Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious
conviction. —Blaise Pascal
Somewhere in the Middle East, 2000
As Shaphat was forced unto a seat, he felt another hand roughly remove the black sac that covered his face. He blinked severally, trying hard to focus on the unfamiliar surroundings. The person who removed the sac left immediately, so he was all alone. He mumbled short prayers as he waited.
He was in a dimly lit room, the only source of light was a candle that flickered weakly at the far corner. Why was there no window? The air was humid and smelled of stale bread.
The room would have been totally empty if not for the chair he sat on and the table on which the candle was placed. The shackles that held him bound were cutting into his wrist, but he knew he had a more terrible suffering ahead.
Shaphat knew this day was coming, he was even surprised he survived for this long without getting caught. Several others had disappeared too; he knew those that were behind their disappearance, but he could do nothing but pray and commit himself much more to his cause.
When they came for him earlier today, he wasn’t surprised. He was grabbed off the street, a black sac was placed over his head and he was given several heavy blows at his side in order to keep him from struggling. Paralyzed by the pain, they had to literally drag him into their waiting van.
He didn’t bother calling out for help because he knew no one in their right mind would dare help him. He didn’t utter a word throughout the bumpy long ride and his captors were equally mute. Shaphat knew there was no reasoning with them, to them he was a dead man. So when they kicked him out of the van and dragged him into what he sensed was a bunker, he knew his end had come.
As he heard someone kick the door open, his thoughts were drawn back to the present. A short man wearing a balaclava mask walked in. He was dressed in black from head to toe and he held a wicked looking mace in his left hand.
“Are you the one they call Shaphat?”
Shaphat sat, mute. He couldn’t get himself to utter a word.
“Are you deaf?” The short man barked angrily.
Shaphat flinched but still refused to speak.
“If you don’t answer me, I would make sure I design your face, and when I’m done, even your mother wouldn’t recognize you.”
Shaphat wanted to tell this short man that no shackle or bars could keep him from his freedom. He had discovered the truth and there was no way he would go back to being who he was. Now, he fully understood freedom was a state of the mind that had nothing to do with physical constraint.
“Do you think because your father is a General you have the right to do as you please?”
Shaphat let out a chuckle, but it was instantly cut short by a sharp slap. His head jerked back from the force of it and brilliant coloured stars danced before his dazed eyes.
“Fool. How dumber can you get? You have gone to join the unbelievers.”
Shaphat looked away. He didn’t know how to explain to this man that he had reached a point of no return. He was scared, but not scared enough to deny what he believed.
As he opened his mouth to speak, there was a sharp knock at the door. When he saw his father step in, he felt like oxygen stepped out. With eyes as cold as ice, his father pinned him with a hateful glare that sent chills down his spine. This was no father of his. He knew better than to beg for mercy.
As Shaphat looked on, he saw the willowy frame of his grandfather walk in with his characteristic slow steps. Understanding slowly dawned on him as he watched most of the leading men in his family cram themselves into the little room.
His father was about to disown him.
As his father approached, Shaphat willed himself not to look away from his steely glower. He knew what he believed and he would hold on to it till death. He felt warm liquid splatter directly on his fore head- his father had spat on him. He didn’t move a muscle as his father wiped his lips and began denouncing him.
As his father continued speaking, Shaphat blanked out. He chose to meditate on what he learnt from the little girl who frequently came to talk to him in the morning. At first he had chased her away, but she was persistent. She simply did not let him rest. She had thrown tiny pebbles at his window every morning and bribed him with sweet cakes. He had never tasted anything like it.
At first, the cakes were the only reason why he gave her an audience but as time passed, he began to look forward to her visits. He recalled he had always wondered how she knew the things she knew. When he finally believed in Jesus, she came a few more times then stopped coming all together.
She called herself Thaliana, and it had been a year since he last saw her. Thinking of it now, he realised she had never changed the navy blue kaftan she always wore. She had looked to be about ten, but her sparkling hazel coloured eyes conveyed both experience and deep wisdom. Her hair was cut like that of a boy and she was always barefooted.
When he asked around for the little girl, everyone thought he was crazy. They told him they had never seen such a person. It was then he convinced himself she was an angel. She had to be, he had no other logical explanation as regards her existence.
So now, as he watched his father march out and his relatives cast disdainful glances at him, he refused to dwell on their hate.
He chose to think about the truths Thaliana shared with him. He fixed his mind on the realities of his faith, the ones he shared with the other believers in their underground meetings.
