeigi, to connect and train a global community of Muslim-background believers like themselves.
Born into a devout Muslim family in Iran, Kambiz grew up as a practicing Muslim who was faithful to the call to prayer and dedicated to memorizing the Quran. In God’s providence, Kambiz and Sepideh moved to Cyprus in 1997 where they heard about a local Christian church who was converting Iranian Muslims. Enraged and on mission to argue against Christianity there, Kambiz and Sepideh confronted the church. In the months to follow, as they interacted with the church and the Bible that the church had given them, Kambiz and Sepideh were converted and became earnest disciples of Jesus Christ.
“I went to that church to stop them, and after nine months of fighting, arguing, and asking questions against Christianity, God touched our hearts and saved us,” recalled Kambiz. “At once, we had a desire to know more about God, and we had many questions. We longed to grow in our faith and disciple others.”
Two years later, Kambiz and Sepideh moved to Turkey to plant churches where they became national partners with the International Mission Board (IMB). As the churches began to grow, many of their church members returned to Iran, inviting Kambiz and Sepideh to join them in ministry there.
Sensing God’s call to move back to Iran, Kambiz and Sepideh returned and became leaders in an underground Iranian church. As they and their church family grew in the faith, they longed for further training in ministry, theology, and biblical interpretation. Through IMB missionary David Page and his connection with Scott Hildreth, associate professor of missiology at Southeastern Seminary, Kambiz, Sepideh, and other church members received a scholarship to become distance learning students through Southeastern in 2009.
“We had no access to academic theological education, so we asked God to let us have that kind of training,” recounted Sepideh. “We prayed. And even though we didn’t know anything about Southeastern or the U.S., we had a heart for God and wanted God to connect us with people who had heart for him as well.”
We had a heart for God and wanted God to connect us with people who had heart for him as well.
“We didn’t choose Southeastern,” Sepideh noted. “God chose for us. He matched our hearts with the culture here at Southeastern — God gave them a Great Commission heart to help us study God’s word and to pray for nations like ours. That is why all the credit and glory goes to God. He orchestrated everything for all of us.”
A few weeks later, Kambiz and Sepideh received their first seminary package: Danny Akin’s “Theology for the Church” and a drive of Christian Theology I lectures.
However, the training process was far from easy. Struggling to understand these English resources, Kambiz and Sepideh often relied on missionary friends to translate and explain the material.
Kambiz remembers praying in those days that God would raise up someone at Southeastern to translate biblical and theological resources into Farsi so that people like him could learn in their heart language and strengthen the church through contextualized training.
God began to answer that prayer in the unlikeliest of ways.
Near the end of that year, the secret police arrested Kambiz and another church member during a Christmas celebration, confiscating Bibles and Southeastern materials from Kambiz and Sepideh’s home. Imprisoned and isolated in an Iranian cell, Kambiz cried out to God, and God gave him abiding peace. As her family’s reputation was slandered and friends distanced themselves out of fear, Sepideh found comfort in God and prayed outside the prison walls each day.
In God’s kindness, Kambiz’s life was spared, and he was miraculously delivered from prison. Even though he and his family were forced to flee the country in 2011, they continued ministry in Turkey while seeking asylum in the U.S. They resumed their Southeastern training and began hosting Iranian pastors and church leaders, teaching them what they had been learning.
In 2015, The United Nations approved their request, and they moved to the U.S. In 2016, Kambiz and Sepideh relocated to Wake Forest to attend Southeastern in person. To their amazement, Southeastern provided them with three years of free housing and immediately welcomed them into the campus community.
“We came as refugees and were welcomed as family,” commented Kambiz. “We shared the same heart and vision to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.”
We came as refugees and were welcomed as family. We shared the same heart and vision to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission.
That year, John Ewart, professor of missions and pastoral leadership and associate vice president for Global Theological Initiatives and ministry centers at Southeastern, invited Kambiz to help launch Southeastern’s new Persian Leadership Development (PLD) office as coordinator of the program.
The PLD program began in English as an effort to extend Southeastern’s training to strategically positioned Persian leaders all around the world. As the program grew, God gave Kambiz and Sepideh a vision for providing theological education in the Farsi language. That is why they started Mojdeh Ministry — a non-profit training partner with Southeastern — that connects Farsi-speakers with opportunities for theological education.
As an answer to their own ongoing prayers, they also began the process of translating Southeastern books, lectures, and other resources into Farsi so that Iranian Christians and church leaders like themselves could be equipped in their heart language.
“We did not know that God would one day use us as a tool to answer our own prayers,” marveled Kambiz. “God doesn’t need us, but it is a privilege and honor to be used for his glory among the nations.”
We did not know that God would one day use us as a tool to answer our own prayers.
In God’s kindness, Kambiz and Sepideh have been instrumental in developing pathways for theological education in Farsi. As the fruit of their labor, Southeastern launched the world’s first accredited Bachelor of Science in pastoral ministry degree in Farsi in 2019 and the world’s first accredited Master of Theological Studies degree in Farsi in 2022.
Underlying all their efforts is a deep commitment to the reality that they are called to love and serve others as God has loved and pursued them.
“God loves all nations and cares for all people,” noted Kambiz. “God pursued us, saved us, and provided for us, and we feel a responsibility and joy to provide training and encouragement to others.”
Because of Kambiz and Sepideh’s investment, the PLD office is currently training 3500 Farsi-speaking students from 43 different countries. Often isolated and without access to any extensive theological training, these students are being connected with fellow students in hard-to-reach places and are being equipped to continue their Great Commission ministry where God has placed them.
Through online cohorts and in-person seminars, PLD students are now part of a global Great Commission community, receiving biblical and theological training to serve the Church and advance its mission around the world. This Great Commission vision is what Kambiz loves most about Southeastern and is what motivates his work in the PLD office.
“As Dr. Akin often says, ‘Southeastern is a Great Commission seminary and all our classes are Great Commission classes and all our faculty are Great Commission faculty,’” reflected Kambiz. “We train church leaders with this DNA at our core. The Great Commission is the mission of the Christian life that unites us and our students around the world. That is why Sepideh and I want to be Great Commission servants among our Iranian people.”
The Great Commission is the mission of the Christian life that unites us and our students around the world.
Embodying this Great Commission DNA, Kambiz and Sepideh both graduated from Southeastern’s Doctor of Education program in early May and are already praying about how God might use their training to further advance his kingdom. Kambiz hopes to expand the PLD office to include doctoral programs in Farsi and a Christian K-12 school for Farsi-speaking children. Sepideh, a gifted counselor, hopes to do more teaching and to translate Southeastern’s biblical counseling certificate program into Farsi.
Kambiz and Sepideh are eagerly anticipating another significant graduation in a few weeks — the PLD program’s first graduation ceremony on June 3.
“This is such a historic event and a testimony to God’s faithfulness,” commented Kambiz. “We are excited to celebrate these students and the work God will continue to do through their ministries.”
For Kambiz and Sepideh, life in Southeastern’s Great Commission community is marked by the joy of equipping others and watching them flourish for Christ around the world. That is why Kambiz and Sepideh plan to continue their work at Southeastern of equipping students to serve the Church and fulfill the Great Commission among the nations.
“I am so thankful for Southeastern and its heart to go — a heart for the nations,” commented Sepideh. “Because of Southeastern, people who had a heart for missions were sent to the nations, we came to faith, and now we are partnering in ministry with Southeastern to reach and equip our people around the world.”