Monday, August 4, 2014

4 Degrees of Separation from Meriam Ibrahim

These are the stories I stay alive for. Life on earth is an epic drama, and at this point in history in particular, we have a treasure trove of stories from history at our fingertips, waiting to be dug up and relished. The ability to know what happened in the past, let alone what's happening right now, is a blessing and privilege that can't be understated. I am quite confident that in eternity, God will show us flashbacks of what really happened, that we never knew about, simply so we can know what He did and give Him glory for it. And in the meantime, in my sense-limited experience of earth history as a participant, I take pleasure in getting just a little taste of seeing how His plan is unfolding. It's exciting. I can consider a day a good day if I learned something about men and women of today or men and women of history that makes me marvel at God's involvement.

Yesterday at the 'Life Group' (adult Sunday School) at the SBC church in my hometown I've been trying to be obedient in attending, the executive pastor dropped by to share a story having to do with the church's practice of "prayer walking."
Prayer walking is not something mystical. It is simply going out and walking around the community while praying for the people in the houses etc as you pass them by. The motivation is to connect the petitioner with the real world in a tangible way (praying from home is just as effective because God is the One who answers), so that as they go around, they get a sense of the needs of the community so that they have a better idea of what to pray for. Basically it's an immersive activity to help you target your prayers more specifically. It's not in any way suggestive of the idea that your prayers become more 'powerful' because you're doing a sort of ritual. Nope. Not at all. The whole goal is to make you more personally involved, and incite you to feel more compassion for the people you're praying for.
The executive pastor shared that he'd been at a retreat in New York (state) with his family some time ago, but recently. Also staying there was another family he's gotten to know, and the husband is an elder in Tim Keller's church. If I remember the details, this man suggested to him that someone he knew was conducting a prayer walk in the Bronx River Housing Projects in the early morning one day that week. The man's name was Demas, and was a former felon who'd become passionate about starting a church in the Bronx. 

My executive pastor showed up in the early morning, and walked with Demas and some other men as they prayed over the people there. He shared with us that he was affected by hearing how they were praying--one example was that they'd literally ask, "God, we ask that you put a spirit of preserving life in the pregnant women, today, that they will not choose to have an abortion today." Raw stuff. 

As they continued, a man came walking toward them. His name was Bill, a friend of Demas. Somewhat confused at first, but becoming more interested the more he heard, this was the conversation the executive pastor overheard:

Demas: How was your trip?
Bill: It was great. I got to hold the baby!

Bill's trip was to Khartoum, Sudan. He has been friends with the foreign minister of Sudan for some years, and he had been one of a group of high profile people who traveled there to contend for the release of Meriam Ibrahim. Her daughter had begun crying while he was there with her, and Bill asked to hold the baby. Apparently he has a way with kids. Final details about Bill from the story: he hadn't grown up in NYC (PA or NJ, I forget which), but if I recall, he had had a heart for the lost of that city and is an elder together with Demas in a church they started. I could be off on some of these last details; they're an attempt to piece together the stuff I heard that didn't fit into the linear storyline.

Bill offered Meriam a place to stay, and that's where her family is now headed. The exec. pastor pointed out that that's a dangerous thing to do. The entire world knows that he's harboring this woman, now, and it's a small thing for a cleric somewhere to issue a fatwa demanding his death and there will be tens of thousands of true believers hoping to secure their place in muslim-heaven by killing him. But this didn't even enter into his decision. It was an easy choice to make, because it was made on faith. It was the right thing to do.

Bill and the foreign minister do not affirm each other's beliefs; they are honest with each other and think the other is wrong, but they have been able to be respectful of each others' person, over the years. When Meriam was in jail, Bill went to the foreign minister and told him "what you are doing is wrong," and used his influence to help get Ibrahim released.

Who would imagine that God would forge a friendship between a NYC pastor and an official in Sudan, so that one day one innocent person could be freed from the injustice of the Shariah Law? No one. But the One orchestrating world events is the same One who lays the groundwork, years and decades in advance, to effect the exact result He desires, in His sovereign will. It's heady. I'm amazed to hear of it.

It should be noted that Ibrahim's case was high-profile but that there are dozens and hundreds of Christians wrongly imprisoned in various countries around the world, and they need prayer as well. We might not know what happens with them, as we can with a case like Meriam's, but I'm nearly totally confident that we'll find out one day. Meanwhile, God is still in control and has the power of life and death in His hands. Nothing comes to us or any other person that He did not do, or permit. So let us confidently trust in Him for all things, and not neglect to pray for the things which are outside of our control. Nothing's outside of His.

~ Rak Chazak

PS Out of curiosity, I searched to see if Bill was already a known man. Otherwise I would have changed his name to protect him. But when I found that there was a top-tier Google result telling about what I have just been reporting, I was left with no further concern that I would jeopardize his safety:

I also misspelled Dimas' name at first (no time to correct it right now, gotta get to work)

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