‘We did not mean to become Christians’, said Esmaeil as we sat in his lounge. ‘But we were slowly changed as we read the Holy Book and listened to your speaking at the church’. Fatemeh his wife nodded her agreement, while their 6-year-old daughter Salmah looked on.
Another elder and I from the EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Christchurch) were visiting this gentle Iranian family in their home in response to their request for baptism.
They had previously requested baptism, but we had declined, because there were questions about sincerity. Now we asked ourselves: ‘Who are we to withhold baptism from those who profess faith in Christ?’
This family is typical of the many that our church has been privileged to assist on the path to salvation in Jesus Christ.
Christchurch, like other main centres around New Zealand, has become home recently to many economic migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from all over the world.
It is among these recent migrants that the Spirit of God is doing a powerful work. One local Chinese church claims to have baptised over 300 mainland Chinese in the past couple of years. Praise the Lord!
Along with the excitement of seeing people come to faith in Christ, gospel work amongst migrants brings its own special problems and issues – insincerity, opportunism, cultural misunderstandings, and language issues for our worship services and midweek Bible studies.
The Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Christchurch is relatively young. It came into existence in 1974 as the result of growing concern among Evangelical members of mainline Presbyterian churches over the rise and prevalence of liberalism.
Through the influence of Banner of Truth reprints of Puritan classics, and through the Navigator’s ministry to university students, a movement to ‘start again’ began.
Over the years the church has been blessed with godly leadership, biblical preaching, and a desire to restore the ‘vineyard’ of God that men have destroyed (Jeremiah 12:10).
Over time it also became apparent that just maintaining a ‘faithful’ witness was not going to get the new church very far.
The leaders realised that a ‘preservation’ or ‘remnant’ mentality, combined with natural Kiwi conservatism, would see the work die out with a whimper rather than grow.
The challenge, therefore, has been to take the foundation laid – that is, good strong Reformed thinking and practice – and nurture out of it a passionate commitment to evangelism.
Today we are blessed with over sixty communicant members and their children, plus roughly the same number of regular adherents.
The work to reach refugees and migrants has been expanded through a ministry partnership with Botros Morgan’s Youth Forever Club, a community-based outreach to Arabic and African youth.
Add to this, different Bible studies catering for English-language learners, plus ministries of mercy to those in need, and one sees a holistic battlefront against the forces of hell.
At the beginning of 2001 we welcomed into our congregation three families of the USA-based Campus Outreach Ministries, to help us re-establish work amongst Christchurch university students.
These team members have had many exciting opportunities to share the gospel, including two investigative Bible studies with non-Christian students in their dorms.
However, it is easy to mention all these things we ‘do’, while forgetting what God does for us. Central to the life and nourishment of the church is the weekly preaching of his Word.
We must never forget that it is the prayers of the saints – in private, in small groups and in the congregation – that leads us to trust more and more in his sovereign love and (as Calvin put it) causes God to ‘open the floodgates of heaven and pour out his blessings upon us’.
These are the core, foundational elements of a healthy church. They are the ‘boring’ components of holy living. But we ignore them at our peril.