Saturday, 9 April 2016

Time for action!

Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering. Hebrews 13:3

I would like to introduce you to someone I have never actually met, but who I feel I know at least just a little.

His name is Alimujiang Yimiti (Alim for short) and he is a Chinese Christian. He used to work for a British company in Xinjiang province, but it was closed by the authorities in 2007.

Alim was detained by the authorities in February 2008 and sentenced to fifteen years in prison the following year. The case against him violated both Chinese and international law.

Alim is a Christian from the Uyghur people, and according to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, he is being held “solely because of his faith”. An appeal was made on his behalf, but it failed – Alim’s sentence was upheld. In 2113 His wife was informed that her monthly visits to see him were cut to one every three months.

All this means, if my sums are correct, that he will (hopefully!) leave prison in… 2024. That’s plenty of time for a young man to become middle-aged, for a middle-aged man to get old. For an old man to die… 2024!

How cruel is this!

I’m looking out of my study window in our quiet suburban part of Nottingham. The sun is just about shining and there are patches of blue sky. It’s pleasantly warm, spring-time warm. Just round the corner there are large areas of richly yellow daffodils. In the house opposite a fluffy, fat white cat is regally surveying his street from the front step (he doesn’t miss much, that cat).

Life is good! I hope it’s like that for you too.

But I wonder how Alim is feeling as he sits in his prison cell? I wonder how his wife is feeling? What about his family… his friends? His fellow-Christians?

So how come I know Alim this little bit? Well, I’ve taken the information I have given you from a magazine called Connect and Encourage, which is produced by Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

In case you don’t know, CSW is a charity which exists to speak up for people like Alim. It exists to make the world aware of just some of the unjust and cruel things that are happening to Christians (and other prisoners of conscience too) in various parts of the world.

Its tag-line is that it is a voice for the voiceless. And that voice is heard in the British and European parliaments, in Washington and in other parts of the world. I could say more, but perhaps this will do: CSW makes a difference. All right, not as much as it would like: but it does make a difference.

There are, of course, other organisations seeking to do a similar work. May God bless them all! The reason I am highlighting CSW is because for the past three years I have been associated with them in a volunteer capacity, and it has been a privilege to help, albeit in only a very tiny way.

If you are not already involved in such a group, I encourage you to give it some thought. Go to

Let’s go back to Alim. You may often have read the verse from the Letter to the Hebrews at the top – “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners” – and thought “Well, yes, I would love to! But what can I actually do?” And you may have offered a fairly vague and general kind of prayer and perhaps made a money gift. That’s good, of course.

But publications like Connect and Encourage make things much more concrete, more personal even. They encourage you and me to encourage people like Alim (and there are thousands them). And one way to do this, as well as prayer, is by writing messages.

I’ve been doing this for some years now. Do my postcards reach the people intended? I don’t know. Do they ever help anyone? I don’t know. But what is faith if not sowing seed? And what is prayer if not a seed? What is a simple message written on a postcard if not a seed? And who knows what God might do with these tiny seeds?

So can I encourage you, for the moment, to slightly change that verse from Hebrews 13? Don’t read, “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow-prisoners”.

No. Read, “Remember Alim Yimiti in prison as if you were his fellow-prisoner”.

And then you know what to do – pray, of course, but also perhaps send him a message. Why not? It will cost just a few minutes and a pound or two – but it could make all the difference in the world.

Here is prayer suggested by CSW…

Lord, may your armies of angels encamp around Alim Yimiti and all those who face persecution because of their faith in you. May they know your comfort, strength and protection.  Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God! Don’t forget them! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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