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In Asian jail, she’s asked: How are you so full of love?

SOUTHEAST ASIA (BP)–In a prison gym in Southeast Asia, a woman wearing a navy-colored head covering holds up a picture frame. Six little faces stare through the glass.

“These are my children,” she says. A grin of pride spreads across her face. She hasn’t seen them since her arrest more than a year and a half ago.

Dira Amar* lives in a cream-colored cell with 22 other women. She sleeps on a thin mattress atop a concrete slab and keeps her possessions in two cabinets above her bed.

Outside her cell, there’s a bench, a tiny garden and fishpond. Amar has rested here to read her Bible between 1 and 3 a.m. for the past year, when the inmates have finally gone to sleep and the prison grows still.

“I want it to be quiet and calm, with no one to disturb me because I want it to be only me and God,” she says. “Only at that time I feel peace.”

Amar didn’t know Christ a year and a half ago. She worked as an event coordinator for a local newspaper, helping organize events for the company and community. People admired her. She was a successful career woman in a Muslim nation while rearing six children. She had a home and her family had plenty to eat.

Then, governmental corruption ruined her life. A local official confiscated money she collected for a student exchange program and blamed her for its disappearance. She had proof of her innocence, but against the official’s power, proof meant little. She went to jail, leaving her husband and children without the income they had come to rely upon.

Amar’s voice falters as she talks about her sons and daughters and how their grandmother (Amar’s mother) can only feed the children cassava, a type of root eaten when families can’t afford rice.

As she lived in disgrace and imprisonment, God sent her Rick Alexander*, a Christian worker and volunteer English teacher at the jail. As Amar sat through his lectures on nouns and verbs, she noticed the kindness in his voice when he spoke to prisoners. She wondered why this man — a white foreigner — would treat Asian inmates with such respect.

God had taught him to love people, Alexander explained. Amar asked if he worked for God.

“No,” he answered. “I am only the servant.”

Amar envied Alexander’s integrity and loved the positive way he spoke. When Alexander gave her a Bible, Amar devoured its pages.

She wondered about giving up the religion of her family. How could she know the Bible in her hands spoke the truth? She prayed for God’s guidance and, one night, she felt someone wake her up. In the dark, she heard a voice.

“I love you,” the voice said. “I will not make you stand alone.”

After that night, she abandoned Islam.

She became a new person in Christ. During her “wee-hour” studies, she absorbs God’s instructions to apply them to her life. She now understands the integrity she saw in Alexander came directly from Christ. She wants the same.

Even though Amar still lives encased by cement walls, she is at peace with her prison life — one guided by biblical instruction and hope placed in Christ — compared to the one she lived as a Muslim woman with her children.

“Now, my life has become better … every aspect of my life, and I’m proud of it,” Amar insists. “I’m proud of God. I’m proud to become a Christian. It always makes me cry. When I talk about God, it always makes me cry. I don’t know why.”

In her cell, she sits surrounded by women who have watched her change. They perch on the edges of cement slabs upon which they sleep. Some committed their crimes. Some did not.

When Amar became a Christian, she began to take care of them, dubbing some of them her “children.” To Amar, these women could never replace her husband and children, but God added them to her family. She comforts them when they feel homesick and she tells them about Jesus. When they can’t pay the jail fees for amenities such as soap and pillows, Amar assists them with the little money she earns by giving haircuts to prisoners and selling purses she sews to guards.

“How can you be like that?” they ask. “How can you be so full of love and patience and humility?”

Then, just like Alexander said to her, she explains that she is a servant of Christ, and she is learning to behave like Him. No one in her prison family has decided to follow Jesus, yet, but she prays they will.

In the prison gym, she sits with Alexander’s wife Meghan* and holds her hand. While the guards watch her closely from outside, she smiles and says she is blessed because God chose her to be His own. To her, that’s worth the loss of an old life.

“If God has to take my life, my children and my husband, I really don’t care because God knows the best thing for me,” she says.

In her mind, God’s blessings abound in the absence of her family. He gave her the Alexanders; He gave her a Bible; He gave her inmates to evangelize.
*Names changed. Shiloh Lane is a writer in Southeast Asia.

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  • Shiloh Lane