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Baptism by Fire

For James and his colleagues, it was going to be a trial by fire and the big question was, “would they come through this fiery experience without the smell of smoke on their clothes?”

James has a home church of about 50 believers. At a small hotel, a conference hall was booked and a discipleship program was presented to local leaders, focusing on witnessing to their communities. The day’s session had come to an end and James, together with some leaders, remained to discuss the day’s events. Suddenly the doors flung open and three men dressed in white robes rushed into the hall brandishing long rods in their hands.

On a noticeboard in the foyer, a poster advertising the retreat was visible. The name of the organiser – Paul, was published on the poster and as the men entered the hall they were shouting, “Where is Paul? We know he is here somewhere!”

These men were Muslims and with their eyes now fixed on the white board before them, they read the statement, “Humanity has sinned and salvation is only through Jesus Christ.” This infuriated the Muslims even more and they became increasingly uncontrollable declaring the gathering an apostasy and accused the event organisers of holding a Christianisation meeting.

One of the Muslims was holding a photo of Paul conducting a prayer meeting and it became clear that one of the hotel staff had taken the photo and sent it to one of the Muslim men. Suddenly the doors flung open again. This time about 20 more Muslims joined the other three men and despite James’ attempt to calm everyone down, no one was listening. James knew the situation was becoming more serious.

Persecuted but not abandoned
Although James was himself in shock, he remained calm remembering the calmness of Jesus when He was facing His accusers in the temple court. As he prayed, he felt the Holy Spirit strengthening his resolve and he told the group again to be calm while he tried to reason with the Muslims.

Paul, who is approximately 60 years of age, appeared to be in deep shock as the Muslims continued to intimidate the group, creating an atmosphere of fear. Some Muslims took hold of Paul to drag him out of the room. This was because the Muslims presumed Paul was the organiser of the meeting however, James managed to stop them. The hotel manager even tried to mediate but the Muslims would not listen and chased him away. The hotel manager then called the police.

When the local police arrived, the Muslims became even more vocal and insisted on taking James back to their headquarters for interrogation. It was an impasse as the group by now was becoming larger.

Interrogated for 48 hours
The district police managed to convince the Muslims that James and his group would be taken to the local police station for questioning and they could follow them. As the police led them out of the hall, an anti-demonstration police squad protected them as they were escorted into an armoured vehicle. All James could see were waves and waves of men in white robes!

For the next 48 hours, James and his group of three (including Paul), were interrogated. They were all accused of blasphemy and the district police tried to gather sufficient evidence to lay charges, however they were unsuccessful.

During James’ interrogation, a district policeman noticed the classification on his ID card stated James was still a Muslim. When they asked him why he was at this Christian meeting, he simply replied, “Was it wrong for me to be here? I am here to learn about salvation.” Without responding to his answer, they told James that if he wanted to attend a Christian meeting, he should go to a church.

With no evidence, James and his friends were released but he has been advised to stay away from the venue where the conference took place and that it would be dangerous for him if he were to return to the believers’ village.

The situation still has the potential of becoming volatile and even though the leader of the village considered it was reasonably safe, the Muslims are still present and watching the believers’ closely. It was also reported that in the same area two churches had recently been closed.

This experience has certainly affected James and while he continues his activities of teaching and mentoring Christian leaders, he struggles to find the strength to return to similar areas where the need and the danger is greatest.

James needs our prayers and support. The event is still a vivid memory but James will always be grateful for God’s divine intervention in saving their lives.

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