Illustration by Chris Koelle, from The History of Redemption.
Since 2008, The Austin Stone has sent over 250 goers to the field. These goers have taken the gospel to some of the most unreached places in the world and, with joy, they endure everything for the name of Jesus. “From the Field” is a sub-series of the “Stories from The Austin Stone” podcast that focuses on these goers. The following story is a transcript of an episode from the podcast where Alice tells her unique story of God’s faithfulness. To hear the goer tell his story, click here.
Episode #55 From the Field: The Trial
After serving overseas for just a few months, Alice travelled back to the States to visit family. Upon returning to her location, she was confronted by authorities and interrogated. During a long and uncertain court trial involving Alice, she experienced the love of Christ through the local community who testified in her defense and reminded her that it was worth remaining among the people God called her to.
We are working alongside an NGO, working on transformational development in our community. What that means is just that our highest priority is for people to hear and experience the gospel. But we also realize that there’s a redemption that comes to our earthly life through that. So, how do we empower people? How do we transform communities in healthcare? In education? In any number of things where there’s struggling or suffering?
I live in a pretty small neighborhood in our town and it is such a sweet place where the women kind of rule the day which is normal in the town as a whole, but it's just this neighborhood of women and moms and many of them are my age but have anywhere from three to seven children. So, completely different stages of life. These women are such a unique collection of, like I said, personalities and approaches to life and motherhood and faith and yet are so bonded and knit together. When I think of Christ saying to love your neighbor, these women come to mind.
After about our first eight months on location, I headed home to the States to see my grandfather who was dying at the time. I headed home to say goodbye to him. When I returned back to my host country, I was stopped in an airport, interrogated, and consequently arrested. After coming back from the States, there had been some terrorist activity in our region and it had become pretty volatile. Where we were, authorities were seeking a white woman who was attached to a lot of the terrorist activity. So, when I went through the airport, I was confused for being that woman. I was held for a short time in a city and then sent on to my location where I live at which point I was met when I got off the plane by about 13 police officers and immigration officials who took me into custody. That first night I was held for I think seven to eight hours where I went through interrogation and a lot of questioning. After about 48 hours, my identity was cleared—who I was was made known and believed. A lot came out about my faith during those interrogations—what I believed in, who I was, who I followed. There was a man in those interrogations that worked for immigration that decided to file his own immigration case. Over the course of the following week after my identity had been cleared, our whole team was pulled in for questioning. We were taken in, questioned for a week, then had the charges come against us. There was nothing factual on which to base them. They were all completely made up charges revolving around our immigration status. The heart of the charges was that we had lied to obtain our work visas and so many details that came along with that—that we hadn’t been honest—these were the types of charges they came up with in order to resist our presence in that town. That first day that we went to court, we had to be taken a ways away, so it took us a couple of hours to even arrive at court. Having gone to the immigration office having expected to just answer questions and go home, we weren’t prepared in any way to be away from home all day. The day that he called us in to read us our charges, we were immediately taken straight to court and spent the entire day in court, which led to us going to jail at the end of the day.
As we rode to jail and arrived at jail, I had so many thoughts like, “How do I call my family and tell them this? Can I call my family and tell them this? How long will it take before they find out?” We were taken away from the immigration office with armed guards. We each had our own guards watching over us and were taken in an armored vehicle to court. We spent all day, I think it was probably six or seven hours sitting on a very tiny wooden bench alongside of the other prisoners. They read our case last that day, so we sat and waited through all these hours of everyone else going. We didn't have water. We didn’t have food. We were exhausted and terrified. I think, in those moments, you never know how much of your American culture you’ve really held onto until you’re in a situation like that and rely on the fact that by being an American you have certain rights. You rely on the fact that justice will be served. You rely on the fact that you’re going to have the representation that you need. And in a moment like that, being stripped of all of that, and realizing that the rights that I’ve been taught since I was a child that I have, that are given to me as a human being, I no longer have in this country. It is wholly legal for them to be doing what they’re doing and there is no intervention that can come at a human level. That is utterly terrifying to be in that place where your life literally is in God’s hands and that there is no human rescue that’s going to come outside of His miraculous intervention.
