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Another Month in Prison
On the 10th of each month, which marked another month since my arrest, I struggled with discouragement and depression. “How long, oh Lord, will You leave me here?” I asked. “How long will you keep me separated from Wanda and our children? How much more can I endure?”
God answered my questions on April 10, 2016, by which time I had been moved from the NISS prison to a regular prison. That night, when 14 new prisoners were added to my already overcrowded cell, God distinctly led me to talk with these new prisoners and share my testimony with them.
The new prisoners were from Eritrea, a country I had visited for VOM. They had been captured while passing through Sudan as they fled their oppressive homeland. After getting to know them a little, I shared my testimony and introduced them to the gospel. Several of the Eritreans listened closely, and two of them made a decision to follow Christ. The next morning, all 14 were transferred out of prison, and I never saw them again. But I’m confident that I’ll see at least two of them also in heaven.
The Lord turned the 10th day of the month, usually a day of discouragement and depression, into a day of ministry and celebration. From that day onward, I dedicated my prison time to the Lord. “If You will allow me opportunities to share the gospel, I will stay here as long as You want!” I prayed.
I experienced a radical change of heart, no longer fretting about my trial and how long I would be in prison. In fact, I even stopped praying that I would be released from prison. I simply focused on the people God placed in my path each day and asked Him to use me to build His kingdom while I was in prison.
Later in April, I received a Czech Republic embassy official visit, who brought me a much-appreciated Czech Bible. After almost five months without God’s Word, I was hungry! Finally, I could dive into the Scriptures.
I could read my Bible only in the daytime when natural light entered my cell, so I read it from 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon every day. I had to read standing up, leaning against the prison bars so the light would fall across the pages. I was so hungry that I read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in three weeks, just reading for hours each day.
As I came across different passages that God had brought to mind during my long months without a Bible, it was like finding a pearl or receiving a loving embrace from God. I scratched those references into my cell wall to quickly return to verses like 1 Cor 10:13.
Two Sudanese pastors, Kuwa Shamal and Hassan Abduraheem were being tried with me. They were in a cell across from mine. We called out verses to each other across the hall.
Eventually, another Sudanese man and we were transferred to a prison where there was a Christian chapel. The Christians in that prison met almost daily, so the pastors and I had many opportunities to minister and study God’s Word together. What sweet fellowship it was!
I worried that my Sudanese friends might view me as the cause of their imprisonment and separation from their families, but they quickly put my mind at ease. “This is God’s plan,” they said simply.
Our trial dragged on, month after month, and hearings occurred only once a week. We were loaded into the back of a truck and driven for one hour on hot, dusty roads to the courthouse in the center of Khartoum. Sometimes we would arrive as scheduled only to learn that the judge had canceled the day’s hearings or that there was no electricity in the courthouse. Then we would turn around and drive back to the prison.
Our Sudanese Christian brothers and sisters were a great encouragement at these hearings. Often they would gather outside the courthouse, risking their own arrest, to sing hymns as we were led into the courthouse. I will never forget Pastor Kuwa’s tears as he heard the hymns sung in his tribal language outside the courthouse. Not only God but also His body, the church, was standing boldly with us during our trial.
The lawyers told me that I would be going home soon. When the prisoners heard that, they began asking for my clothing and blanket. But I didn’t believe it; I felt sure the court would find me guilty, and I would remain in prison.
Life in Prison
On January 29, 2017, we gathered in the courtroom to hear the verdict in our case.
My assumption was correct. I was found guilty on multiple charges and sentenced to life in prison, which under Sudanese law means 20 years. The additional convictions, however, added another four years to my sentence.
Pastor Hassan and my translator were found guilty of helping me commit espionage and sentenced to 12 years each. Pastor Kuwa, who wasn’t even in Sudan during my visit, was set free. It was pretty clear that he couldn’t have “aided and abetted” me in committing acts of espionage.
While I had fully expected to be found guilty, hearing the judge say “life in prison” hit me hard. Would I survive 20 more years in prison? Would I ever see my family again? What would they think when they heard those terrible words? But I also took comfort in the promise I had made to God. I had told Him that I was willing to stay in prison as long as He would use me. Clearly, He had a plan for me there.
The Lord Has Done Great Things for Us
After our conviction and sentencing, we were moved to Kober Prison, the preferred site for “political” prisoners.
On February 23, 2017, I sat in the prison yard, reading Psalm 126:
When the Lord brought back the captivity of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with singing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us.
And we are glad.
Within seconds of finishing the Psalm, the prison commander approached me and said, “Petr, you are getting released today.”
I felt like I was dreaming! When my fellow prisoners heard the news, they rejoiced with me and shouted for joy. A prisoner release is always encouraging news in prison.
That was a moment of joy as the other prisoners hugged me and rejoiced over my release. In God’s faithfulness, He again had prepared me for the happy news a few seconds earlier in the Psalm.
The first letter I had written to my family had included these words of encouragement: “Please be strong in the Lord and trust Him that He is in control. He is the One that has keys for my cell.” After 445 days in prison, God used those keys to open my cell door.
Three days later, I was sitting on an airplane next to the Czech Republic’s foreign minister. We were in the same airport where I had received that tap on the shoulder 14 months earlier.
I’m so thankful for those who prayed for my family and me during my time in prison. I’m grateful to God that Pastor Hassan and my translator have also since been released. Returning to my home after being sentenced to life in prison has given me an interesting perspective. Although I gave my life to Christ when I was 15 years old, I think it has more meaning now when I say, “Lord, the rest of my life is Yours. You brought me out of prison. You saved me from a life sentence. The rest of my life is Yours; it is in Your hands. Here I am. I want to serve You for the rest of my life.”
This is my decision: I will seek the will of the Lord and do whatever He wants me to do until I go to meet Him one day.
Via Voice of the Martyrs