Shiraz was given one option: Deny Christ or die.
“If you don’t forgive, what’s the difference between you and them?”
As I sat on a cushioned floor mat of our host’s headquarters, this question left me speechless. I’ve never had to forgive in the same manner as the man who spoke these words to me.
I know persecution happens. But for me it’s always seemed to be something that happened in distant places.
Meeting Shiraz changed that.
Shiraz was born and raised in Pakistan in a Christian-converted family. When he was six months old, he became very sick. It was at this time that an evangelist prophesied over him and told Shiraz’s parents that he was to be raised for God. So, at an early age he learned about God and Jesus.
When Shiraz lived in Pakistan as an adult, he often visited mosques and Sikh temples to hand out information about Jesus. In December of 2013, a group attacked him. The police quickly intervened and helped him escape, but not before the group told him not to come back, threatening to kill him if he did.
He got lucky that day. Other than some bruises and cuts he was okay.
But he was now known in the area and, ultimately, that is what threatened his life. Although he would not go back to that same temple, neither would he stop teaching about Jesus.
On January 26th of 2014, Shiraz was waiting at a bus stop when two cars pulled over and five men wrestled him into one of the cars. He was driven with his eyes covered for over 90 minutes before being beaten and locked in a cell.
They wondered why a man with a Muslim name taught about Jesus. They asked if he understood that speaking against Islam was wrong..
Shiraz was given one option: Deny Christ or die.
“I know about Jesus. He’s everything for me. If you want to kill me it’s ok, but I won’t deny Jesus,” was his response.
The questioning and beatings continued for 25 days.
With an outstretched arm, Shiraz showed me the scar where they cut his veins open. He described cracks in the bones of his left leg and foot, and injuries to the lower discs of his spine, which left him in excruciating pain and still gives him problems today.
When I asked him what he did between beatings, he said, “There’s just one thing to do, and that is pray.” He also told me about what he learned during that time -patience. Patience on God. Patience for food. Patience to know what would happen with his life.
After over twenty-five days of praying and waiting he finally came up with a plan. He'd been moved to a new facility, and the guards were fewer and more lax with him than where he'd been before.
He knew Fridays were a time of special prayer, and that would be his opportunity. So, on a Thursday, he pretended to be sick, asking to use the bathroom multiple times throughout the day.
The next day his guards allowed Shiraz to use the bathroom alone.
All of the windows and doors had metal bars over them except for one small window in the bathroom. Shiraz broke the wooden planks nailed over it and left while his guards were in prayer. He took clothes he found hanging outside to cover his bloodstained garments and made it to a coming car.
Shiraz still needed to get out of the country before he was found again. And, in fear for his life, he was unable to get the treatment he desperately needed for his legs and back. But God told him that as he applied for refugee status, he needed to find refuge in Christ.
When he began to do so, God provided refugee status in only 2 months.
Shiraz’s past year has been a flurry of changes. He’s now in Nepal, where he’s lived with countless strangers and friends before moving in with an Iraqi couple who had to flee their own home. He recently began his studies to receive his Masters of Divinity and is about to get married.
As I listened to Shiraz’s story, one question lingered in my mind. The weight of what he shared made me believe it nearly impossible, but his calm and serene voice left me questioning. So I asked,
“Have you been able to forgive these men?”
If you don’t forgive, what’s the difference between you and them?
Looking down he nodded slightly considering his response. During captivity he’d had plenty of time to consider this. He remembered Jesus’ final words before dying on the cross, nails piercing his palms and feet, blood dripping from his side. “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” As Christians, Jesus is our ultimate example and Shiraz knew he had to forgive those misguided men.
His eyes met mine again as he spoke words I will never forget, “If you don’t forgive, what’s the difference between you and them?”
Meeting Shiraz made me reexamine to what extent I really trust God. Listening to his story, it was so clear God was over every part of his life. The Race has its hard moments, but Shiraz's life has reminded me to go to God and cling him - because he really is all I have.
And he is enough.
Shiraz had so much peace, even after being persecuted for his faith. His example has led me to examine how I’ve struggled to forgive people who’ve hurt me in the past, and re-evaluate how I forgive now.
Shiraz taught me that the best thing I can do to represent God to people is love them despite how they treat me.
And it's funny, forgiveness impacts far more people - for the better - than bitterness or hatred ever could.