Finding Hope

Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice (John 18:37)

The team busied themselves with packing medicines and food in the winter mist as we looked to another day of messy flood relief work in this devastated area of Sindh. With our minds on how to distribute emergency supplies to the surrounding villages, each of the 20 team members carried on with the usual banter while working. But Hope was different. He silently sorted medicines, not laughing at anyone’s jokes, or participating in the chit-chat. Was it because he was a Pushtoon Taliban or an ex-Muslim in contrast to the others of the minority Punjabi Christian background?

We had invited Hope to join this team of national workers in distributing aid raised by the Australian Presbyterian churches to the victims affected by the huge flood of the Indus River in 2010. We needed his help, and he could benefit from the friendship and encouragement within the team. But after a couple of days, Hope seemed distant. As he lifted boxes, he wiped a few tears off his cheeks.

Ian took him aside. “What is troubling you?”

Hope pulled a letter out of his pocket. Straightening it out, Ian read, “You have changed your name to Hope. You have changed your religion. You have escaped two times. You were fortunate, but not the next time. Prepare for death.” 

Ian said, “This isn’t signed. Who wrote it?”

“My older brothers. They’ve tried to kill me twice. Shariah law says they should kill me because I’ve become a Christian. I’ve come here wondering what to do about my future.”

Ian thought back on the past couple of years since he first met Hope. This solidly built Pushtoon came as a patient to the mission hospital. After talking about his ordinary cough, Hope said, “I’ve been looking for peace. I searched the Internet and found that Jesus gives peace. His miracles and teaching fascinated me. Then I chatted online to a man named Michael in Austria who told me Jesus could give me what I longed for: acceptance with God and eternal life. Islam gives me hopelessness. I have decided to follow Jesus.”

A big smile spread across his face revealing a broken tooth. “I got so much joy that I changed my name to Hope. When I told others, they got angry and beat me up leaving me with this broken tooth and my peace and joy. The only place I can learn about Jesus in this region is at the hospital. I’ve come here to learn more about him.”

Over the next months, Ian spent many hours discipling him. Some years before, Hope’s family had fled the violence in Afghanistan and crossed the border into Pakistan, settling into a very basic house in a village an hour away from the mission hospital. Hope had fallen in love with Jesus based on very little knowledge. He didn’t even know about Jesus’ death and resurrection. When he heard the gospel, how through the sacrificial death of Jesus he could have forgiveness and connection to God, he drank it in like desert soil drinks in rain.

As Hope grew in the power of God’s Spirit, his brothers increased their hatred and stirred up others against him. They left home building separate lives while Hope took on caring for his elderly parents, sister and mentally handicapped brother, supporting them from his job fixing mobile phones in a small cabin in the bazaar. In due course, he met and married Jaanu, another refugee, and brought her to live in their simple home. Contrary to many Pushtoon husbands, Hope loved sharing deep thoughts with his wife. Seeing the importance of Jesus in life and death, he talked about what he was reading in the Bible. She liked him, but when their son was born a year after marriage, she wanted nothing to do with his faith, took their son and returned to her father’s house.

With a heavy heart, Hope continued to read his Bible and do his work. His reading led him to this passage:

If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her… For the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one is leaving, let them leave… God has called us in peace. For how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:12-16)

Encouraged that God wanted them together, he visited his father-in-law’s house and asked her to come back. To his delight, she and their son returned. He continued sharing what he learned from the Bible. “Jaanu, you can be saved too.” He wanted to love her as selflessly as Christ loved the church and told Ian, “I’ll keep loving my wife, no matter what she thinks.”

Hope developed another conviction: “I really want to get baptized.” Knowing the extreme risk to himself and to whoever would baptize him, but wanting to follow the Lord, he found a pastor willing to face opposition on his behalf. Taking the weekend off work, he travelled to a large city. In front of a church with 300 Punjabi Christians he shared his story. After the service, with a handful of people present, the pastor baptized him. Jesus washed away his past and gave him new life in Christ. For some Muslims he’d just signed his death warrant that could also cost him his wife, son and possessions. But Hope walked out filled with joy and peace, knowing that Jesus would never leave or forsake him.

Hope kept up his quiet life in the north while our family shifted to another part of Pakistan. Hope kept in contact with Ian by phone and mentioned receiving death threats. That’s when Ian invited him to take a week off and spend time together while doing flood relief work. Hope travelled hundreds of kilometres and joined our team in Sindh. There he was lifting heavy goods, using his muscles, but his heart was elsewhere.

Ian reread the letter, “You have changed your religion. You have escaped two times. You were fortunate, but not the next time. Prepare for death.” 

Surrounded by people whose chit chat concerned food likes and dislikes, Ian called the team together. “Do you realise the danger our brother is in?” He explained the circumstances to them. Then turning to Hope he said, “May we pray for you? Please sit in the centre. The rest of us will gather around, lay our hands on you, and pray.”

As we came over, Hope said, “I came here wondering about my future. Should I return to my home area?”

After the prayer time, Hope said with conviction, “The Lord wants me to go back. If life remains for me, I hope to see you again.”

We admired his quiet bravery and trust in knowing God. With heavy hearts, we watched him go, thankful for phone contact. He faced the cold of the Himalayan Foothills and the even icier rejection from fellow Muslims.

Hope kept caring for his family and going to work. Whenever walking the streets, he checked that no one followed him. Then, one dark midnight, his family jolted awake with loud bangs. Big rocks crashed against his front door. Hope knew if he stepped out, they would beat him. The house-stonings at night became frequent. Letters with death threats arrived at his door. His parents and wife turned against him for following Christ. Hope despaired and cried out to the Lord, “Somehow, please reveal yourself.”

Two days later, God gave him an answer. Hope told Ian: “I had a dream where people threw lots of rocks at me. They struck me often and wounded me. Suddenly, a vicious storm moved in with strong winds and drenching rain. Lightning flashed, illuminating the thick darkness. All my enemies fled. A voice spoke to me, ‘Son, you must exercise patience. Don’t accuse your enemies. When they are cruel to you, don’t lash back. At the right time, leave your people, and go to the worldwide church, where you will find good neighbours. God is with you.’”

Though they didn’t share his faith, his dream comforted Jaanu and his parents. “God sent the dream. He will help.”

Hope kept going to work and regularly talked with Ian. But then a couple days passed with no contact. Ian received a text message from an unknown number: “I am Hope’s wife. Two days ago, he came home, cuts and bruises on his face and body, blood on his torn clothing. He took our son in his arms and pressed him close to his chest for a long time. He said almost nothing to me. Laying his mobile phone on the bed, he left the house under cover of darkness. I haven’t seen or heard from him since. Our son cries constantly. With great difficulty, I have written this message. For the last months, Hope mentioned you many times. When you find out about him, please, you must inform me. His brothers have taken possession of our house. I don’t know whether my husband has been killed or if he managed to escape or if he succumbed to his wounds. I cannot speak on his mobile because his brothers monitor my every move. For the sake of your God, if my Hope is alive, write and tell me.” 

The next day we received a letter in the post Hope had written before the attack. “I’ve been told about a plot to kill me. I will leave tomorrow. I plan to see you in a week.”

A week passed, but no sign of Hope. The next months yielded scanty information, just a text from somewhere in Iran and then Greece. We found out later he followed a well-known refugee route, ending up in Europe, where he applied for refugee status. True to his dream, he not only suffered greatly but was helped by the Lord and the kindness of the church. After many months, he did get asylum and received his wife and son into his adopting country where he lives today. This tough Pushtoon would love this verse:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,

so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13)

– Dorcas Denness