Like a lifeline, he held on to the person of Jesus as blows upon blows assailed him. In his pain, he chose to set his mind on this single truth–the life he now possessed can never be taken from him. He was secure in his Father’s love and nothing could ever separate him from Christ.
As the short man and his cohorts tortured his body till he felt it couldn’t get any worse, he cried, groaned and moaned from the pain, wishing death would come quickly. When death didn’t come, he chose to face it with a forgiving heart despite his emotions screaming for vengeance. He was certain if they really understood the truth, they wouldn’t do what they were doing to him.
After days of torture, they finally led him out. He knew what was coming. He had watched videos of people getting killed because they were Christian. He smiled at the irony. Then, he never thought he would end up like them.
As he was led through a narrow hallway, he glanced at a mirror at the side. His face was double its size and his left eyes was the size of a walnut- completely shut. The short man had kept his words, his mother wouldn’t recognise him.
He looked away from the mirror, not wanting to dwell on the sight. He was missing four fingers, two from each hand. They had repeatedly forced a twisted wet towel down his throat, dragging it out with so much force to the extent he was certain his throat would rip out in the process. Whenever he attempted to cradle his throat due to the intense pain, they had laughed, mocking his feeble attempts and breathing more threats.
Words couldn’t describe the kind of agony he felt at those points. They had poured hot water and salt down his throat in order to intensify the hurt, and it worked. He felt the pain all the way to his toes.
Now, he couldn’t talk, it was too painful to try. His whole body felt like a world of pain. Walking even proved difficult; they had used hot rods to inscribe writings on his thighs.
Most of the torturing process had felt like a nightmare and there were moments he had wanted to plead for his life. To his surprise, he had always slept soundly every night without feeling a single pain. But now, as he walked towards his death, every part of him felt so, so sore.
Fresh pain tore through his entire body as he was suddenly shoved forward. He fell on his face and groaned. If pain had an elder brother, that was what he felt at the moment.
Shaphat heard a faint whimper, like that of a woman when she didn’t want to cry out loud. From the corner of his one good eye, he saw his mother kneeling at the far corner of the room, she was weeping profusely. He wanted to comfort her but he knew that wasn’t possible.
He refused to look up as he saw a hand grab his shackles and roughly drag him to the center of the room.
He recognised his father’s voice as he spoke.
“Shaphat, this is your last chance. Beg for forgiveness and denounce this stupid belief.”
Shaphat looked up and he forced himself to speak. This was the first time he was speaking since he was abducted, and the process felt like his throat was being sandpapered.
“Father, forgive me…”
A small triumphant smile touched his father’s lips, but it slowly died as Shaphat continued speaking.
“…I would not do what you ask. This believe of mine has opened my eyes, and given me a new life. Jesus wants to bring everyone to God. That was why he died. He died so I can be like him and be where he is. He does not discriminate. Look, he even accepted me. How can I reject him after he accepted me and gave me true life? No. I’ve had a taste of this and I’m never letting go. I’m not afraid to die.”
Shaphat heard his father roar in rage and rush in his direction, but he did not cower as he normally would have. Yes. Even at twenty five he was still very terrified of his father. He rolled himself into a ball as his father kicked him everywhere his foot came in contact with.
“Your Jesus wants you to be where he is? I’ll send you to him, you will die like him. You are not my son!” His father shouted.
Hearing his mother scream, Shaphat groaned when he saw her run towards him. He felt her fingers caress his face tenderly.
“My son. See what they’ve done to you.” Her voice trembled as she spoke. She didn’t move from the spot even as whips lashed at her back.
“Let go of him, foolish woman!” his father thundered.
She refused to let go, instead she hugged him tightly as her tears fell on his neck.
“I believe. What do I do?” she whispered into his ear.
Even in the midst of his pain, Shaphat’s heart leapt for joy. His mother believed! He quickly whispered the location of their underground meeting place, then using his last strength, he tore himself from her grip. She kept weeping and screaming even as they dragged her away. His heart broke for her.
They made him kneel. A masked man with a large machete stood at his back. At the signal of his own father, he felt the cold steel slit his throat.
Everything went white.
Up in the heavens, visible only to the angels and the Almighty, you could see a man in white holding hands with the little girl who loved to wear navy blue. As they walked towards the large pearly gate, the smile they wore shone like the stars above.
Persecution is heavy stuff, and people suffer it in different forms. People even get persecuted for being themselves. *sigh*😢