Prison


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I wrote something! I really, really wrote something!

Please excuse my giddiness… after a couple of rather long years (longer than they should have been) I am finally able to announce the publication in electronic version of the biography of my good friend, Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua.

Julio was my first ever “case” at CSW; a case which turned quickly into a life long friend, and gave me a new Peruvian family. He and his wife call me sister and named me goddaughter to their beautiful daughter Candy, an honor which still overwhelms me.

I met Julio in a remote Peruvian prison more than ten years ago. He was innocent of the charges against him and we were sure he’d be getting out, but a year later I returned to only to find him still inside. We toured the maximum security prison with him as he introduced us to brother after brother… all members of the church he’d planted during his time as a prisoner. We laughed together, prayed together, sang together and I still clearly remember the emotional disconnect it was to walk out of that place, heavy metal doors slamming shut behind us, leaving him behind. I carry an image in my memory of his face, behind dark metal bars in a tiny window, smiling at us, as he called to us to remind us to pray for him, his family and his ministry.

He is without a doubt one of the most impressive and at the same time, most humble, people I’ve ever met.

If you want to be inspired, need a story to help you put your own life in perspective, are looking for a good (cheap) gift for a friend or yourself, please consider buying this book. We’ve kept the price low in the hopes that more people will read it; for the same reason, it’s also available for free rental if you are a member of Amazon Prime. All proceeds will go to support Julio’s ministry. If you’re wondering, yes, they’re still poor and living at or below the poverty line, yet he and his wife are dedicated to this taxing but rewarding work, so everything helps.

*Please note that this is a true story, and as such deals with some difficult themes. There are scenes involving torture and other severe human rights atrocities. They aren’t gratuitous but they are honest – so it’s probably a good idea to exercise some caution when sharing with younger readers. I’m not necessarily of the mind that teenagers shouldn’t read it (quite the opposite, as I think it might challenge them to think about some of the injustices in the world and what they can do about it), but I do think it might be a good idea for the adult in their life to read it first in order to be able to discuss some of these issues and events with them.

The link and the book description are below – please read, review, recommend. Thank you and a very very Merry Christmas to you!

A Light in the Darkest Corner

The extraordinary and inspiring story of a young man raised in poverty and violence in the highlands of Peru, A Light in the Darkest Corner, is the testimony of Julio Cusihuaman Ccorahua. After his father died from complications related to alcoholism and his mother spiraled into addiction, Julio and his chronically ill sister were left to fend for themselves in the town of Ayacucho, the epicenter of Shining Path terrorist violence. As a teenager he was falsely accused of terrorism, tortured and imprisoned but after a miraculous escape, Julio fled to the city of Lima where he followed his parents’ example, immersing himself in alcohol and parties to bury his pain and anger. A young woman helped lead him to Christ and later became his wife. The pair started a family and a vibrant new ministry only to be hit by a series of tragedies. In 1999, Julio found himself in prison again facing the same false charges as before but this time with a wife, two small children and mounting debts. Instead of succumbing to bitterness, Julio realized God had brought him to a new mission field. Putting aside agonizing questions about his future and the welfare of his family, he began to share Christ’s love with the most despised and rejected of all society, working to transform a nation from the bottom up by bringing God’s light to some of the darkest places on earth.

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Here is one of the big reasons: Kenia Denis

He made my words of judgment as sharp as a sword.
He has hidden me in the shadow of his hand.
I am like a sharp arrow in his quiver.

Isaiah 49:2

I read this verse before going to work one day at the start of the week. As I read it, it seemed like little more than an interesting metaphor for the work my colleagues and I do. Over the course of the week however, I found myself a witness to the phenomenal power of words, like a sharp sword when directed by God. I also saw the destruction caused by careless and malicious words.

For some time now, my organization has been working on the case of Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. Nadarkhani is an Iranian who became a Christian fifteen years ago at the age of nineteen. He is married with two young boys. Two years ago, he complained about the fact that his Christian sons were being forced to receive an Islamic education. He probably knew this would cause some trouble, but I don’t think he or anyone else could have predicted how much. He was arrested, imprisoned and found himself at the beginning of a long and torturous journey through the Iranian court system, which continues today.

His crime in the eyes of the Iranian state was his teenage conversion to Christianity. Iranian law does not explicitly call for converts to be put to death (although there have been attempts to pass legislation that would do just that) but the words, statements and judgments of Islamic clerics can also be taken into consideration. Hardliners call for all apostates, or those who leave Islam for another religion, to be killed. My colleagues who have been working directly on this case believe that powerful individuals want to make an example of Nadarkhani by executing him for this “crime,” in the hopes that it will make other would be converts think twice.

In Mexico a few weeks ago, I was amazed at the reaction the case received when I mentioned it to Mexican officials at both the Federal and State levels. Information is a powerful thing; as these officials in Mexico and other Latin American countries including Peru and Uruguay, received these words about Nadarkhani via my mouth but also through the briefings written by colleagues and translated by incredible volunteers, there was a strong and immediate reaction which I know has been communicated directly to the Iranian embassies in those countries.

This past week, Nadarkhani was given what appeared to be his final chance to live. Over the course of three days he was asked each day by the judge to recant. Each day his mouth emitted the simple but powerful words, “I cannot.” After the third day, his last chance and his third refusal, Nadarkhani became vulnerable to execution at any time.

His lawyer, a courageous human rights lawyer who has also been persecuted by the Iranian government, used his words to argue that demanding Nadarkhani renounce his faith is in fact illegal under Iranian law. It remains to be seen how much these words penetrated the heart of the judge as we still await the written verdict.

