Strength of Faith – Following Christ behind bars

It’s easy to keep your faith once things are going well and both you and your family prosper. If you flourish in life, your kids are healthy, and God answers your prayers, there’s no reason to waiver.

But how would you react if you lost your freedom, if they persecuted you, and if you faced a possibility of the death sentence? Would you still stick to Christ and believe in resurrection? Or would you prefer to give up on your faith, trying to save your Earthly life?

Of course it is easy to say we would never betray Christ. It’s easy to say we’d do anything, but in truth you can never know how you would react, unless you found yourself in the situation before.

Inspiring christian story about faith

I like to read books, especially if they were written by Christians, who managed to overcame adversity in their lives. One young guy from Slovakia recently published a book called University of Solitude, and I found inside probably the most inspiring Christian story I’ve ever read. With the permission from the author, I’ll cite it here:

One of the first Christian pastors, who actively and openly operated in Iran after the Islamic revolution, was called Reza. Just as I have been, he was accused of spreading Christianity in Iran and imprisoned in Evin. They held him in harsh conditions, forced him to spend years in solitary confinement, tortured him cruelly—both physically and psychologically.

One year passed—two—three . . . Reza still hadn’t been to court. Nothing was happening in his case. He suffered and waited. It took eleven long years before he finally stood before a judge. He waited eleven years in custody before a decision was made in his case. He had no chance of bail.

And then it came. After reading all the reports from the security police, after a detailed study of his case and after speaking with Reza himself (who was not ashamed of his faith and who, throughout the whole eleven years, never wavered, refusing to convert to Islam, for which they promised him freedom) a highly placed Muslim judge pronounced the verdict: “Death by hanging.”

Eleven years of waiting, eleven years of struggling in terrible prison conditions. . . . One day, one judge, one verdict. Death by hanging. What do you think, Matej—how might have Reza felt back then?

 

I got goosebumps on my back. I could not respond to Farshid’s question. All I could think of was, “why on earth did Reza not convert to Islam?” He could at least pretend . . . why didn’t he save his life? He could have spared himself years of suffering, he could have left the country and practiced his true faith elsewhere!

I did not understand the strength of his faith. His decision to suffer for Christ was beyond my comprehension. I did not answer Farshid’s question, so he continued with the story.

 

You know, Matej, there is a procedure in the Iranian judiciary—whenever a judge passes a verdict, he offers the person being sentenced a sheet of paper, on which he can write the so-called “last defense.” The convicted can write anything. The judge will then read his last defense and, in exceptional circumstances, might even mitigate the verdict. It does not happen very often, however.

In Reza’s case, the Muslim judge followed the standard procedure. After sentencing him to death, he passed Reza a piece of paper, giving him a chance for a last defense.

Pastor Reza wrote the following words on his piece of paper, “Let God’s love, mercy and blessings always be with you, and with your whole family.” He then passed the paper back to the judge.

The judge read Reza’s last defense. It shocked him. After all, he had just sentenced this Christian to death by hanging! He had sentenced him to death after eleven difficult years behind bars! He had sentenced him to death for spreading a message of the God they both believed in, although in slightly different ways. . . .

And how did he, the Christian, use his last chance to defend himself—to present sound proof of his innocence, or to give up his faith at the last minute and avoid hanging?

He didn’t use this chance for a defense, nor did he leave a message for his family either. He didn’t vent his anger or ask the judge for mercy. He wished God’s love, mercy, and blessings on him—a Muslim. To the person who just a minute ago sentenced him to death by hanging.

Reza’s words touched the judge so profoundly that he immediately annulled the verdict. And since Reza had already spent eleven years in prison, the judge freed him immediately.

And so Reza was freed. He escaped the death sentence. He did not give up his faith even in the most trying circumstances; he forgave the judge who sentenced him to death. What more, not only did Reza immediately forgive him, he was not at all angry with him—just the contrary. He had wished him the most beautiful thing a man of faith can wish to another. It is a beautiful tale of a life lived truly in the name of God.

One might expect Reza to leave Iran once he had his freedom; it would be easy to imagine him moving elsewhere. But he stayed; he wanted to continue his Christian mission where he had started it.

A few weeks later, Reza was found dead at home, his body mangled by twenty-one long Islamic knives. His death was a terrible one.

Next to his body lay a note with an address. When the faithful, who found his body, went to this address, they discovered another Christian pastor. He had been murdered in exactly the same way as Reza. Twenty-one long knives had pierced the warm human flesh. An Islamic murder.

Let this story forever testify to the strength of faith. The real strength of Christian faith, but also of Islamic faith. . . .

