To Live is Christ, To Die is Gain

I want to do it right, be somone like Paul. It’s simply that he was not afraid, he never gave up the war. To live when you’re down. To live when you’re always leaving. I want to be things. Pressing on.
- Starflyer 59, “Give Up The War”

Last week, I read a letter written by the recently deceased American citizen and ISIS captive, Kayla Mueller. The letter was presumably smuggled out by a fellow prisoner who may have been freed. The contents of the correspondence to Kayla’s family are some of the of the most inspirational thoughts about life in times of difficulty that I have come across in some time. Kayla’s letter describes her state of mind while in captivity, at the hands of ISIS.

I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it.

Kayla recalls her mother telling her, when she was younger, that in the end, all you really have is God. I do not know the extent of Kayla’s religious faith or education. What I do know is that the words in her letter very closely echo those of Paul of Tarsus, a fellow human being who knew what it was like to live in faith while being detained. While he was imprisoned in the Macedonian city of Philippi, Paul wrote to the members of the church in Philippi, about his circumstances.

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4: 10–13)

Paul refers to the ability to endure all things through the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Though he was beaten and imprisoned, his faith carried him through and even allowed him a measure of equilibrium through the highs and lows of life. He had learned to live when he was down, pressing on, and even rejoicing in trials. He sang while in his cell in Philippi.

During his life of evangelism, Paul wrote many of his letters from prison. It is clear, from his writing, that his concern was not for his own welfare, but for the welfare of those in his newly planted churches. For his part, Paul trusted that he was well in the hands of God. His hope was that the members of his new church are similarly dedicated and commensurately comforted. The letter from Kayla Mueller strikes upon a similar theme.

I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another … I miss you all as if it has been a decade of forced separation.

There is some question about the authenticity of the letter, given the fact that ISIS has faked such documents before. However, if this correspondence is manufactured by the terrorist group, they’ve done an amazing job of exalting God in the midst of adversity, in the style of a Pauline epistle. Such a narrative is hard for me to believe, so I choose to think that the letter is probably geniune and expresses the true thoughts of a prisoner upon whom God poured out His Holy Spirit.

Most of us will (thankfully) never know the misfortune of being a prisoner, being kidnapped or being falsely accused of a crime. However, all of us go through down times, and experience the feeling of isolation that comes from those times. These times of trial can make you feel alone, as though the rest of the world is rushing by at its rapid pace, as you lose ground in the attempt to keep up. In prison, you can’t see everyone else going about their business, but you know that everything is moving along, as it always has, outside of your confines. When you are facing difficulty in the world, daily, you are reminded that others are doing what they always do, despite how you are feeling. It is in those times that it bears remembering that God is present, in times of plenty and times of want. There are many who are greatly grieving the loss of Kayla Mueller right now, and I hope that they are able to take comfort in her words.

Written by

Robert is a Christian, aspiring minimalist, software dev manager and paper airplane mechanic located in North Carolina.

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