Petr Jašek had a dream some time ago. A threatening dream. It was in the year 2013. He seemed to be locked in a cell, sitting on the floor on ice tiles, staring at the light coming through a small window at the top of the locked door. He could not get rid of the vision, and more than two years later, at the end of 2015, the dream came true. Petr Jašek was arrested in Sudan and sentenced as a spy to more than twenty years in prison. Thanks to the efforts of the Czech government and the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to Cairo, he was released in 2017; officially on the basis of a pardon granted by Sudanese President Bashir. He wrote a book about this event called ‚Wedding Ring for Life‘, published this year by Stefanos.
Petr Jašek is a minister’s child, his father was a parish minister of the ECCB. He graduated from the University of Chemical Technology in Prague. He then completed postgraduate studies in clinical biochemistry at the Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, where he worked for 20 years. For the next ten years, 1992–2002, he was the director of the hospital in Počátky. Finally, he underwent a three-month postgraduate study of health and healthcare management in Israel. In the 1990s, he was one of the founders of a Czech organization called Helping the Persecuted Church, which then became part of the International Christian Association (ICA), whose mission is to support and assist persecuted Christians in many countries around the world. Today, Petr devotes himself fully to this. He and his wife Vanda live in Buštěhrad and attend the congregation of the Church of the Brethren in Kladno. They have one daughter, one son and their first granddaughter.
Why is your book called that?
For the first two months after my arrest, I was in a cell with Islamic State fighters. They wanted my ring as a tax on the non-Muslim population. So that they wouldn’t take it from me even with my finger cut off, I preferred to give it to them. Then my wife and I bought new …
So as a hospital director, you graduated in 2002, what happened next?
Then I started working for ICA, our sister organization in America, and the purpose of our work is to provide targeted assistance to Christians around the world who are persecuted and injured, primarily because they have not rejected their faith. If a Christian who is asked to become a Muslim refuses, his left arm and right leg should be cut off as a warning. This is an authentic statement of Muhammad. And this also applies to children. So our medical program was focused on helping people who had either or both limbs amputated.
It is definitely an activity that requires great mental strength from a person, it is not for anyone. How did you even realize that you wanted to go in such a rather unusual direction?
We have to go back to totalitarianism, to 1978, when I was in high school and we were interrogated by the StB. At that time, my father showed me a book by the Romanian Jew Richard Wurmbrand, which became the second most important book for me after the Bible. Richard Wurmbrand experienced 14 years in a communist dungeon, was imprisoned twice, and spent three years in solitary confinement, which few really survived. Thanks to him, I understood that if one really wants to live by faith, that is, faithfully, one does not have to be afraid. If we want to be faithful to God, God will give us strength. Then, already in university, in 1992, another colleague, Stanislav Forejt, and I, following the example of Richard Wurmbrand, founded a branch of the International Christian Association in our country, and our Czech organization is called Help for the Persecuted Church. It was about helping in countries that are not free, just as people in the West helped us during totalitarianism. Richard Wurmbrand was the founder of the association in 1967. The main purpose is to inform each other about those who are persecuted and to help them and their families. Every two months we publish a Bulletin called The Voice of the Martyrs.
But what does your activity look like in practice? When you’re home, how do you know what to do?
There are about seventy countries where Christians are persecuted in the world. We have branches in those countries, so we know what is needed. When something happens today, it is known very quickly in the electronic world. In Africa, there is a mobile transmitter in every jungle! There is no water, there is no electricity, but a mobile signal is. I became the regional director, I was in charge of literally half the world – from Pakistan to Europe, then the whole of Africa. Since 2011, I’ve only been in charge of Africa, I’ve been to Nigeria about thirty times in the last 15 years, and that is where the most serious cases have been. It can be expected that local hospitals will not provide the proper level of care for a person whose limb has been cut off. For example, we have built a prosthetic laboratory in northern Nigeria that is able to create state-of-the-art prostheses. The problem, however, is that the indigenous inhabitants will almost rather be left with a stump than wear a modern aid …
You are obviously a strong personality. You have even been in prison, in a world that is terrifying. When you started, did you have to be aware of the risks, how did you deal with it?
I took it as an honour. It was about paying off debts, that’s what I said. I didn’t think so much about danger. I remember when I first smuggled the Bible into Iran or Algeria, it was an honour for me. And a very important aspect is that it is about a Christian helping a Christian. It is the belonging of the limbs of one body, as the Apostle Paul says – if one limb suffers, the whole body suffers!
Why did you actually go to Sudan then?
I went there in December 2015 to check and photograph injuries, burns, for specialists from Finland. They were of the son of a Muslim cleric who became a Christian while studying in Khartoum, a heinous crime. The secret service threw an incendiary bomb at him, which left him with burns over a large part of his body.
How was your family aware of the danger?
My wife takes my job as a mission, she is identified with it. She used to ride with me, and my daughter was with me in Nigeria, then studying medicine for the second year, she had the opportunity to make dressings there – who has such experience here ?!
But when you went to Sudan, did you expect to be locked up?
That must be taken into account, but on the other hand – if you go somewhere for 15 years and always return, as planned, you will somehow get used to it. And it was in the Sudan that I got a visa to wait in Vienna, they smiled at me, shook my hand … For four days in Khartoum, it’s nothing.
