God’s Radical Call to Love
By Meg McEwen
09/17/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – “I’ll never forget the first day that I was beaten,” Dan Baumann said slowly, pausing to let those words sink into the D.C. audience. Politicians, policy wonks, and a few slouched interns suddenly sat up. That caught their attention.
Iran was a hot topic in D.C. at the time, though not for the reasons that interested this crowd. While its teetering nuclear dealings with the US crested the headlines, its savage treatment of Christian “criminals” did not make the cut. Religious freedom and persecution in Iran, however, were at the top of the agenda at International Christian Concern’s annual Policy Day, where Daniel Baumann was a keynote speaker.
Dan’s trip began rather uneventfully; two weeks of wonderful time was spent in Iran, enjoying the culture, people, and traditions with a friend from South Africa. In fact, it wasn’t until he reached customs on his return trip to Turkmenistan (where he lived at the time) that he met trouble.
“As we got to the border, they didn’t give our passports back when we went to get them stamped. But instead, they held them.”
It was in the process of retrieving their passports from another city that they were separated for “private meetings.” That was when the first of many beatings began. Dan’s assailant hit him in the face, spat on him, slapped him, and kicked him for hours before dragging him to a car. Dan was taken to a building, where he lost all of his possessions and was led blindfolded to a prison cell.
A space no larger than two by three yards became Dan’s home for the next three months. He was given a couple of blankets, and he slept on the hard floor. There was a toilet and a sink. The light was on 24 hours a day.
Dan wondered if the outside world had forgotten him. He realized later that he wasn’t the first Christian to cross paths with the Iranian judiciary. Christians, pegged with illegitimate charges, often disappear in Iran’s criminal justice system – never to be seen or heard from again.
“This was my life… and life went on. I never knew how long I would be there,” he said. “Without any explanation, we were in prison in Iran.”
“This was my life… and life went on. I never knew how long I would be there. Without any explanation, we were in prison in Iran.”
In the midst of the questions that gnawed at his mind, Dan discovered that he had two death sentences on his life: one for being a follower of Jesus and one for being an American. “I had given my life to God many years [ago], but where was He?”
Dan waited for months, holed up in that tiny cell. His life settled into a routine; like clockwork, he was beaten every day by the same man. But, despite the pain, God began to work on Dan’s heart.
“The first day that he started to beat me, I felt this tug from God in my heart. With a simple [statement]: ‘Dan, I want to teach you to love your enemies.’”
Dan’s mind was so consumed with his own situation that his pain preoccupied the total sum of his attention. He resisted God. But that tug remained, urging him to finally stop and ask, “God… what do you think of this man?”
All at once, he felt the love of God for this man crash into him. God loved this man. God knew this man’s name; in fact, He knew everything about him. God had always loved him, and He even knew his wife and kids.
There was just one challenge, Dan realized: this man didn’t know God.
In the blinding light of the prison cell, his heart uttered a quiet plea for forgiveness, “God, change my heart.”
Over the coming days and weeks, Dan was beaten again and again. But God did something special in his heart, and he began to look at his assailant through the eyes of God.
“I began to bless this man. I began to love this man. I began to speak nice things to this man, as love poured in my heart, even for my enemies.”
Finally, Dan broke the ice. During one of their many beating sessions, Dan turned to him and said, “Sir, if I have to see you every day for the rest of my life, let’s become friends.”
The man stopped and stared. He looked around, as if looking for a spy, and replied harshly, “We will never be friends.”
“No, sir, today things change. Today, we become friends,” Dan insisted.
The man froze and started to shake, took his hand out of his pocket, and did the impossible. He grabbed Dan’s hand and began to shake it. Vigorously. And as he continued shaking Dan’s hand, tears started to fall down his face.
“Dan,” he began, “I’m Rizak, and I would love to be your friend.” He stopped, wiped his tears, and continued, “Dan, I’m so sorry.” That day, an unlikely friendship began. One that would lead to better prison treatment for Dan – and a new heart for Rizak.
Through the intervention of the Swiss government, Dan was eventually released from Iran’s prison system. That day, he left the country with his freedom, but today he says, “One of the greatest freedoms I have is the freedom to love. And the freedom to walk in that place of love, no matter where God sends me.”
You can purchase Dan’s book, “Cell 58,” on Amazon to read his entire story.
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