Participants in a Christian delegation to Iran in February are urging congregations to light oil lamps as a reminder to pray for peace and for the people of Iran.
The delegation, co-sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and American Friends Service Committee, met with the Iranian president, a former president and other political and religious leaders in Iran in February.
At the end of each meeting, the US group presented Iranian leaders with ceramic oil lamps, made by Indiana potter Dick Lehman, as well as quilted wall hangings.
Ron Flaming, MCC's director of international programs, said delegation members told leaders that the Bible calls on Christians to remember the leaders of the world with prayer and that the lamps signified a promise to remember Iran and its leaders.
"It was a concrete symbol of our commitment to remain in prayer for them," Flaming said.
Now he and other delegates are inviting congregations to adopt that symbol as their own.
He hopes churches will light oil lamps — either ones similar to those the group took or other oil lamps or candles — as a reminder to pray for the people of Iran and for peace between Iran and the United States.
The effort echoes a similar campaign in 2002, a year before the Iraq war started, where MCC was part of a delegation that took oil lamps, also made by Dick Lehman, to Iraq. As in this effort, U.S. churches lit ceramic oil lamps and prayed for Iraq.
Patricia Shelly, a delegation member representing the executive board of Mennonite Church USA and a professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College in Kansas, said she hopes the lamps will be a powerful bridge to connect Christians in the United States to the people of Iran.
"We live in a society that is creating so many images of enemy in regard to the people of Iran. It's hard to counter that message unless we do so in very deliberate ways," she said.
"A tangible symbol like an oil lamp makes it possible for (us) to connect with the humanity of the Iranian people and to remind ourselves that our enemies are not faceless but human beings whom God loves," Shelly said.
Adapted from an article originally by Marla Pierson Lester of MCC