I didn’t simply give up my phone or the internet. For my Blackout I went the whole hog. Over the weekend I decided to do a 24 hour sponsored solitary confinement- no food, no drink, no outside communication, no internet, no Bible, no toilet.
Before entering my prison cell (a shed at the bottom of a friend’s garden) I hadn’t thought much about what the experience would be like; I just knew that I wanted to – I needed to – do something. Make a stand, push some boundaries, raise some support.
I started by reading some memoirs by Asia Bibi, a sister imprisoned and sentenced with the death penalty under Pakistan’s blasphemy law. The book is in French, but it didn’t take much more than my GCSE standard to pick up words like “fatigue”, “agonie”, “cruelle” and “souffre”. (1)
I was saddened, inspired, challenged. Asia Bibi is an emblem of injustice. She’s in it for the long term, not just 24 hours. Why? Because she follows Jesus, and she won’t deny it.
As I drifted to sleep I could hear stray fireworks and faded traffic. What would a prisoner in a North Korean labour camp hear? What would an inmate in the notorious prisons of Iran hear? Sobbing? A beating? Nothing?
Being a November night there was a constant chill, but nothing that my hoody and socks couldn’t fend off. What would it be like in an Eritrean shipping container in the middle of the desert when the sun disappears? I will never forget the words of Helen (who was locked in these very shipping containers): “If I could sing in my prison, imagine how you can use your freedom for God’s glory!”
As daylight penetrated the gaps in the blinds, I sat and reflected- my mind dancing from thought to thought, unable to stay put. “I’m missing a football match.” But what would they be missing? Family. Education and occupation. Everything.
I had with me some verses and letters of encouragement from the past few years. They really were so encouraging! In just the short time I had been cut off, I could feel it, I hated it. These letters lifted me. I can only imagine what they must do for persecuted prisoners. (2)
Guessing the time is a strange thing. It’s only ever a glance down at my phone or an ask of a passer-by away. I started to think about what it would be like waiting; waiting to be dragged out, waiting to be tortured, waiting to be killed.
Or maybe, just maybe, waiting to be released.
To feel the sun on your face, to dwell in the embrace of a loved one. To taste your favourite foods again. I was reminded of the words in Psalm 46:
“Be silent, and know that I am God… The Lord Almighty is here among us.”
Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised when we hear of miraculous releases, imprisoned believers being strengthened by visions, or guards coming to know Jesus… or believers using their own clothes to clear up the crap in fellow prisoner’s cells.
God is still God. His grace is enough.
Philippians 2:4 also came to my mind. I didn’t know it by heart (challenge one), but as I later came to read, it states:
“Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing” (challenge two).
How quick I am to think of myself. But this faith, this walk with Jesus, is a community thing. The most important thing is to love God and love others. It’s upside-down thinking. Hebrews 10:24 says, “Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds.” Yes! Let’s scheme and get into some holy mischief! (3)
Time passed as I prayed and pondered. Silence is a strange thing, my stomach grumbles seemed surround-sound, but were soon drowned out by the uprising of fireworks.
I started to think about Egypt, Libya, Syria and the other nations undergoing tense revolution. Will it be better? Will it be worse? I was comforted by a phone call just days earlier with friends in Egypt, hearing of ongoing ministry, believers toiling for the Kingdom.
Darkness descended, another day was closing. I was almost done. But for persecuted believers around the world, what next? Well, I believe there is hope. And I believe we can be torch-bearers of this hope.
“If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honoured, all the parts are glad.” (4)
We’re in this together.
1. Blaspheme, by Asia Bibi. Oh Editions.
2. You can write letters of encouragement right now! Visit www.opendoorsuk.org/resources/letter/
3. This phrase is borrowed from Shane Claiborne, his books are highly recommended!
4. 1 Corinthians 12:26