by Rev. Dr. Mehrdad Fatehi, Executive Director of Pars Theological Centre, a Frontier Fellowship global partner
“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars…” —2 Corinthians 4:7 (NLT)
“This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I need mercy.” —St Augustine’s Confessions (Chapter XXVIII)
You will have read or heard by now about the impact that the Coronavirus pandemic is having on mental health all over the world. At Pars, this is manifested through a 50% increase in Iranian Christian clients seeking therapy through our Counselling Centre in the months of April and May. Our counsellors report that the majority of these cases concern marital and familial struggles (among refugees in particular) that have come to surface as a result of life in lockdown. Others have sought therapy due to relapses into addiction and the return of depression as a consequence of experiences of loss too difficult to bear.
Depression and anxiety, grief and post-traumatic stress disorder are struggles with which the Iranian Christian community is all too familiar. These struggles are often the outcome of persecution: There is the heartbreak of being rejected by one’s family and friends, the losing of jobs and opportunities for education, continuous harassment and discrimination, and forced migration, just to name a few examples. Furthermore, such struggles are also the deposit of overwhelming social problems that come with a society under oppression.
The New York Times op-ed writer, David Brooks, once wrote about how in times of great suffering there are those who are broken and those who are broken open. Those who are solely broken withdraw, shrivel up, and disconnect from others. In contrast, those who are broken open, seek out the other as they yearn for healing and wholeness. The Christian thinker, Eleanor Stump, has also written beautifully on this topic in her book, Wandering in Darkness (2012). She notes that in the “Christian tradition there has long been this idea that something about suffering enables you—doesn’t make you, but it enables you—to open and open and open and open more deeply to God and to others… to seek communion… It is not a coincidence that Job has the longest face-to-face conversation with God than any other person in the Biblical narrative.”
At Pars, we want to try to model and encourage the act of breaking open in times of suffering. This carries particular weight for us since we are part of an honour and shame culture, where opening up is rarely encouraged. Especially through our counselling centre, we want to provide a safe space for people to break open; to share their pain and their sorrows, and to be pointed to Jesus’ broken body. Ultimately, it is only His body—broken for us—that brings healing to individuals, families and communities.
I am inspired by our many clients who have courageously chosen to open up and share their pain with our counsellors. One of them was Sara who recently shared the following:
“I remember that during the first sessions that I was talking to you, I was full of stress and anxiety and despair. I was thinking that there is no hope for me, nothing is repairable any more and I am at the end of my life. Even thinking about the separation was killing me.
I went through a very tough time, but you were always there and supporting me. I didn’t go through those difficult days on my own, but you were also with me.
Praise the Lord I am doing better. I know that I can go forward and I could get stronger and stronger every day.
I am very happy that now I can make decisions about my life, or what I want to wear, or my talks and my relationships. I don’t suffer from shaking hands, lack of appetite, continuous headaches, insecurities and anxieties, fear of continuing life or attending social gatherings any more and I have accepted myself and my new situation. My life has started with a new colour and I owe that to God and to you.”
My prayer for myself and for all of you is that, like Sara, we will be broken open during this pandemic. As ever, I am so thankful for each of you and your faithful support.
To learn more about Pars Theological Centre and how you can join Frontier Fellowship in partnering with them to equip and encourage the Iranian Church, visit the Partners + Projects page of our website (You’ll find Pars in the Europe section).