The only photos I have of Daniel* are of the back of his head. I used to think he was just extremely shy. He would keep his eyes on the floor when I tried to talk to him. Then, he’d slip into the kitchen to wash dishes at the first opportunity, avoiding further conversation. And every time I took out the camera to take a picture at a meal or gathering, Daniel would turn his head just as the flash was about to go off.
What I didn’t know then was that this skinny, solemn teenager living with my Asian host parents was a refugee in hiding. Daniel’s apparent “shyness” was in reality a necessary precaution for his own protection. It wasn’t until months later that I heard his full story.
Daniel looked like he was only 13, but he was actually 17. Years of near-starvation in his home country stunted his growth. In search of food for his family, Daniel had secretly escaped from his closed country, swimming across the river that served as a border in the north. But Daniel found more than rice and vegetables on the other side. Through my host parents, Daniel was introduced to Jesus Christ and began studying the Bible in his native language.
Anxious to share the Good News, Daniel swam back across the river to his home country with four Bibles strapped to his chest, which he gave away to his relatives and neighbors. But he was soon arrested for possession of “illegal materials,” and put into prison, where he was brutally beaten on his legs and feet. Miraculously, Daniel was released from prison after several months, and he swam across the river border once more to find refuge in the safe house, which is where I met him.
Peace & Repaying Evil with Blessing
After such intense suffering, I expected Daniel to be bitter and angry. But Daniel had a deep peace that amazed me. As he received grace and mercy through Christ, he was able to forgive those who treated him so cruelly. Daniel is determined to return one day to the very place where he was imprisoned and beaten for his faith, in order to share the amazing love of Jesus Christ that has so transformed his life.
I don’t have any photos of Daniel’s face, but the testimony of his life has left a lasting imprint. His complete lack of bitterness and anger demonstrated God’s amazing power to live according to I Peter 3:9 –
“…Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.”
*Not his real name.