In 2015 Petr Jasek traveled to Sudan as part of his routine but not-so-routine work with Voice of the Martyrs in Africa. This was to be a fact-finding trip following reports of church demolitions and mistreatment of Christians in the largely Islamic, hostile country. The Czech worker was no stranger to persecution, yet this journey would lead to 445 days in a Khartoum prison, facing torture and persecution himself. The story of his fight for freedom is also the story of an internal spiritual fight, told in his Imprisoned With ISIS: Faith in the Face of Evil, a WORLD 2020 Book of the Year runner up in the understanding the world category. Read an excerpt courtesy of Salem Books. —Mindy Belz
During each call for prayer, as my cellmates washed themselves with water from the ibrig, I systematically praised God with words from Relevation 4:8: “The four living creatures … day and night they never cease to say: ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’ ” If those four living creatures could say the words “holy, holy, holy” throughout eternity, then I knew I could manage to say them for one minute, for five minutes, or for an hour. I began repeating that verse over and over in my mind: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty!”
Those words made me think of God’s specific attributes—His holiness, His purity, His ability to heal. “Holy, holy, holy, is God the healer.” I began praying for the healing of the persecuted Christians in Nigeria who had recently been injured during a series of attacks. “Holy, holy, holy is God who sets the captives free.” I prayed for Christians in Eritrea, some of whom had been imprisoned for over a decade. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord,” I repeated to myself over and over again. I knew I couldn’t sing my hymns aloud or speak the words of Scripture with my voice, but I could surely sing and say them in my heart.
When I began to focus more on the holiness and power of God and less on the horrors of my own situation, the dynamics in my prison cell began to change for the worse. My ISIS cellmates did not know that I had begun silently repeating these worshipful words, but during the first week of February, the more I sang to God and exalted His name, the more harshly they treated me. Since I was the only white man in the prison, my skin had become a particularly fruitful and constant source of ridicule. “Look how dirty your feet are,” they sneered, pointing to my pale soles, “and look how clean our feet are.”
My cellmates had become so aggressive that restricting my movement in the room no longer brought them any pleasure. Whenever I was walking, they made me stop to wait until they passed by. My cellmates forced me to sit cross-legged on the floor for hours at a time—a painful position since I was unaccustomed to the Muslim practice.
They also forced me to wash their underwear and scrub the toilet with my bare hands, leaving me feeling humiliated and degraded. Nor did they let me eat communally with them. “You are an infidel,” they reminded me. They forced me to eat from a separate dish they stored near the toilet. Each time one of my cellmates relieved his bladder, my dish was splattered with urine droplets.
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