In the Western world, even in our low times, we are never far from a spiritual oasis of fellowship that will revive the soul. The regular experience of our brethren in Iran is so different.
Here is a family who arrived late to our small gathering. The bus trip was planned to take 48 hours (not a comfortable, air-conditioned coach). In fact it took even longer because the only driver fell asleep at the wheel. The bus left the road and rolled over before coming to rest. The family arrived stiff and bruised but, by the grace of God, otherwise unharmed.
Here is a young man who was held by the authorities for a month, suspended from his wrists and beaten on the soles of his feet, only because of his love for Christ.
Here is a young woman whose eyes fill with tears when Christ is preached and is eager to hear more. Every word that points her to her Master is treasured and pondered.
Here is a father with his daughter, who struggles to write everything down lest he should miss any important truth that he can later provide to other believers for their edification. In his face there is an earnestness and determination to receive the whole counsel of God. Perhaps the Berean Christians looked like him.
Here is a man with his family. Having his family with him is no small miracle. It is reckoned that as much as 60 per cent of the population of Iran has a problem with drugs, and he was one of them.
His abuse of drugs was so severe that he could barely walk and his life expectancy was negligible. In a stupor and unable to go any farther, he sat down outside a store. The owner came out to him. In God’s wonderful providence, the store owner was a Christian and bold enough to present Christ to this hopeless wretch of a man.
He was converted. Christ worked such miracles of grace and mercy not only to cleanse him from all unrighteousness, but to cleanse him from his addiction to drugs. The Lord restored his wife and daughter to him – gave him back his family.
Like the woman in the house of Simon the Pharisee, having been forgiven much, he loves much. Despite the risks, he couldn’t help but tell others of what Christ had done for him.
It was not long before the authorities took him in for questioning and told him to stop. His question to them was simple: ‘When I abused drugs and caused problems you left me alone. Why do you stop me and question me now that I am free from drugs?’
‘We would rather you had killed yourself with an overdose, than speak of Jesus’, was their reply.
Here is a young couple who, while they are away, have the secret police visit their home. When they return they are going to be summoned to meet with the secret police. They have received a suspended sentence for having spoken of Jesus and witnessed to friends. The phone has been tapped for years and they have been under surveillance.
Here is a young woman who is no stranger to grief. Her father, a preacher of Christ, was on his way to her birthday party some years ago when he was snatched off the street. She never saw him again. Each in turn seems to have a story that marks these ordinary believers as anything but ordinary.
They have come together – often with some difficulty and never without risk – not because of the pull of some well-known speaker, but because they delight in Christ.
Just to sing his praise together thrills them. How seldom do they get to unite their voices with others, rejoicing in the one they adore! What joy from praying with one another and sharing together around the throne of grace!
For some, this is the only time they are able to experience the fellowship of the saints before returning to a land which is even yet a ‘dry and weary land where there is no water’.
They thirst for fellowship, and the Lord has provided at intervals this oasis for his people through the work of MERF. May such stories of God’s gracious dealing with individuals be remembered as a foreshadowing of an outpouring of God’s blessing on lands now dry.
The author is a Scotsman who pastors a congregation in the USA