Send us rain
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. 2 Corinthians 4:7-12
This passage is made so real in a place like this one, where we are meeting with the part of the church that lives and walks this in our presence, and yesterday morning our own Toby Mueller led us in worship around this. The theme was preparing for the journey, and it is made more poignant by the fact that there are families in the church in Syria and Iraq who have had no time to prepare for a journey they were forced to make when extremist forces overwhelmed their towns and cities and forced them to flee. Now. Taking nothing. Just go.
And yet here are these women in worship with us, singing joyfully, praying deeply, living out the gospel and their callings to it in the places and the context and the times they find themselves.
Read those words and imagine what it feels like to be that fragile clay pot, broken and chipped and nothing that no one would pick off of a garden store shelf. Afflicted in every way…but not crushed. Perplexed…but not driven to despair. Persecuted…but not forsaken. Struck down…but not destroyed.
And we know this not just by the fact that they are here to worship and eat and laugh and cry and share life with us, but that they do it so joyfully, so clearly for God’s glory and not their own. When we come forward to lead them in a familiar praise song, they know the actions and do them with us! I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame, I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord.
YES, LORD, YES, LORD, YES, YES, LORD!!
They teach us so much in these moments, and we are grateful to sit among them in these moments and lean in and listen and learn.
And today our worship was led by Belsam, who has come with the group of five Iraqis. Belsam worships at the church in Basrah that some of us know so well. Of the three Iraqi Presbyterian churches, this one is not led by a pastor but by a long-serving elder. Belsam, a university professor, has been bringing the word since their short-term pastor left earlier this year. The church in Iraq has been in pot-crushing position for many years. But what we have learned from this special group of churches is that as they carry the death of Jesus in their cracked and chipped pots, his light and life shine out of every opening in kindergartens teaching mostly Muslim children the love of Jesus, in visits to homes for children with disabilities, in bringing the hope of Jesus into prisons for women.
But today Belsam also reminded us that persecution is a gift. “What’s that?!” you might ask. How can this pot crushing and chipping and breaking act of persecution be a gift?
What if it meant that a Muslim-background man who had discovered the love of God in Christ was arrested and imprisoned? What if in his incarceration he took his Bible and shared it with others? What if his prison guard asked to read it and suddenly was presented with the good news? What if?
A strong and powerful word, indeed, in a room of women, many of them on the front lines of a war now in its fifth year, women whose families have had to make those swift journeys with no preparation time. “This is what we have learned in our time of persecution,” was her call. “Jesus himself told us we would know these times.”
Will you pray for them with us? Will you take a moment right now and pray for the churches in Iraq: Basrah and Baghdad and Kirkuk. Will you pray for the churches in Syria: Damascus, Latakia, Fairouzeh, Homs, Idlib, Ghasanieh, Malkieh, Qamishli, Hasakeh, Mahardeh, Yazdieh, Aleppo? Will you pray for the churches in Lebanon and for the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon? Pray for their pastors and spouses and families, pray for their congregations, pray for their communities and pray for their countries.
Worship closed today with a very moving moment for us. An Arabic song was being sung when suddenly Tammy, the wife of the pastor from Aleppo broke down in tears to come back and translate the words for us. As we held her among us, our tears joining her own, we heard these words:
Whatever the situation is, we acknowledge that you have the power,
You have the power which makes a way in the midst of waters.
Though the earth is full of darkness, but the heaven is full of light,
And just like Nehemiah who came to you crying and calling,
And so we come to you crying and calling upon you, oh Jesus, oh Jesus, stretch your hands to us.
Bless my country, oh you who hear the prayer which is in the heart of all humans,
Bless my country, turn your face to the cry of our hearts,
and send us rain.
We had a day free of learning sessions after this worship, a day spent in fun and fellowship as we took three busloads – 90 women – down to the Bekaa Valley for a tour and a lunch beside still waters. Good food again. Lots of laughter. Ducks on the stream, hungry for our extra bread.
And then we received the news that a bomb had exploded in the Christian quarter of Aleppo - Tammy’s city - and that ten people had been killed while we were having these joyful sweet moments together. And Tammy’s tearful interpretation of that hymn hung in the air before us.
For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.
And we know this is true. We believe it is true.
And still we pray, turn your face to the cry of our hearts, and send us rain.