By Jon Heering, Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Harrisonburg, VA
I have always loved the gospel account of Peter walking (briefly) on water and so I have also loved the song “Oceans” with the refrain “… Let me walk upon the waters, Wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander, And my faith will be made stronger, ...” Now in many ways the song is a prayer, even as Peter’s, “Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28) was a prayer and the kind of prayer our Lord loves to answer in the affirmative.
So after having functionally prayed that God would lead me deeper than I would ever naturally wander to strengthen my faith God answered by giving me and a lay member of the congregation I serve named Scott a chance to participate in a Pars formation conference this past February.
Many of you will recall hearing about Pars at the National Gathering. It is a ministry that is providing theological and leadership education for the rapidly growing Church of Iran and Iranian diaspora. The particular conference I attended (Pars is hoping to hold 20 conferences this year) was held in Turkey and included 25 students, all of whom are living in Turkey as refugees and asylum seekers. Their stories were both heartbreaking and convicting. I spoke directly to multiple students who had spent time in prison in Iran because of their faith while their young children were passed around between their family of faith who criticized the parents for being too bold and the biological family which tried to win them back to Islam. I heard of the difficulty of living as refugees with only “temporary asylum” in a nation that, not unlike our own, tends to resent refugees and asylum seekers and that resentment is exacerbated by 35% inflation and record high unemployment. All this trauma naturally carries itself into the churches and so I also heard of struggles in the churches which are occasionally inflicting still more trauma. The Church of Iran is very much like the early church both in the sense that they are trying to figure out how to live in light of the gospel with very little in terms of the resources we take for granted and, in really amazing ways, in the sense that the Spirit is moving so powerfully in their midst. For despite the trauma of persecution and living in a difficult place and struggling churches God is healing them, growing them and deepening them on a scale beyond all we could ask or even imagine.
So do you hear God calling you out upon the waters? I believe God is inviting us/ECO to step out on the waters and be a part of what He is doing in and through Pars. Working with Pars is a great chance to bear witness to our Lord. For example, we celebrated communion as part of the conference and did so in a manner where we each served one another so when Scott and I served students we each chose to kneel before them in presenting them the elements and later someone remarked that only Jesus could arrange having American men kneel to serve Iranians. Sharing that has born witness to the Lord here as much as it did there . Yet beyond bearing witness, stepping out in Faith and getting involved really serves our Iranian brothers and sisters. Not having much in terms of an inherited tradition or resources in their language for dealing with conflict, ecclesiology, polity, youth ministry and so on means they are hungry for our help. We have the amazing and scary opportunity to help set the trajectory for the Church of Iran through our partnership with Pars. A partnership that starts with prayer and financial support but can include visits and teaching along the lines of what I just experienced. Finally though, if we will step out in faith and find ways to partner with what God is doing in and through Pars and the Church of Iran our own faith will grow stronger. I came out of this conference with my own faith renewed. I am reading scripture and particularly the epistles in a whole new light. I more fully believe in what God can do here given what I see him doing there. And if you have never had a group of Iranian brothers and sisters lay hands on you and pray for you and the congregation you serve – well you don’t know what you are missing. I also know they continue to pray for me, which again, renews my faith in what God can do in my context.
Friends, John Ortberg said it well; “if you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat.” I believe in and around partnering with Pars Jesus is inviting us to walk on water. Will you come?