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Set Free

It seems unbelievable.

Two coworkers press you a little each day, giving you a hard time because you don't think the way they do—don't share the same beliefs they do—don't go to the same church they do or worship the same god they do.

Each day, you take it. Silent. Minding your own business. Head down. Look away. Don't cry. Don't get upset. Don't let them get to you. You go out for lunch by yourself or eat alone at your desk or in your car.

But it never stops. They keep after you—harassing you—mocking you—pressing you to reject what you believe.

Until one day, you decide to call a truce. You've worked with them long enough to know what they like, so you bring them each a Starbucks—just the way they like it—the way you've heard them order it.

But you bought it, and you brought it, which means you touched it. You unclean, filthy, unbeliever. They glare. Arms crossed, they turn their backs. As they start to walk away, you say, "I got your favorites." But you don't think the way they do, and they stop and shake their heads. You take one tiny step forward and ask them why they won't accept your gift. Sounds petty. Middle school. Juvenile. Backwards. But it gets worse. A crowd gathers. They pick up books, staplers, any thing they can grab and start pummeling you.

Unimaginable. And impossible. Right?

Asia Bibi lived it. She was one of only a few Christian women in her village in Pakistan. She offered water to two Muslim coworkers. They refused to accept a gift from a Christian. They mocked her—mocked her belief—mocked her God. It is unclear exactly what words were exchanged, but Asia (which means sinful in Arabic) was accused of blasphemy. She was beaten. A crowd gathered to stone her, but the police came. They stopped the crowd from stoning her.

Then they arrested her.

She was charged with blasphemy and sentenced to death.

She sat in prison for eight years—separated from her husband and children. They had to seek asylum in the UK. Their village—their country was no longer safe for them—no longer safe for anyone who would dare stand up for Asia. One government official expressed empathy for her cause. He was assassinated. One imam offered a $5,000 reward for Asia's murder if she were released. Eight years she sat in prison. Much of the time in solitary confinement. Finally, after her case made its way to the Pakistan Supreme Court, she was acquitted. Protests ensued. And her life is still in danger as extremist leaders are calling for her name to be added to the no-fly list in attempt to keep her from escaping the country. I can scarcely imagine sitting in a prison cell, separated from my family, anticipating my execution, hoping for a miracle. The truth is we all face a death sentence. Sometimes we build our own walls—create our own solitary confinement. I'm not comparing the light and momentary troubles of first-world life with Asia Bibi's imprisonment or the ongoing threats against her. I'm looking at the ultimate reality—the fact that the clock ticks for all of us—winding down to our final moment. Who can save us? Who can free us? Is there any hope?

Asia Bibi knows. She knows the hope—the patience—the agonizing, never-yielding faith that hangs on through the longest, darkest night. And she knows she has been acquitted—not just of earthly accusations. The one who's name means sinful has been acquitted on all accounts—for all time. That knowledge—that hope—that anchor of faith held her through the storms of the past eight years and the storms of her whole life.

Pakistan is ranked fifth among nations most hostile to Christians. My hope is that my faith that faces so little opposition compared to Christians in Pakistan and many other countries can hold as firmly as Asia's.

My prayer is for Asia, her family, her country, and her coworkers and the others who accused her of blasphemy and tried to kill her.

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