JESUS BEGAN his earthly ministry by publicly reading Scripture in the synagogue. It began:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” (Isaiah 61:1)
But Jesus also warned his follows that some of them would be imprisoned and suffer death for his sake. We look at some Christians who have been imprisoned recently, rejoicing with those who have been freed.
(Staff) Sudan has freed from death row a Christian woman whom they had accused of apostasy. Meriam Ibrahim, 27, had been sentenced to hang for refusing to renounce her faith, and gave birth to her second child while shackled in prison. She drew international attention to the plight of a Christian woman living under Islamic Sharia law.
Ibrahim was freed in late June after an 18-month ordeal but Sudan initially blocked her from leaving the country. She and her husband and their two young children took refuge at the US embassy in Khartoum.
Eventually, in July, the family flew to Rome where they met privately with the Pope, then travelled on to the United States. Her husband, Daniel Wani, has American citizenship and the family now lives in New Hampshire.
She told Fox News that the Sudanese authorities had given her three days to renounce her faith, and when she refused she was sentenced to hang. She said that in prison she was visited every day by imams, who recited parts of the Koran to her in an attempt to pressure her into renouncing her religion.
"I faced a tremendous amount of pressure. I had my trust in God," she said. "My faith was the only weapon that I had in these confrontations with imams and Muslim scholars, because that's what I believe."
Ms Ibrahim said other Christian prisoners were told any debts they had would be written off if they converted to Islam.
“I would never leave my faith,” she said. “If you don’t have faith you are not alive. I put my life at risk for the women of Sudan and for Christians who live under difficult circumstances, persecuted and treated harshly. There are many Meriams in Sudan and throughout the world.”
A Quebec nun and two Italian priests have also been freed two months after they were abducted by armed gangs in northern Cameroon. Gilberte Bussiere, 74, was kidnapped on April 5 along with Gianantonio Allegri and Giampaolo Marta.
All three had been working as missionaries in the country--Bussiere as an educator for 35 years. She has returned to Quebec and would seem to be in good health. It is thought that Bussiere was captured by the Muslim extremist group, Boko Haram.
Nigeria is on Cameroon’s northern border and Boko Haram is active in both countries.
On April 14th, Boko Haram abducted more than 300 Muslim and Christian schoolgirls at night from a Nigerian boarding school. Police say 53 quickly escaped but 276 have remained in captivity for over five months. There is still no word on their fate.
On Aug. 4th, Beijing arrested a Christian couple from Vancouver and charged them with being spies. Julia and Kevin Garrett, 53 and 54 respectively, had run a coffee shop in Dandong, a Chinese city on the North Korean border. They are accused of stealing state secrets.
The couple had been teaching in China since 1984 and had run Peter’s Coffee House since 2008. The cafe held a weekly "English corner" to help locals improve their language skills.
"My parents are Christians, yes, and they don't hide that," Peter Garrett, their 21-year-old son, told CBC Radio. "But they're not doing anything against the Chinese government or trying to proselytize or anything like that."
The arrests came less than a week after the Canadian government blamed China for alleged cyberhacking at the National Research Council.
Christian missionaries play a critical role in the underground railroad that helps North Korean defectors out of China. “If you are a North Korean in China, the only place where you can realistically be given food and shelter is a church,” Andrei Lankov, a Russian scholar and expert on North Korea, told the Globe and Mail.
Although the Chinese border with North Korea is a politically sensitive area, it is thought by some that the Chinese government wants to rid the whole country of all foreign missionaries by 2017. Visas are being reduced from 12 months to three or are not being granted at all. There is also a renewed campaign to require Chinese Christians to worship only in government-run churches. Of China’s estimated 50 million to 100 million Christians, only 21 million attend official churches.
A missionary and a Christian tourist in North Korea are also being held in prison. Christian proselytizing is considered a crime in North Korea. An American, Jeffrey Fowle, 56, who entered North Korea as a tourist was arrested in May for leaving a Bible at a sailors’ club in the city of Chongjin. His trial is expected soon. A Korean-American missionary and tour guide, Kenneth Bae, 46, was arrested in November 2012 and is serving a 15-year sentence for alleged “hostile acts.” He said his health has deteriorated from working eight hours a day at a labour camp. Both men have appealed to the US government to intervene on their behalf. The United States has no diplomatic relations with North Korea and strongly warns American citizens against travelling to the country.