I wish all my readers a healthy and happy 2014 full of God’s richest blessings. It is common at the start of a new year to have some resolutions. After all, we read in the Holy Scripture at Philippians 3:13, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” So this is a time of new beginnings for each of us. Instead of resolutions involving exercising more, reading one book each month, or eating less wheat gluten and sugar, I decided that for 2014, my resolution will be based upon a statement made by Dr. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and African explorer, who said, “Why is it that, when we are given a commission by a worldly king, we regard it as an honor, but when we are given a commission by the Heavenly King, we regard it as a sacrifice?” Dr. Livingstone was, of course, referring to the Great Commission found in Matthew 28:18-20. So, my resolution for 2014 is to teach and proclaim our Lord’s Holy Gospel with greater passion, and to stand more fervently with those around the world who do the same.
On these pages, I have written about the plight of Asia Bibi. Many of us are familiar with her case; she was the Pakistani Roman Catholic rural farm worker and mother of five. In June 2009, while working in the fields, she was sent to bring water for the other farm workers. Some Moslem workers refused to drink her water as they considered Christians to be “unclean.” In response, some of her coworkers complained that she made derogatory comments about Islam. What was the derogatory comment she purportedly made against Mohammed? The Moslem women claimed Asia Bibi said: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?” Although she is illiterate, and considered a simple and uneducated woman, she actually asked a deeply profound question as Islam teaches one cannot know and experience assurance of eternal salvation. After ruminating on her question without an adequate answer, six days after the incident, a violent mob came to her home, damaged her home, and beat her and members of her family. Police arrested her, and she spent more than one year in jail before trial. In November 2010, Judge Muhammed Naveed Iqbal sentenced her to death by hanging, and she was also fined the equivalent of $1,100, a huge sum in rural Pakistan. Her verdict was upheld by the Lahore High Court. Another appeal is not expected to be heard in her case until at least 2015. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari declined to grant a pardon to Asia Bibi after large demonstrations were held against her.
Pakistan is our erstwhile ally in the war against terrorism, and has received tens of billions of our tax dollars in foreign and military aid over just the past decade, and continues to do so. Militant Islamist forces in Pakistan create much violence against Christian believers. In addition to Asia Bibi, numerous other Pakistani Christians have been falsely accused of breaking infamous law 295(c) of the Pakistani criminal code, which provides that blasphemy against Mohammed is a crime punishable by death. As we begin 2014, there are approximately 40 individuals on death row or serving life sentences for allegedly blasphemous conduct, a statistic unmatched anywhere else in the world. But there might be others as well who are unknown in the West. Typically, the charges against Christians are fabricated for the personal gain of the accusers.
Asia Bibi has now spent her fifth Christmas in prison. Presently, media reports indicate that she is confined to a small solitary confinement cell without windows at a Lahore prison. If she is released, one survey reported that ten million Pakistanis said that they would be willing to personally kill her. The imam in her village, Qari Mohammed Salim, stated that he wept for joy on learning that she had been sentenced to death. The Honorable Imam Salim also threatened that some people would “take the law into their own hands” should she be pardoned or released. My readers may recall that two officials who championed her case, the governor of Punjab province, Salmaan Taseer, and Shahbaz Bhatti, a federal cabinet minister, were both assassinated three years ago. Her family has received threats and is in hiding. Her husband, Ashiq, stated that her family has been offered asylum in numerous Western European countries should she be released. (However, she has not been offered asylum by our “Surfer Dude” President, who has, in comparison to Asia Bibi, spent the last five Christmases on vacation with his family in Hawaii.) However, her husband and family announced that they are unwilling to leave Pakistan without her.
As we begin 2014, please pray for Asia Bibi and her family. And please tell your friends because standing with our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world is an important part of proclaiming the Holy Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. After all, we are instructed in Hebrews 13:3, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Just imagine how God would pour out His blessings upon our hearts if we followed that command.