As I write this, Mrs Meriam Ibrahim and her husband Mr Daniel Wani are being held in Khartoum’s airport. After being tried and convicted of ‘swapping religions’, told her marriage to her husband was illegal, forced to raise their son alone in prison whilst awaiting to give birth to their daughter, giving birth to her daughter (again – alone and in prison), all whilst being told she would be hanged in two years time, finally Meriam was released from prison. Finally she was reunited with her husband. Finally she was going to be free.
Then, the authorities arrested her and her husband at the airport as they tried to board a plane.
This is a critical time for this precious family. Although there are many in the world of social media and petitions who are cheering this family on, there are some who do not wish them well. At all.
It is today that I decide to read 1 Peter again. Today when I come across the well-quoted verse 1 Peter 3:15. Many times I have heard this quoted, like the Boy Scout motto – ‘always be prepared’. Followed by encouragement to be prepared to tell anyone at anytime about Jesus and how He has changed my life. ( Which He has, thankfully!) But reading the full verse today and in context AND in light of today’s news, I see this verse differently.
Think of Daniel and Miriam. Think of their struggles.
Now read this:
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…” 1 Peter 3:14-15 NIV
I’m no longer convinced that this verse is telling me to be prepared to tell the person selling me a Cornetto at the corner shop about Jesus, should he happen to ask one day. It’s something much deeper than that. Something a lot more unsettling and a lot less comfy. Something that reminds me Jesus wore sandals as he walked long dusty roads, not fuzzy slippers across living room carpets. And that cross He bore? It was not as pretty as the one on my gold chain.
No. 1 Peter 3:15 is no Boy Scout motto. This was a cry to the persecuted church, to stand fast, to remember the hope that they have in Christ Jesus even though they are beaten, in chains, spat on and ridiculed. Even though they have to worship in secret and memorise precious gospels and letters like this one. Even though they might only find employment doing the worst jobs, if they are lucky. Even though they might be arrested for no logical reason, just for believing what they believe.
There was a hope. Even in that dark place of injustice and cruelty. Jesus.
And amazingly, this call to stand firm is coupled to a call to not fear.
Because the injustice people do is usually caused by fear.
Followers of Jesus are to be different. Hearts set on hope, not fear. Motivated by the love God has for all, as demonstrated by Christ Jesus.
Fast forward two thousand years and in some parts of the world, not much has changed.
I may not be able to wear a cross should I ever be an NHS nurse, but I can attend any church of my choosing and own any Bible I wish. I am not persecuted.
People like Meriam and Daniel are.
Muslims and Christians living in Central African Republic are. Read this article for more information from the point of view of a Médecins Sans Frontières doctor – http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/24/central-african-republic-a-surgeons-diary-from-a-country-on-the-brink
And not even humanists are safe. Today I read that a man was locked up in a mental institution for saying that he did not believe in God. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-28010234
Still have hope for humanity?
I do, but only because like the verses say, my trust is in Jesus not in me or other people. I am not crippled by fear. Christ Jesus is Lord. Jesus is the hope for humanity.
But that is easy for me to say.
I wonder what answer Meriam and Daniel would give? I wouldn’t dare ask them. I’m not even certain I have the right to wonder such things. The hope they must have is a divine, sacred thing that I dare not even touch. But simply gaze at, weeping, in awe and wonder.
Please pray for this precious family, for their faith, and for people around the world who are persecuted because of religion. Please continue to speak out against religious persecution.
Get informed. There are many organisations. Here are a couple.
This article also raises some interesting points: