*Representative photo used to protect identity
Anxious to leave and begin the long trek home, Kirtey cautiously opened the door. Standing on the doorstep were three armed policemen. “They asked me which church I belonged to,” said 40 year-old Kirtey. “I didn’t want to put my friends in danger, so I told them that I did my fellowship in my own house. The police went there to search, but they couldn’t [get inside] because the house was locked.” A village official charged Kirtey with “inciting civil unrest,” because he showed a Christian film, and hence “forced” people to believe in another religion.
After Kirtey spent five months in police custody, the judge sentenced him to three years in jail. He immediately thought of the hardships that would face his family who lived quite far from where he was imprisoned. His faithful wife visited him once a week at first, later cutting back to twice a month because of finances.
“It was very difficult for my wife that time,” recalled Kirtey, who lives in a predominantly Buddhist country. “But somehow, she took courage.” During Kirtey’s imprisonment, she was able to attend a Standing Strong Through the Storm training, an Open Doors persecution-preparedness seminar that equips believers with a biblical perspective on persecution, and scriptural examples on how to respond to it. “The seminar helped her greatly to cope during my absence.”
Meanwhile, Kirtey fought against the temptation to fall into despair while incarcerated. But hopelessness did not set in, sharing Kirtey said, “There came a point when I felt what the Bible described in 1 Peter. It talks about how a thousand years can feel like a day. Those three years [in prison] felt like a day, and I believe it was because many brothers and sisters around the world prayed for me.”
In the prison camp, Kirtey spent most of his time in prayer, and dedicated himself to becoming more like Christ in his lifestyle. “He did not speak a single foul word!” was a common remark among his fellow inmates when they talked about him. “I could only preach Christ through my life. I wanted my fellow prisoners to know Jesus Christ, and to know that He lived with us inside the prison camp. By [my] living like Christ, five prisoners asked about my faith, and eventually became Christians.”
Most of Kirtey’s 80 fellow prisoners were convicted drug addicts, murderers, and robbers. A strong desire to reach out to them was born in his heart when he heard the words of Luke 4:18 in a dream one night.
God’s Spirit is on me;
He’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners…
In 2011, a believer was imprisoned in the same cell as Kirtey. One day he discovered a Bible covertly hidden in his clothes. “I couldn’t read it because it was in English. During her next visit, I asked my wife to get me an English grammar book and dictionary,” said Kirtey. “Then, I started holding small meetings in the prison hall. Some prisoners who attended could not read or write in their own language, so I started a literacy class inside. We were fifteen in this meeting. Two got out earlier than I, and I was so glad to hear that they are still going to church.”
“After a while, the prison guards confronted me about the meetings,” he continued. “They said that I should not do such things in the cell. He reminded me that this was exactly the reason (sharing my faith to others) I was imprisoned. They warned me that my prison term would be longer if I did not stop.”
By then, though, Kirtey had abandoned his fears. He invoked the laws of his country concerning private practice of the Christian faith. “I told him that the other prisoners join the meeting on their own, that I never forced them to become Christians. In fact, they were the ones who asked me about my faith, and I was only responding to their questions.”
Three years in prison passed quickly as he ministered to his fellow believers. As Kirtey’s day of release approached, sadness loomed in his heart. He constantly wondered, What would become of the believers inside the prison? His fellow inmates were saddened by the thought of Kirtey leaving them behind.
After Kirtey’s release on May 23rd, he continued to visit the prison camp. “I made a promise to a brother [to bring him a Bible]. Wrapping the Bible with a plastic cover, I was afraid that the warden would discover it.” In fact, the warden did see the plastic-wrapped Bible, and leafed through its pages to see who it was for. Kirtey mentioned the name of the prisoner. “The warden allowed the Bible to be given to my brother!” Kirtey shared. “Please pray for him. He was sentenced to five years in prison. Pray also for the six others who are now following Christ.”
Kirtey has become a faithful prayer warrior for the prisoners all across his country. Though he no longer visits other villages, his church leaders have put him in charge of a local church as a pastor. Kirtey still thinks about the place of his arrest, and the people responsible for his imprisonment. “I feel love for them,” Kirtey tells Open Doors, months after his release. “I forgive them. I pray for God to plant a church in that village someday. I still want to visit villages… to encourage other churches in my country by sharing what God has done through me inside the prison.”
“People may chain us,” he concludes, “but they cannot keep us from testifying about God.”
Father, thank You for strengthening Kirtey during his three years of imprisonment and for using his life to draw others to Yourself. Be with those new believers, Lord; strengthen their faith, and as they are released from prison, place them in churches where they might receive strong teaching from Your Word. We pray that Kirtey might be a source of encouragement to other believers who experience pressure and persecution. We pray for his wife, giving thanks for the encouragement and biblical training she received through the Standing Strong Through the Storm workshop. We pray for his daughter as she starts school this year, calling upon Your Spirit to go before her, to surround her in peace and safety, to assure her of Your presence. We pray for Kirtey in his new role as a church pastor, that You will bring much fruit to his labor. And we pray with him that one day, there will be a church in the village where he was arrested. In the name of Jesus, who sets us free from the rule of darkness, Amen.