At Christmas time, in the free world, we celebrate the gift of Jesus openly and very often surrounded by family and friends. As we thank God for His gift of love this month, let us remember to pray for Christians imprisoned for their faith – those who will be spending Christmas in prison, and maybe even in solitary confinement.
Voice of the Martyrs worker Petr Jasek spent two Christmases in a Sudanese prison.
In 2015, Petr travelled to Khartoum, Sudan, to meet with pastors and other Christians to evaluate how VOM could help and encourage persecuted Sudanese believers.
Petr was arrested at the airport on his way out of the country, charged with espionage and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. The Czech government negotiated his release in February 2017.
The story of his imprisonment – and the ministry God allowed him inside – is told in the book, Imprisoned with ISIS: Faith in the Face of Evil. In its pages, Petr recounts how helpless and alone he felt the first Christmas he was in prison. He recounts that with God’s help, he built a prison ministry and was able to conduct a service the second Christmas he was there.
“My cellmates and I spent Christmas Eve cleaning our room and trying to dry our belongings. I welcomed the distraction because it gave me something to think about other than my family back home in the Czech Republic celebrating Christmas – the most anticipated day of celebration and worship in the Christian year.
Thinking about my family celebrating the birth of Christ without me made me feel so helpless and alone.
“This was the first Christmas I had ever been separated from my wife and children. As we worked, I remembered Christmas songs in my mind, songs my father taught me when I was a young boy.
“The internal melodies encouraged me for a while, but when they flooded me with memories of my family and brought me to the brink of tears, I swept them from my mind like the water saturating my cell.”
“It was Christmas Eve day – my second Christmas imprisoned in Sudan – and I was staring at more than two hundred prisoners who had squeezed into our chapel. We had to add more chairs and benches to accommodate them all. The prison authorities let us borrow loudspeakers, which the Sudanese Christians enjoyed singing through, and the noise even drew Muslims who would be sharing this Christmas holiday with us.
“It was a very emotional service. Shortly before my sermon, I was able to call my family briefly from one of the functional toilets in the chapel. Hurrying, I told them I had only a few minutes to talk since I was about to preach that night.
“We stayed in the chapel the whole night, praying and preparing for the next day, and in the morning, the local Catholic priest arrived at the chapel. For the first and only time in the history of Al-Huda Prison, one hundred men on death row were allowed to attend our chapel. These were men who were placed in the death cell – a holding cell for men about to be executed. Pastor Hassan and Pastor Kuwa visited the death cell every Sunday and preached to these men, but because I was a foreigner, the guards didn’t allow me to join them.
“On Christmas, I was finally able to meet the Christian prisoners from death row for the first time. With tears spilling from our eyes, we hugged each other. These men were destined to die, and I embraced them knowing they would likely be executed before we had the chance to meet again on earth.
“We would see each other in heaven soon enough.”
Petr’s book can be purchased at vom.com.au/shop
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