Sermon Illustrations

When Stoyan was twelve, they imprisoned his protestant pastor father. His father remained in custody for ten years. “At first,” he said, “they held him in a secret police place in our city.” “Every morning one of the guards would take some of his own human waste and spread it on the piece of toast that he brought to my father for breakfast.” Stoyan reported that the emotional and psychological impact of this persecution was even worse, and left deeper scars, than any physical mistreatment. Nine discouraging months passed with no word about his father. Stoyan’s mother finally received notification that her husband was being transferred, with a group of other prisoners, to a distant labor camp. The jailers allowed the families a one-hour visit before the transfer. Stoyan and his mother went to the well-known torture facility of the secret police on their assigned day. They were ushered out onto a football-sized field along with many other families who had come to see their beloved husbands and fathers and sons. “Most of the prisoners rushed out to talk with their relatives from the other side of a long row of tables lined up to separate visitors from the inmates,” Stoyan recalled. “But my father did not appear. My mother and I sat and waited. We waited for a long time. Finally, when our hour of visitation was almost up, another prisoner, evidently a trustee, walked through the visiting room door carrying what looked like a bundle of rags. He strode toward us and laid that bundle on top of one of the tables.” “My mother took my hand,” recalled Stoyan, “and together we walked up to the table where, only because of the piercing blue eyes staring out at me from those rags, did I recognize this skeletal figure of a man as my father.” “I took my father’s hand in mine and I put my face close to his. I whispered, ‘Papa, I am so proud of you!’ I was thirteen years old.” “Mama knew what my father would want most, so she slipped a little pocket New Testament under his wool cap. The jailer saw what she had done. He rushed over and took the little book, and then he summoned his commander. The officer took one look at the book before furiously throwing it to the ground. He screamed at my mother, with a great crowd of people around us, ‘Woman, don’t you realize that it is because of this book and because of your God that your husband is here? I can kill him, I can kill you, and I can kill your son. And I would be applauded for it!’” Stoyan was remembering something that had happened decades earlier. But he recited the words as if they had been spoken yesterday. “My mother looked at that prison officer and said, ‘Sir, you are right. You can kill my husband. You can kill me. I know that you can even kill our son. But nothing you can do will separate us from the love that is in Jesus Christ!’” Stoyan said, “I was so proud of my mama!” After the communist government had transferred his pastor father to the gulag outside of the city, the authorities exiled the rest of Stoyan’s family to a remote gypsy village in a distant corner of the country... Near the end, his guards made one last cruel attempt to break him. They informed the pastor that he was scheduled for execution. They took him outside, tied him to a pole, and offered him one last opportunity to deny his faith. If he would not deny his faith, they told him, he would be shot. He straightened his back, stood tall and declared, “I will not deny Christ.” The guards became furious with him. Evidently, they did not have the authority to carry out their threat of execution. And, evidently, they had actually been given very different orders. They continued to insult and curse him even as they began to untie him. Then, much to his surprise, instead of escorting him back to his cell, they took him to the prison wall, unlocked a gate, opened a door and literally threw him out of prison without a word of explanation. He was so shocked by what had just happened that he didn’t know what to do. It finally dawned on him that he had been released. He began to walk. Much later, he found his way to his family’s new home. It was a Saturday when he arrived, and no one was home. He then found the church and discovered his family and other church members praying for him at the altar. After a joyous reunion, he was finally able to preach again. Ripken, Nik. The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected . B&H Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

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