SOUTHEAST ASIA — In a prison gym in Southeast Asia, a woman
wearing a navy-colored head covering holds up a picture frame. Six little faces
stare through the glass.
“These are my children,” she says. A grin of pride spreads across her face. She
hasn’t seen them since her arrest more than a year and a half ago.
Dira Amar* lives in a cream-colored cell with 22 other women. She sleeps on a
thin mattress atop a concrete slab and keeps her possessions in two cabinets
above her bed.
Outside her cell, there’s a bench, a tiny garden and fishpond. Amar has rested
here to read her Bible between 1 and 3 a.m. for the past year, when the inmates
have finally gone to sleep and the prison grows still.
“I want it to be quiet and calm, with no one to disturb me because I want it to
be only me and God,” she says. “Only at that time I feel peace.”
Amar didn’t know Christ a year and a half ago. She worked as an event
coordinator for a local newspaper, helping organize events for the company and
community. People admired her. She was a successful career woman in a Muslim
nation while rearing six children. She had a home and her family had plenty to
Then, governmental corruption ruined her life. A local official confiscated
money she collected for a student exchange program and blamed her for its
disappearance. She had proof of her innocence, but against the official’s
power, proof meant little. She went to jail, leaving her husband and children
without the income they had come to rely upon.
Amar’s voice falters as she talks about her sons and daughters and how their
grandmother (Amar’s mother) can only feed the children cassava, a type of root
eaten when families can’t afford rice.
As she lived in disgrace and imprisonment, God sent her Rick Alexander*, a
Christian worker and volunteer English teacher at the jail. As Amar sat through
his lectures on nouns and verbs, she noticed the kindness in his voice when he
spoke to prisoners. She wondered why this man — a white foreigner — would treat
Asian inmates with such respect.
God had taught him to love people, Alexander explained. Amar asked if he worked
“No,” he answered. “I am only the servant.”
Amar envied Alexander’s integrity and loved the positive way he spoke. When
Alexander gave her a Bible, Amar devoured its pages.
She wondered about giving up the religion of her family. How could she know the
Bible in her hands spoke the truth? She prayed for God’s guidance and, one
night, she felt someone wake her up. In the dark, she heard a voice.
“I love you,” the voice said. “I will not make you stand alone.”
After that night, she abandoned Islam.
She became a new person in Christ. During her “wee-hour” studies, she absorbs
God’s instructions to apply them to her life. She now understands the integrity
she saw in Alexander came directly from Christ. She wants the same.
Even though Amar still lives encased by cement walls, she is at peace with her
prison life — one guided by biblical instruction and hope placed in Christ —
compared to the one she lived as a Muslim woman with her children.
“Now, my life has become better … every aspect of my life, and I’m proud of
it,” Amar insists. “I’m proud of God. I’m proud to become a Christian. It
always makes me cry. When I talk about God, it always makes me cry. I don’t
In her cell, she sits surrounded by women who have watched her change. They
perch on the edges of cement slabs upon which they sleep. Some committed their
crimes. Some did not.
When Amar became a Christian, she began to take care of them, dubbing some of
them her “children.” To Amar, these women could never replace her husband and
children, but God added them to her family. She comforts them when they feel
homesick and she tells them about Jesus. When they can’t pay the jail fees for
amenities such as soap and pillows, Amar assists them with the little money she
earns by giving haircuts to prisoners and selling purses she sews to guards.
“How can you be like that?” they ask. “How can you be so full of love and
patience and humility?”
Then, just like Alexander said to her, she explains that she is a servant of
Christ, and she is learning to behave like Him. No one in her prison family has
decided to follow Jesus, yet, but she prays they will.
In the prison gym, she sits with Alexander’s wife Meghan* and holds her hand.
While the guards watch her closely from outside, she smiles and says she is
blessed because God chose her to be His own. To her, that’s worth the loss of
an old life.
“If God has to take my life, my children and my husband, I really don’t care
because God knows the best thing for me,” she says.
In her mind, God’s blessings abound in the absence of her family. He gave her
the Alexanders; He gave her a Bible; He gave her inmates to evangelize.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Lane is a writer in Southeast Asia.)