Fear No Evil
Arrested—me, a missionary! In a volatile Latin American country where arbitrary imprisonment happens too often, I was hauled in off the street and, without being allowed to notify my family or consulate authorities, was tossed into prison.
The first night in prison I was dragged to another cell where the guard shoved me toward a big guy wrapped in a towel. He towered over me, four gold chains around his neck and a ring on every finger. The guard said to him, “Here, I’ve brought you someone else to play with.”
I was suddenly face-to-face with the worst of my fears. Without forewarning, without explanation, God had slammed iron doors behind me to face a hurdle, a fear that had been there for years.
The fear had always been there but had been on the back burner. One of the risks missionaries face in many regions of the world is being harassed or actually imprisoned under trumped-up charges from spying to proselytizing. In the country where I’m now serving, I and my co-workers have been beaten numerous times and thrown in jail, so wrangles with authorities were nothing new.
This time, the federal agents had arrested me for fraud and bribing officials. On a routine stop by authorities, my obviously foreign countenance coupled with my national birth certificate and military card convinced the agents that the only way I could have obtained these documents was through fraud and bribery. Despite my explanation that I had actually been born in this country, the officials sentenced me—without trial—to two to eight years in prison. I admit it: I was terrified.
But the fear wasn’t a fear for my life; that was a simple hurdle I passed years ago as I presented my body to the Lord as a living sacrifice. Of course, I don't wish my wife and kids to be left a widow and orphans. But I’m always prepared to die.
My deepest fear over the years I’ve lived in this country was that one day I would end up in prison and be tortured or abused sexually. Now here I was—facing the worst of my fears. I watched the guard retreat through the barred corridors and almost in despair prayed, “Lord, deliver me from this evil.”
Right away I began sharing with the big man about how I had been arrested, of the gospel coming into the lives of poor, simple Indian people without any education. I shared about how it turned their lives around and delivered them from the darkness of not knowing right from wrong. It brought them into a knowledge of Christ, freedom from guilt, freedom from condemnation and judgment.
He started turning blue, purple and red, sputtering and shouting for me to shut up, that he had read the Bible long before I was ever born.
Then he abruptly changed the subject and said, “We’ve got rules around here. You bathe every day. You mind your own business and don’t steal. Now go over to your bunk and shut up.”
So I climbed onto my bunk—a slab of cement—with a joy I can hardly describe. The Lord had delivered me! He’d taken me across that hurdle of fear.
The next day they let us out into a courtyard about the size of a basketball court to get exercise. I realized that there wasn’t a national of this country in the entire jail; it was a prison for foreigners. These men were particularly without hope since they weren’t near their homes. Some had been there for eight years and hadn’t even once seen their families.
I started talking to a group of men that morning about how Christ could make a difference in their lives when they returned home. I said they needed to pray every morning or they wouldn’t make it through the fears and misery of imprisonment. Every last one of them agreed.
One fellow came up, put his arm around me and said, “Brother, I’m glad you shared that. I’m a believer and I’ve been so discouraged. I was praying that the Lord would send me someone here to encourage me.”
I said, “Thanks a lot!” Immediately I knew that, in addition to helping me to face my deepest fears, God had put me in prison to minister to and encourage these men. I was quickly getting a new perspective on possibilities for cross-cultural ministry.
One of the inmates later said it best: “How are we going to minister to broken, displaced refugees in a world that is starving if we’ve never suffered ourselves? How are we going comfort other people if we’ve never been comforted by the comforter God?”
Each day that followed, the Lord seemed to be giving me another reason to give thanks. For example, the only light in the cell was right over my bunk, so I could read my little Scripture portion anytime day or night.
But it wasn’t easy. We weren’t allowed to have a change of clothes or books in the cell. We were given one little cup of rice or beans, and that was the meal for the day.
I’d been there for four days and I still hadn’t been allowed a phone call to let anybody know my situation. My wife didn’t know where I was, what had happened, where I’d gone, what was going on. It was starting to sink in: Two to eight years in prison. That’s a while.
My In-House Prison Ministry
A dear Muslim man, Satawa, borrowed my Bible and read chapter after chapter from Genesis and Exodus. He said, “I never read this about Abraham. It’s a good book.” He began reading in the Gospels and asked, “How can it be that Jesus is son of man?” I explained day after day for hours. He read in Colossians that Jesus is the image of God, the fullness of the Deity. One day Satawa said to me, “Please don’t be angry because I don’t understand this about David and the kings and all this about how He had to be born. I do want to understand.”
He’d invite me into his block, a cell block with about 15 Muslims. Five times a day they’d bow down to Mecca. Satawa would ask me questions about the Bible, and then we would read what the Bible had to say. The hour to pray towards Mecca would come, so we’d stop the Bible study and they’d pray and then we’d keep going. That first week, Satawa came to faith in Christ.
Fistfights Over Bibles
Several days into my term, a U.S. Consulate official finally arranged a phone call to my family so I could retain a lawyer. Two weeks later the lawyer came, and on the same day, my dad brought me a box of Bibles. I’d been praying for favor with the guards so that I could distribute the Bibles to the prisoners, because every day had been so full of sharing the Word with these people. There was incredible spiritual hunger.
I walked by the guards and one asked me, “What do you have in the box?” I said, “Bibles.” And he waved me on through. Some Europeans who argued with me every day because they hated anything to do with the gospel shouted, “Guard, what are you doing letting this man in here with Bibles? They’re turning this place into a monastery with that propaganda!” But the guard allowed the box through. I passed the Bibles out, but there weren’t enough for everyone who wanted one. So every day after that there’d be fistfights in the courtyard because someone had stolen another man’s Bible. These Bibles were literally all they had.
That Sunday when I held a service at the far end of the courtyard, about 45 men gathered. I told them, “You know, in the two weeks I’ve been here, the hardest thing has not been the abuse from the guards, the hunger, the lack of food, the bad water, the cold at night or the hot sun on my head. None of those things. The hardest thing for me has been the separation from my family.”
Every single one of those men instantly lowered his head. I had struck a chord. I could see them wiping tears away while I continued. “I have come to love you and I’d give my life for you, but I have a little boy back in the village. He’s a year old. He’s brought me so much joy. Sometimes when I’m discouraged, that boy comes into my arms and I laugh and thank the Lord for my son and I’m encouraged. I could never give him up.
“But, you see, the Scripture teaches that God gave His only Son, His dearly beloved Son, to die. He didn’t hold back. He gave Him to us so we could live, so that our lives could be changed, so we could have hope.”
Those men never raised their heads. About thirty of them stayed afterwards to pray and ask the Lord to lead them and forgive them.
As the days wore on, as I was finally deported back to the U.S., I became more aware than ever of the ripeness of the harvest.This is a day of harvest, a day of facing our fears and seeing God’s deliverance, of continuing to reach out to the unreached, hurting, displaced peoples who don’t know Jesus—even if they’re in jail!