 

*The text was quoted from the University of Solitude.

 

Power beyond imagination

Sometimes we think that we do a lot for Christ, going to church, praying, possibly helping the others–if our resources allow us to do so.

Reza’s story showed me what it really means to follow Christ. It means to trust him, and his message, regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in. Whether healthy or sick, whether free or imprisoned, whether young or old. He’s always there for us, with his hands open. And he wants us to follow his example….

Sometimes I feel ready to do so, but sometimes I’m just too weak. Than the sins arrive, and I lose my way temporarily. Stories like the one from University of Solitude help me to get back on track, and motivate me to follow my Catholic mission in daily life. It is not as easy task as it may seem for non-believers.

Fasting brought me closer to God

I always wanted to feel his presence, to be close to God. As close as you can get….

Jesus passed many trials in his short Earthly life. Most of them can never be repeated by a man. But there are things he did to get closer to his Father in Heaven which can be imitated. Fasting definitely belongs to them.

I always felt a traditional Christian fast was inadequate. To skip meat for one day, or a day in a week, is nothing. Just a habit that doesn’t even feel uncomfortable. I wanted to experience more, to get into Jesus’s skin. He fasted on the desert for forty days, and I seriously started to consider the options.

 

Doctors called it a dangerous experiment

When I talked about the idea with my GP, he immediately turned it down. “Such a fast would be too dangerous for anyone, let alone woman in her sixties. Don’t ever try that, you’d likely die!” I consulted many other physicians and priest (most of them were overweight), and got the same answers all the time–a short fasting, for 24 hours, is beneficial for the body. But anything longer is dangerous, and you should not attempt that feat.

Then I found these Russian studies. Most of them were pretty old, but depicted people using fasting to fight various diseases, including cancer. They even practiced so called dry fasting, when not eating anything is combined with drinking minimal amounts of water only.  It sounded fascinating, especially because many of them fasted for longer than one month!

 

Final resolution – faith is more important than what doctors say

I knew that holding fast will deprive me of many activities in my daily life. I knew I could lost my job, and that I’ll meet misunderstanding of my family and friends. But I desired to get closer to God, to purify my body and soul. And so I went for a 14 days long fast, trying to discover the truth.

 

First two days- a hell

As I’ve never fast before, and used to eat a lot, the first two days were really difficult. I encountered stomach ache, and constant feeling of hunger. I was nervous, and people found it strange talking to me. I considered quitting at least twenty times, especially during the first night when I simply couldn’t fall asleep. Please note that I drank nothing except of pure water, so my calories intake was zero.

But I didn’t quit. I prayed to God to give me power to continue. After the initial 48 hours, I felt very weak. At the same time, however, the stomach ache disappeared and I wasn’t so depressed anymore.

 

Days three to seven – a zombie

During these days I found it hard to walk. I felt really weak, and had a mild headache all days long. My sweat had a strange odor, and I felt it necessary taking shower several times a day.

If you met me in the streets (I went for short walks every day), you’d consider me a zombie. I didn’t talk to anyone, and I really felt extremely tired. I tried to imagine how Jesus felt, and where did he get his power from in the desert. His bond with his Holy Father must have been super strong. I cried, knowing I’d never reach that level in my life.

 

Day eight – sudden feeling of energy

I can not explain it, but on day eight, I suddenly felt very energetic. Something must have happened to my body, maybe a metabolic change, since I felt really good and all pains were gone. I thanked God for taking such a good care of me, and teaching me an important lesson–lesson of piety and persistence.

The good feelings doesn’t last long, however. On day eleven, I started to fell extremely tired again. I could barely walk and spent the days in bed. I lost terrible amount of body weight.

 

Day eleven to fourteen – power of prayer

I was too weak to do anything but pray. And so I prayed. I never spent so much time praying in my life. I simply lied in my bed, imagined Jesus, and devoted myself in a long prayer. I felt his pains, his sacrifice. Suddenly  I felt the connection and for a short moment–though feeling exhausted and in terrible pain, I got this deep subconscious notion of peace…. I knew he was there with me.

On the 15th day from the start of my fast, I decided to end the experience. My husband called a doctor and he strongly suggested doing that after visiting me, unless I wanted to risk dying in our bed. I drank a glass of juice, and very slowly resumed my eating habits.

 

Jesus, the strongest

I fast for 14 days, in a comfort of my home, and nearly didn’t survive the experience. We can just imagine Jesus’s feelings in the desert, tempted by the devil. Yet he was strong, yet he knew the true path, yet he never wavered…. My short fasting experienced encouraged me in my faith, and helped me to understand the true magnitude of our savior’s personality.