New forms of media (well, not so new anymore) like Twitter and Facebook provide a way of getting out words on a massive scale. My colleagues have worked tirelessly all week and weekend, often late into the night, publishing short, powerful messages that have been passed on tens of thousands of times. They’ve also used more traditional forms of communication – working with the mainstream media to get the word out about Nadarkhani’s situation.

It’s been hugely encouraging to see celebrities and famous writers, both Christian and non-Christian, retweet our words and campaign messages. But in some ways it’s been even more deeply inspiring to see how the rank and file has reacted. Individuals literally all over the world have prayed without ceasing, have told their friends and churches, have organized marches and public protests, have on their own initiative found out the details of the Iranian embassy in their country and telephoned them, and have taken my words and the words of my colleagues and without being asked have translated them into other languages, increasing the impact of our words on a grand scale.

I’ve also seen the darker side of words. I’ve seen other organisations behave carelessly with the names and personal details of sources, putting them and their loved ones in danger and jeopardizing their work. I’ve been disgusted as a few individuals and organisations have used Nadarkhani’s plight and their words to promote themselves. The reaction from Iran has been truly despicable – as they too tried to use the power of words to slander and defame Nadarkhani, in the apparent hope that this would cause his supporters to fall away.

But this did not happen. When we allow God to use our words they become that sharp sword. We, His people hidden all over the world in the shadow of His hand, are those arrows in His quiver. As I write this, almost 40,000 people all over the world have used their words to send a letter of protest to the Iranian government. The EU, US, Canadian, British, French and German governments have used their words to express strong public condemnation of what has happened to Nadarkhani. Later today Brazilian Christians will march down Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro in a public demonstration of their support for Nadarkhani.

Only God knows what will happen to Nadarkhani and we pray and know that He will sustain him and his family. All day every day, my colleagues and I wait for more news from Iran – sharing it with his thousands of supporters as soon as we are able. We’ll continue to do this, using our words, the freedom we enjoy to speak those words and the technology with which we’ve been blessed to spread them to strengthen and build the unity of the Body behind Nadarkhani.

If you want to use your words please go to http://bit.ly/nadarkhani to send a letter of protest to the Iranian government. Tell your friends and your churches to do the same and to use their words to pray.

I spent this past week doing other people’s writing, or rather, taking what they had already written and transforming it, translating it into English. Though they are around the same age and they speak a common language, the two men whose writing I was working on are very different. They live in different hemispheres under different economic systems and forms of government, come from vastly different backgrounds and their stories and testimonies reflect very different experiences. They share the same faith, however, and hold a strong belief that God has put them where they are and allowed them to experience what they have lived through “for such a time as this”. Both have taken their experiences and their contexts, along with the gifts God has given them, and are using them to further His kingdom in their countries.

They are not nationally, much less internationally famous Christian speakers or writers. Both live and provide for their families on almost no income – in what most of my peers would consider to be poverty. Though respected by those to whom they minister, they receive no real recognition from the larger Church. Despite all of this, however, and like so many other of God’s invisible servants, they get on with their work, changing lives and bring His light into some of the most hopeless places on earth.

As I worked on translating their writing I found myself challenged again and again by the lives they both lead. They are both living their lives in total dependence on God though they face serious obstacles and active opposition to what they do. They depend on Him to provide the material and economic means to carry out the ministry to which He has called them. They depend on Him for physical protection from hostile individuals and a system that hates what they are doing. They depend on Him to watch over their wives and children and they depend on Him to refresh and guide them constantly with His Spirit. And according to them, He does!

Translating their work is a project I have been doing on my own free time. This past week I’ve been on vacation and it may seem odd to some that I chose to use my time in this way. Although the translation and editing that I’ve been doing is definitely “work” and is both challenging and tiring, it’s also one of the most fulfilling and inspiring things I’ve done in a long time. I’m excited to see where their stories will reach now that they are in English and can be understood by many more people around the world. I know that their words will touch, humble and challenge others, just as they have me.

The phrase “a voice for the voiceless” is one that is often used at my organisation. It’s an important calling, especially because there are so many suffering people around the world who have no way to tell their stories. Every so often, however, through my work I come across people who don’t need me to be their voice. They can tell their stories themselves, far better than I ever could. What they need however, is an amplifier to send their stories out, to disseminate them as far and wide as possible. Putting their words into English helps to do that and though I’ve spent much of it at my desk or on my couch, this week has been an exciting one, collaborating with them, in a small way, and the literally life or death work they are doing.

I’ve received a message from the wife of a prisoner in one of my countries asking for prayer. Her husband, a pastor, has been in prison for 3 1/2 years. He is serving a seven year sentence on trumped up charges and was targeted, we believe, because of his leadership of a rapidly growing network of non-denominational churches. They have two pre-teen children who have spent the past two years growing up without their father present.

Over the past few months, in an attempt to improve relations with the outside world, the government of that country has been releasing political prisoners. The catch is that the political prisoners who have been freed and their families have had to leave the country permanently. Some prisoners have refused freedom if it means going into forced exile.

Over the past few days, the pastor and his wife have both received phone calls from government officials, offering them this “deal”. The messages came as a surprise given that the pastor was not a member of the group of prisoners originally discussed. They are now forced to make an extremely difficult decision. Accept the freedom offered to the pastor but leave behind their ministry, their extended family, community and country; or stay and remain in prison in awful conditions, separated from each other for the next four years.