Stories come in daily of Christians being martyred in the Middle East and other parts of the world these days. Unfortunately we just see these real time conflicts and victories over evil as mere news feeds on our phone as we swipe past them to the next story. I wanted to share with you the story of a Franciscan priest from Iraq who stared martyrdom in the face and accepted it, but God moved and spared him.
In July 2007, Father Nirwan was visiting his family in Iraq and had to travel by taxi which was a perilous journey. The driver was a Christian and they gave rides to several Muslims along the way who requested help.
Father Nirwan’s vehicle approached a checkpoint on the Jordan and Iraq border and were contacted by two subjects who it turns out were ISIS fighters who had killed the soldiers at the post and taken control of the checkpoint.
One of the men came back to his car and stated that his passport needed to be checked further and asked that Father Nirwan and the occupants follow them to their “office”. They walked for about 15 minutes until they came to a barrack.
“Once there, two men with hooded faces came out. One had a video camera in one hand and a knife in the other. The other held a Koran in his hand.”
They questioned Father Nirwan and the other occupants of his taxi and then killed a young man who had been traveling with them with a knife. In a terrifying scene which have been viewed over and over on Al Jazeera, the terrorists tied Father Nirwan’s hands behind his back and stated “Father, we are recording everything for Al Jazeera”.
The evil band of men asked Father Nirwan if he wanted to make any last requests and he stated that he only wished to pray. The priest was pushed to his knees and positioned for the gruesome execution which was to be recorded. Father Nirwan, under no illusion that fingering the beads of a rosary would magically take away the menacing evil that he was enveloped in, prayed through the intercession of Maria Alfonsina Ghattas:
“If it is so that the Lord takes me away, I am ready. But if that is not so, I ask you that no one else will die”.
“The man grabbed my head and guided his knife with the other hand. Then nothing happened. After a moment of silence he said, “Who are you?” I replied, “A religious brother.” Then he said, “Why can I not manage to set the knife? Who are you?” Without answering they left them and he was able to return to the car.
In an insightful remark, Father Nirwan explained the impact that this dramatic encounter with the living God had on his life.
“Since that moment I have ceased to be afraid of death. I know I will die one day, but now I am really aware that this will be when God wants it. Since then, I am no longer afraid of anything and nobody. What happens to me will be done according to God’s will. He will give me the strength to take His cross. What counts is faith. God accepts those who believe in Him”.
This is one example of how God is acting in this day and age. Our culture is set on denying that He really exists, or at best have diminished Him to be an indifferent and aloof father who is always at odds with our happiness. Our perspective has been skewed by abundance, but if we have the eyes to see and ears to hear, we can discover the real Father who is at work in us.
“Put on the Armor of God” (Eph 6:11)