The next day, the hours in the cell crept by slowly. We prayed together and sang some—but the police didn’t like that—and we slept.
That night the police brought in more people, including our Korean partner and an older German believer who was not associated with any of us. He had been walking around downtown wearing a sign, calling people to Jesus.
We found out later that there had been fifty-four arrests in nine cities, most of them made using Harry’s address book. Thankfully no one recanted this time, in spite of the pressure applied.
The next day I was again taken for questioning. The police put a chart in front of me showing the leaders of each work in the nine cities, with titles for each. I had read about this categorization of us in the newspapers, so did not hesitate to confirm that these people worked there.
Later the police hung this chart in their terrorist division along with those of the groups like the PKK and Hezbollah. They considered us as dangerous as these other groups, even though there were only about two hundred of us in the whole country of sixty-five million, and we had no weapons and no political aspirations.
Actually, the police were right; we were more dangerous than those other groups, for the power of God was working through us to bring light into the darkness of Islam.
For the whole time we were jailed, Barbara and the other wives had no word of what was happening. However, they had contacted their embassies, and the US Consul was busy at work behind the scenes. By the afternoon of the third day, the Consul had convinced the police to let us go.
It is not an easy process to get out of jail. We first had to sign statements that we were treated well. Then we were driven to a hospital where doctors examined us and signed a report that we had no signs of torture. Then, finally, in the evening we were driven to the closest police station and released.
I was glad to get back home, and my family was happy to have me. It had been a pretty stressful time for all of us, for different reasons. But there wasn’t any opportunity to withdraw and recover.
The police had told us that we were being released because of lack of evidence. It was nice to go free, but using that reason left us open to the threat of being arrested again if they got more evidence. So although we knew this was not the end of the adventure, little did we know that we had just begun the journey into harassment.
When I returned to work the next day, the director called me into his office.
“I am really sorry to tell you that I must fire you,” he said. “The police came yesterday and told me that if I didn’t fire you they would make my life miserable.
“I like you and your teaching, but I can’t put my career and family on the line for you.” He looked genuinely sad.
“I understand,” I said, “and I wouldn’t want you to risk anything for me.” We shook hands and I left.
In one sense I was happy. The amount of time I had to give to this job had made it harder to do justice to my other two full time jobs: being field leader for more than forty people, and being one of the lead elders in the church plant.
I had talked about quitting my teaching job a number of times, but Barbara had always encouraged me to stay until the Lord made it clear I should leave. Well, this was pretty clear.
Then we got news that the German school would no longer allow us as a fellowship to meet there. It seems they had had a visit from the police also and were given the worse possible picture of us as a terrorist group.
After this, we received a notice from a man, saying he had bought our apartment and was giving us a week to move out. Although this had nothing to do with our arrests, it was the hardest blow—one coordinated by the devil. To be attacked on all sides from without was painful, but when you have your base snatched from under you, that is really difficult.
We praised God for this, however, asked for His help, and I immediately began looking for a place to move to. However, at that time of the year there were few possibilities, for most people move after school is out in June.
I called the real estate agent representing the new owner and he came to talk with us. After spending half an hour with us, he said, “Excuse me, may I use your phone? I need to make a call.”
He went out in the hall and we heard him say, “There is no way we can throw these people out. They are foreigners, fine people. Let’s allow them to stay until you can resell the apartment.”
The owner agreed! We could now praise God again, this time after receiving His wonderful answer.
I was not the only one with fall-out. Orin was again shamed before his family. At work he was ostracized and demoted. His trips to do construction inspection, which had provided him with extra pay, were taken from him. This, however, did not stop him from pressing on in his faith.
Harry and Ivan, who had moved up to the Black Sea Coast with a German business partner, had also been arrested, along with the German. At the end of their interrogation, instead of being released until their next hearing, the judge put all three of them in prison. They remained there until their trial date three months later. The Black Sea Coast tended to be more nationalistic and religiously conservative, so it was no surprise that they were treated more harshly when identified as believers.
My being fired was followed by another shock. In May the prosecuting attorney had decided he had enough evidence after all and was putting all of us who lived in the capital city on trial.
We were being charged with “doing propaganda,” a serious crime under local law. This meant we were accused of seeking to achieve political goals that were subversive and illegal. The prosecuting attorney was asking for a seven-year prison sentence for each of us.
Jul, Woohan and I met with some other workers to discuss what to do. Obviously this was too serious a charge to go without a lawyer, or with an unqualified one. The suggestion was made to hire the high profile lawyer who had won a number of cases for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He said he would defend us—for $30,000! We actually considered hiring him and put out the word for financial help. However, after prayer and further talk we saw that this was trusting in a clever lawyer, not in God. So we spent further time in prayer for guidance.
Jul had an English student who had just finished law school, a bright fellow who was willing to stick his neck out to defend us. He also suggested that one of his professors, a well known legal expert, should write a paper laying out the legal framework for our position.
We all agreed this was a better route to follow, even though the price for the paper was a bit steep, $5000. One thing that convinced us was that this paper would be useful to us in ways that went beyond just this trial.
Our first hearing came up in May. The twelve of us were ushered into a dark, cavernous courtroom, our footsteps echoing off the high ceiling. We were told to sit in the box for the accused. At the front of the room and seated high above us were the three judges. They looked down at us and smiled, chatting among themselves.
First they took our personal information. It was quite difficult for the stenographer to get down the names of the fathers and mothers of the Korean, Swedish, English, German and American defendants!
Then the charges were read “Doing propaganda with political intent,” to which we all pleaded, “Not guilty.” Our lawyer handed the court clerk his defense and the paper from his professor. A date was set in July for the second hearing and we were dismissed.
As we filed out, then next defendant was led in, a rough looking man wrapped in chains fastened with a padlock, and accompanied by four guards with sub-machine guns! He was obviously a dangerous character.
Now we understood why the judges had smiled when they saw us. We looked like a flock of little sheep compared to the typical defendants that were tried in this courtroom for “severe penalty crimes.”
On the July morning of our next hearing a good number of our fellow workers and other believers gathered in the court building to show us support while we waited in the hall to be called into the court room.
We were all in good spirits, feeling very upbeat and positive. Barbara said it felt like a holiday. Months later when we were able to get some of our back mail we found out why.
Our group had called for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting for us on this date. The Lord was answering their prayers and giving us joy in the midst of pressure.
When our turn came, we filed in and sat in the defendants’ box. After the call to order, the prosecuting attorney stood up.
“I have concluded that these people have done nothing outside of the framework of the law, ” he said. We looked at each other in surprise. This was the man who opened this case against us!
He continued. “Under the law they have the right to choose a religion, to learn about their new religion, to form a congregation, to worship together and to propagate their religion. Therefore I recommend they be declared not guilty.”
The judges conferred with each other and then declared the case closed. We walked out like people in a dream. Not only had we been protected, but our rights were clearly stated in a legal court document.
This was a great answer to our prayer for God to give us conditions conducive to the spread of the gospel. The whole experience seemed to break the spirit of fear that had hung so long over all the believers.
In addition, now we knew what it was like to be jailed, unjustly accused, fired and maligned in the papers–and it wasn’t so bad! The court decision gave the believers much more certainty concerning the legality of what they were doing and this opened a new era for us.
Picture, after our release, Barbara with one of th elocal women who was also “inside” with us.