Alice and her team were scared of the unknown, yet they knew God was in control of what was to come. Their story doesn’t end in that African jail. Here’s what happened next.
We were on trial for 10 months. We went to trial 13 times in the course of that 10 months and saw just some tremendous outpouring of support from our community, from the local people that came to defend us. We had people get up on the witness stand to testify in our defense—on who we were and our character and their trust in us. That was an incredible gift because, having only been there for months, they had every right to be skeptical and to question our motivations, to wonder if we were sincere and were who we said we were. They took the other route which was to say “We fully believe in these people. We trust that their hearts are good and that they love us.” Because of that, they went into a complete mode of defending us, protecting us, and advocating for us. When I would come home from a long day at court, often there would be women waiting for me with dinner. They were just so in it with us. Rejoicing with us when we rejoiced. They were weeping when we wept. They were praying with us and we saw some very sacrificial things happen.
One of the most amazing things that I remembered, something I didn’t even find out about until after it happened, was the very first night I was being held and interrogated. I was so exhausted because I had just come back from the States so I was still dealing with jetlag and all these things. My neighbor, who is a very precious man and has been one of our greatest advocates since we arrived, heard that I was being held at the police station so he came and started asking a lot of questions. He stayed with me through the entire questioning process and I found out later that that night, they had every intention of holding me in a jail cell and keeping me there overnight at least, and he fought them on it. He said, “Don’t do this. Send her home. Let her go home and get some sleep.” They said the only way for them to do this was for him to sign a piece of paper saying that if I fled, he would do the prison term that would come with these charges. He signed without hesitation. I didn’t know that. I went home and got to sleep in my own bed that night after that really long day of interrogation and that was all because of this man literally putting his life on the line. We saw things like that over and over again, where people were sacrificing their own reputations, their own time, their energy to make sure that we were cared for throughout that entire process.
When we arrived at jail that night, we pulled up and it is completely separate from the towns that are around it and it’s quiet. As we drove up, the sun was setting over this field that is behind it and we stepped out of the vehicle and I stood there and watched an unbelievable sunset happening in front of me. It was peaceful and it was the first time my mind kind of calmed and there wasn't noise and there wasn’t chaos around me. I remember so clearly feeling this is what it feels like to have joy and suffering at the same time. To hold them in the same hand and say, “Somehow, in all these hard emotions, I can still feel peace and I can still see a sun setting and recognize its beauty and I can still recognize that in a chaotic and loud week that I finally am somewhere that is still and that’s quiet and have a clarity of mind and a peace that surpasses all understanding.” That was a memory I've held onto.
The 10 months of being on trial were times of such deep desperation. They were times of feeling so separate from God and His presence. There were times of feeling like God was absent, and so we would have these glimmers. As quick as the peace comes from that it can go away just as quickly, but God constantly giving us these little nuggets of “I’m with you and I want you to see it not just a feeling but I want you to see the rainbow in the sky. I want you to see the sun setting over this field. I want you to see this friend who just sat and defended you at great cost to herself.” We had these little moments throughout the whole time that just reminded us, even if I don't feel His presence He is here.
After 10 months, there were a lot of miraculous things that happened. Our charges were eventually just dropped. The national government got involved and one day we showed up at court and just heard that everything was just dropped. I went home on home assignment and have since gone back to the same exact house, same exact place, same exact town. For us, there was no doubt that we would go back if we would be welcomed again. And we have been. We are so sure that those trials deepened those relationships with people. The depth of our relationships with these friends is because they struggled with us, they suffered with us, and because of everything we’ve been through together. So many people ask, “Why, after all of that, would you go back to the same place?” For me, the question is, “Why wouldn’t I go back?”