Excerpt taken from Chapter 3 “Torture, Denial, and Redemption” of Abducted But Not Forsaken: How One Man’s Escape from a Notorious Terrorist Brought Hope to Africa by Okongo Samson
When I was released from prison, I wasn’t able to walk, and I suspected I had an infection or worse because my leg bones had been drilled, but I wasn’t taken to a hospital. Rather, I was released into the custody of a Muslim Imam named Sheikh Nasser. I later realized I was kept in his home next to a mosque, but I was not told then what was going on. Even when I was carried on a stretcher to the Imam’s residence, I thought it was probably just another part of the prison. While I was recovering, I thought that once I was healed, I was going back to jail. I did not know if I was really released or not.
Today, Sheikh Nasser is my good friend, and I have utmost respect for him because he brought people in to treat my wounds and help nurse me back to health. But make no mistake, the first several days I was under his care, I still thought I was going to die. I was in such pain I couldn’t differentiate between day or night. As my awareness slowly grew, I realized I was being cleaned up each morning before Muslim prayers. I was guided to the bathroom, and those taking care of me even washed me afterward because I was unable to clean myself. I was given good, nutritious food. They were gracious and loving as they took care of me, even as they offered prayers over me.
Yet I struggled to trust any of those men. I sometimes believed the good food was only temporary, or that tomorrow they’d just kill me because I was too much of a burden for them. I thought only the worst. I was still very afraid and uncertain because of everything I had been through the past month or so.
I believe the Imam was under the impression that I was progressing and being converted to the Muslim faith. In truth, I was still worshipping God in my heart. The graciousness of the Lord was truly amazing to me.
I had made it. I was alive.
Much more, I knew God had forgiven me.
In all, I was with the sheikh for over three weeks. A few days into my stay, most of the few belongings I had when I went into Al-Ha’ir were brought to me—except for my journals, schedule book, and my Bible. The most significant moment in my time with the Imam came about a week after that when I was taken to his study room. It was big, about the size of a bedroom, but it didn’t have any chairs, so I was laid out on a mat.
As I looked around, I noticed that Sheikh Nasser had a Bible on his bookshelf.
I was surprised, but I later discovered that most Muslim Imams possess a Bible and have knowledge of the Scriptures.
As was my usual practice, I initiated a conversation.
“I see you have the Bible, which is what I was reading,” I said. He then told me why he had the Bible, and how that particular Bible was in English as well as Arabic. “It is a good, godly book,” he said.
“I can speak Arabic,” I told him in Najdi, “but I cannot read Arabic at this time. Could I borrow your Bible and read it?”
“Oh, yes. You are welcome,” he said.
He had no hesitance. He surely thought I was asking to read it as part of my efforts to become a Muslim.
I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy. I returned with it to my room, and I immediately turned to Romans 8. I started with those precious words my soul longed to hear again—“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”—and read on, focusing on verses 28-39.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, heal so glorified.”
Verses 28-30 reminded me that God works all things for good. I thought of my imprisonment and of the tortures I’d endured. Were they part of “all things?” They were. Now, I was being fed and washed, and treated for my injuries. I was sick and helpless, yet God had made a way for me to get help and be well again. Only He could do that! My heart leaped as I considered anew the fact that I had gone through everything for His purposes. In fact, God had called me for this purpose from the very beginning.
I read on under the section titled “More Than Conquerors.”
“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
That passage, verses 31-32, told me that nothing and no one could be against me because Christ was for me! Even people who were not aligned with my faith were being used by God at that very moment to take care of me. It was incredible!
I continued, tears coming to my eyes.
“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”
Verses 33-36 confirmed that God had been there for me and with me, in good times or bad, not only in Saudi Arabia, but ever since I had become a believer. I also realized that all the way back to when I was abducted by the LRA, and in every situation since then, Jesus had been interceding for me. He was at the right-hand side of God praying to the Father on my behalf.
At that moment, few people knew where I was. I had not been given time to let people know what had happened before I was arrested. Communication technologies such as smartphones, texting, and social media did not exist back then. Therefore, I didn’t have a group of people praying for me.
But Jesus was, and that meant God knew where I was. I was also reminded of the Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20 and the wonderful words of encouragement at the close of the passage. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Then I completed my amazing time in Romans 8 with verses 37-39.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Wow! No trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword—nothing—could separate me from the love of Christ! His love for me was great! More than that, He had not forsaken me, even after I had denied Him with my words.
Once again, I couldn’t breathe, but it wasn’t from electrocution. It was from the renewed understanding of my Lord’s love for me. It literally took my breath away.
Not only did I know that I was still a Christian, but I knew that I was His.
I belonged to God—and I always would.
Eventually, the Islamic religious police came to see me at Sheikh Nasser’s home, and they were apparently pleased with what they saw. They wanted to make sure that, in their eyes, I was following through on my confession to become a Muslim.
I was then told I was going to be deported. To where I had no idea.
Even as final preparations were made and I was taken to the airport, I still thought the worst. Sure, I was well enough to get around on crutches, but what difference does it make? I’m just going to another prison. To more torture. To someplace else to die.
I thought it was all a cruel joke.
Until I was safely on the plane, and I found out where it was going.
Order a copy of Abducted But Not Forsaken: How One Man’s Escape from a Notorious Terrorist Brought Hope to Africa by Okongo Samson
Founder and director of Unite 4 Africa, Okongo Samson has a compassionate heart for those who suffer, born from his own personal adversities. In 2003, he founded Unite 4 Africa, a ministry of community and life transformation. This God-inspired, non-profit organization has touched tens of thousands of lives with love and compassion across Africa and beyond. Okongo and his wife Shyla live and serve in Tucson, AZ. Learn more at unite4africa.org
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