And when they locked you up? Did you believe that someone from outside would intervene? Or will you be there for life? Could they even kill you?
After all, one gradually adapts somehow. At first you believe it will be for a few days, then you believe it will be for a month; and as the time lengthens … After four months of interrogation, I was brought before a judge who had read seven paragraphs of the accusations against me, of which two brought the death penalty. The investigation by the prosecutor lasted another four months, and then the trial began. I would probably say that I gradually got used to it, but the hope of release was still there. Certainly. Specific stories also poured power into me. For example, when about 12 Eritreans came to a crowded cell with inhuman conditions and I suddenly felt God’s instruction to go after them. I managed to get in among them and preach the gospel to them. We are back to that loyalty. I told them how I believed and they were struck. We prayed together and I suddenly felt that this was the reason I was stuck here for months. It stopped bothering me that it was dragging on, because maybe I had a task from God here!
Did you have any opportunity to find out what was happening with us to support you? That petitions were being signed here, that a prayer chain had been created?
The visit of our consul from Egypt helped me a lot, the first time was 11 days after the arrest. I knew that our ambassador to Egypt was also taking some radical steps. But I only knew about the events in our country from letters, which started arriving after three months. The situation was better only in the last prison, the guards sold mobile phones in addition to drugs, so my connection to the world was established – phones are banned, but everyone has one. Even the prisoners themselves signed the petition for my release by telephone, half a million signatures were obtained! Or I could see a “you tube” demonstration for my release in front of the Sudanese embassy in Madrid, I couldn’t help but cry. It also helped me a lot that there was a chapel in the last prison.
How is it possible?
There was also a mosque, and because there were prisoners from South Sudan, and they were Christians, they had to make a chapel for them under the constitution, even if it was made out of a cell. When my “luxurious” stay in the solitude ended, I found myself in a cell with 100 people; but suddenly we had a chapel. I approached two Sudanese pastors and they said – “you have a Bible, you will preach first”. I had a stack of notes ready that I had been secretly preparing in solitary confinement when I read the Bible there, so now I could preach. In a Sudanese prison! Even five times a week!
I understand that this was a big change, but I still can’t imagine how you managed to keep your balance all that time.
Of course I wasn’t happy. The worst was always in the morning. On the one hand, they brought the first meal at one o’clock, the drinking water was brown, it was waiting for the mud to settle a little, after all, depressed feelings settled on me. But when I began to preach, these morning sorrows vanished. The assurance that God had a job there for me was a great thing. At least 20 people went to church at first, but gradually there were far more of them, when I preached on Christmas Day in 2016, over two hundred people came. Even Muslims were there. Then I really stopped caring about how long I would be there – I would be there as long as the Lord God wanted. Here again we can mention that fidelity – when a person surrenders his life to Christ, he must reckon with the fact that God can take him to places that are not exactly pleasant; after all, according to the Bible, the persecution of Christians is an integral part of their lives. But why? Why does the world hate you? Because you are not of this world! That’s why you’re dangerous! That is why Sudanese President Bashir hated Christians.
I heard that you were encouraged in prison to become a Muslim and that they would let you go. Do you think they would really have let you go?
I must emphasize that it was a secret service prison. I believe that they could and could abuse it properly, make it a monstrous case – we have released a European spy!
And wasn’t “become a Muslim” after all, at least somewhere in the corner, a temptation? Whatever you tell them, you leave Sudan, you remain a Christian …
No, this was not a temptation. Precisely because I take persecution as part of life, I never asked – God, why? I was in a cell among Muslims, I could never know who would punch me in the face, who would hurt me. They prayed five times a day, and I had to kneel and look in the toilet. But I wasn’t so afraid of that, I was afraid of losing my sanity. When you’re malnourished, anemic, you can’t sleep … But I’ve believed in the power of prayer all along. It happened to me once – at 9 o’clock in the evening I lay down on the ground and suddenly I fell asleep beautifully. And then I managed to find out that in our Kladno church they agreed that at eight o’clock in the evening everyone would pray for me for an hour, wherever they were. There’s an hour’s shift, so they’ve been praying since eight o’clock, and I fell asleep at exactly nine o’clock. That’s how I experienced a lot of prayer in myself. It’s been so many times. When I was beaten with a stick on the head, I had Christ in front of my eyes as they beat him, I did not feel pain. Only then did I learn that they also prayed for me at home …
How did you find out that you were to be released?
It was like this – I was just outside, in the last prison we could go out, to a kind of courtyard, I read Psalm 126 – “When the Lord changed the lot of Zion, we were like a dream … The Lord did great things with them. “I finished reading it and in a few seconds the warden came up and informed me that I had been released. He said it in Arabic, everyone around burst into cheers …
And do you think that even after this experience, you will go somewhere in such an uncertain risky area again?
We have a large network of co-workers around the world who do the same as me. I wouldn’t even get a visa. And when I get a visa, there may be a trap, so I definitely have to be careful, I don’t want to take any chances. Now, as an ambassador of the Christian Association, I travel to those countries that support the persecuted. I still meet persecuted Christians, but perhaps in a neighboring country. It is important that they do not endanger themselves because of my name. But it is true that last year I flew perhaps the most, with the imprisonment and then also my book, which has already been published in many countries, it is the impetus for a lot of meetings and various conferences, I am really busy. So we will see what the Lord God prepares for me, I will certainly not oppose his instructions.