Vol. 6, No. 3, May – June 1977
(This story is taken, by kind permission, from ‘Exploits’,
the magazine of the Slavic Gospel Association.)
FOR his Christian witness John had been sentenced to thirteen years’ imprisonment in his Communist country. After about ten years he committed some small misdemeanour and was sent to an isolation block. Here complete silence reigned as well as absolute solitude.
John became low in spirits and one day he cried to the Lord that he might die. What was the use of living anyway? Ten years of suffering in the general block, and now this! He felt (and who can blame him?) that it was more than he could take. But after a while he pulled himself together and, feeling thoroughly ashamed of his lapse in faith, he began very softly to sing to himself the hymn: “Count your blessings”.
“When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.”
As he sang quietly, he could hear the fellow in the cell next door pacing up and down, backwards and forwards. Suddenly John could restrain himself no longer and burst into loud song, realising subconsciously that the guards would come and beat him. Who knows? — perhaps they might even pound him to death! Maybe this was the way in which God was going to answer his prayer! As these thoughts were flashing through his mind, his brain was also registering that the prisoner’s footsteps next door had stopped.
“Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will keep singing as the days go by.”
John sang his way through the verses of the hymn, becoming louder and more confident with each chorus, and listening with one ear for the jangling of the keys of the warder and his angry, heavy footsteps. At any moment he expected the door to be opened and the beatings with the heavy truncheon to begin.
“So, amid the conflict, whether great or small, Do not be disheartened, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.”
But nothing happened! No guards came! All was silent, except for a heavy plop on the floor in the next cell. That poor chap, thought John, must have collapsed. Perhaps he had even died.
The weeks went by and John, having served his time in solitary confinement, was taken back to the general prison block. There he at least had company, and the diet was a little better than the stale bread and water he had been living on for the past three months. One evening, as he was sitting down after the days work, and feeling so grateful to God for preserving his life, he began to hum: “Count your blessings” to himself. He hadn’t got very far when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and turning, he saw another prisoner standing there.
“Listen,” the man said, “Were you in Cell No. so-and-so in the isolation block at such-and-such a time?” “I was,” replied John. “I heard you,” said the man with mounting excitement. “I heard you! You sang that tune and those words. I was just going to kill myself, having made a noose out of my underwear and fixed it up to the ceiling. Just before you sang I stopped my pacing in the cell, stood on the chair and put my head in the noose. Then you started to sing. You sang louder and louder and the words came through stronger and stronger, and I was waiting for the guards to come and silence you for good. Then I decided that if there was someone in this prison who could sing fearlessly like that about a God who cared, then life must be worth living after all. I took my head out of the noose and dropped to the floor. Now tell me about this God and this faith that you have, because I want to share it too.”
Thrilled, John told the man about the love of God and the salvation offered through Jesus Christ, and there and then, he led him to the Saviour. Now these men are both free and are deacons together in one of the churches behind the Iron Curtain. [60/ibc]