Here at International Christian Concern, we at times find ourselves working tirelessly to defend fellow brothers and sisters in Christ whom we have never met living in countries we have never been to. We remember Jesus’ promise to those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and the persecuted: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:41). We find joy in helping fellow believers and come to the realization, as I shared with a house fellowship of Indian immigrants in Qatar last week, that we are all equal and co-heirs with Christ in God’s kingdom (Rom 8:17). “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Our shared oneness in the body of Christ compels us to bear one another’s burdens regardless of the trials or tribulations that may follow.
This foundational teaching is sometimes forgotten by God’s children, even among those sent by churches in the West to represent Christ in the lands of the persecuted. One brother in Christ, Said Musa, was imprisoned nine months in Afghanistan before being released. The news of his circumstance was kept secret for five of those months until a courageous few – despite the disapproval of persuasive Christian expatriates in the country – decided to publicize his plight. Once public, the international community took notice and pushed their governments to act. The international pressure eventually led to Musa’s release last February. Meanwhile, Musa had been abused, raped, sleep deprived, mocked, and spat upon as he waited patiently in his prison cell for help.
Our Security in Heaven
While some Christian aid workers in Afghanistan wrote private letters appealing to the U.S. embassy in Kabul and other government agencies to assist Musa, they determined not to draw attention to the case and demanded that others follow their lead. They neither spoke to the public about Musa’s imprisonment nor visited him in prison, afraid that any connection to the case could jeopardize their work. Meanwhile, Musa and other Afghan believers both in Kabul and in the refugee community of New Delhi, India, pleaded with foreigners to raise awareness and advocate on their behalf. The Afghan church sought the prayers of the international church and wanted their sufferings to be known. Yet only a few heeded their words.
“Our security is in heaven, yet many trusted more in human security than what the Lord promised us,” a Christian couple in Kabul, who were the only foreigners to visit Musa in prison, told ICC. “When Musa was arrested, people were afraid. When we tried to get help, one organization said, ‘We are not going to let our project be jeopardized, or our presence for forty years in Afghanistan, for one person.’ It broke our hearts completely to hear that from a Christian. Musa is not a nobody; he’s our brother in Christ. He’s an Afghan brother, like you and me. For us, we had no choice. Of course our NGO is in danger. Of course our life is in danger. Of course we may get in very much trouble. Of course! But we felt we had no other choice.”
“When we visited [Musa] in prison, I was trembling,” the couple continued. “I can tell you, my heart was beating and I put on a veil – I’ve never put a veil on in Kabul – but I put on a veil because I was very, very scared. But when we saw him, all the people were shouting [obscenities at Musa for his apostasy] and it broke my heart. But even though I was very afraid, I would go again. It’s our duty. We thought we just cannot let him rot and be killed in prison.”
The couple approached many human rights agencies, including Musa’s fifteen year employer, the Red Cross, but were told time and again that a Muslim conversion to Christianity is a highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan and they would not intervene.
Regardless of fear and inaction, God carried out His perfect plan by keeping Musa in prison so that other Afghans may also know Him. During his imprisonment, Musa shared the Gospel with and witnessed the salvation of at least four fellow inmates.
“Two guys were addicted to opium,” Musa said of two prisoners chained next to him. “Their hands were in the chain. The commander tied them beside me in the corridor. He told me, Musa you are a true man, you are a right man, don’t let them smoke opium or hashish. I said, ‘I’m not a good man, God is good, but I will advise them.’ [The prisoners] spoke to me little by little. ‘Musa, I did many right things in Islam. I read the Quran, I prayed, but my life has become a bad thing. Despite everything I did, everything bad happened to my life.’ I told them, ‘If you want eternal life, if you want to become good, then you believe in Jesus, the Son of God.’ And I spoke to them little by little, and both of them believed in Jesus.
“For me it was amazing. We spoke about the Holy Bible and I prayed for them. And they became really good men. When they left the jail, we hugged each other and they said, ‘Musa, I will become really sad about you. You are a good friend to me. A good advisor. You are now my brother.’”
Though some foreigners in Afghanistan were afraid to publicly condemn Musa’s arrest or defend his religious rights, Musa on the other hand was openly sharing the Gospel to Muslims in a Kabul prison! He was not afraid of death but considered it his duty and joy to preach the Good News.
“We should suffer for our faith, because our Lord has suffered,” Musa said. “To speak the truth is better because the light is always over the shadow. I told my brothers and sisters in Afghanistan that they should be encouraged because the Holy Spirit is always with them. Jesus is always with them. If they kill me or others it doesn’t matter because it’s for our faith in Jesus.”
While Christian humanitarian organizations working in countries ‘closed’ to the Gospel hope that their actions, love, and words will lead nationals to Christ, they must also consider how they plan to respond when a national who comes to faith is arrested or in danger. Will they visit their brother or sister in prison, or hide to protect their humanitarian aid projects or their own neck? Is one brother’s life worth more than aid work that may save hundreds? And, if it was a western expatriate rather than a national who was arrested, would the organization react any differently? Some argue that the Bible does not grant us the liberty to decide whether or not we should attend to the needs of our brethren, but simply commands us to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith (Gal 6:10).”
ICC is often confronted by this dilemma as well – whether to speak out on behalf of injustice against national believers or remain quiet to protect the work of Christian aid organizations or missionaries inside the country. We have at times honored the requests of missionaries on the ground, but we have also been the ones to take a stand for the persecuted when they are begging us to assist them against the wishes of missionary organizations. We seek to serve both communities, but ultimately we know that every situation is different and we strive to seek and follow the counsel of the Lord in each instance.
Nonetheless, all of us must ask ourselves whether we will stand boldly for the name of Christ by defending our persecuted brethren even until death, or if we will cower in the face of oppression and injustice and persecution. Musa has made his choice.
“What great rewards for me if I am crucified on my cross… Please do not be afraid for the Lord is with us,” he wrote from prison on December 1, 2010.