“…I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
~ Zechariah 13:9 (NIV)
In 2004, my colleague and friend Dr. Jim Cunningham was in Ethiopia teaching Standing Strong Through the Storm (SSTS). His teaching assignments took him to the far western province of Gambella where many Christians of the Anuak tribe had been killed in recent fighting. The believers there told him about one of their pastors, Okok Ojula, who was in prison in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Okok had been head of the Bureau of Social Rehabilitation in Gambella. He was falsely accused of corruption and taking three million Ethiopian Birr. No evidence was presented so the trial was moved to Addis—three days away by bus—to a federal court. He had been sitting in jail for two years waiting for a trial date to be set! His wife Nuno and their six children were patiently waiting back in Gambella. They asked Jim to visit Pastor Okok in prison.
Jim went to the Administrator’s Office of the main federal prison back in Addis to try and see Pastor Okok. “Why do you want to see him?” the administrator asked. Jim responded, “Because I was in Gambella, met his wife Nuno and their six children and I told them I would come and give him greetings from them.”
He replied rather directly, “Why do YOU want to see him?” Jim looked him in the eye and said, “Okuk is a Christian and a pastor in Gambella, I am a Christian and a pastor in Canada. I want to meet him and pray with him!” At that moment the administrator’s countenance changed. He turned to Jim and said, “You may meet him next door in the Deputy Administrator’s office.”
Okuk was brought in for forty-five minutes—with coffee provided—and they shared and prayed together! It was a great time of blessing for both men.
After three and a half years, Okuk was released from prison as a free man completely exonerated. He then shared with Jim by mail that he had earlier conformed his life around serving the Lord, resuming his education at the highest level, doing research work, and other valuable good things to help people. But he had never thought of imprisonment at any time. Time was very precious to him and he never thought of wasting it in prison sitting under a hostile situation. But having been in prison he learned many lessons.
Commenting about Moses’ burning bush, he said, “Prison to me, is a place where the Lord can appear to us in flames of fire to refine us—but never ‘burn us up.’ I see that the Lord is more concerned with our perfection obtained through walks in all levels of patience, endurance, character, and hope in order to expel fear and self-centeredness in our lives—and prepare us to see and believe that He is God Almighty as He appeared to Moses. He intends for us not to put Him in our little box to use Him as an instrument to suit our release from the prison. [Rather] patience, endurance, character, and hope have to finish their work to perfection.”
RESPONSE: Today I will accept that God may have to put me through the refiner’s fire to perfect me.
PRAYER: Lord, build patience, endurance, character and hope into my life in Your way and purpose.