Pastor jailed for solidarity with persecuted churches
New Beginnings United Methodist Church Pastor Jeremy James has voluntarily submitted to arrest and incarceration to show solidarity and raise awareness of churches that are persecuted throughout the world. James is staying at the old icehouse on Martin Luther King, Jr. St. Sunday to Friday.
James is currently incarcerated in the old icehouse at the end of Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Stanford and will remain there until Friday existing solely on beans, rice and water in a show of unity with persecuted churches worldwide. James said that his self-imposed sentence is both an attempt to raise public awareness of how people of faith are persecuted around the world and also a spiritual journey for himself.
After his arrest Sunday, James' congregation participated in a program on church persecution, which included a video by Open Doors, an international non-profit ministry that offers moral and financial support to Christians living under repressive regimes. James, who'd previously viewed the film said he was surprised to see that North Korea was at the top of the 50 worst governments for repressing the religious.
“I thought Iran would be first, they're number two behind North Korea. We haven't seen anything like this since the time of the Romans where the leader, Kim Jung Il is worshiped like a god,” James said of North Korea. But the pastor is optimistic. “Where the church is persecuted, it grows,” he said of the estimated 400,000 Christians living in north of the DMZ. “Of the 400,000 Christians in North Korea, 100,000 of them are in jail or in labor camps,” he said, but marvels at the fact that many North Koreans who manage to escape the Kim regime take training in proselytizing and volunteer to go back to the north to spread the faith, an act that carries a certain death penalty.
James said that degree of faith is sobering and that persecuted churches can serve as a mirror. “When you see what people will risk for their faith, you ask yourself, 'If that's a Christian, than what am I? What are we willing to surrender for our faith?'”
Though not as spartan as those in countries that persecute the faithful, James self-imposed living conditions are tough. His brick cell has a cot and a small space heater. He doesn't even know when and how is food will get to him; the schedule of volunteers to feed him was established after he was taken into custody.
“Yesterday, I got my meal around 12 or 12:30,” James said. “I don't know the schedule, I'm going on faith.”
The volunteers have been told to only bring rice and beans, a diet James says, “Seventy percent of the world lives on.” Two of the days of his exile he will have no food at all.
James has allowed himself one luxury, in the evening he exchanges text messages with his children, Ethan, 2, and McKenna, 6, before they go to bed. And he's not quite alone, he has his one-year-old black lab Jack for company.
James solitude has allowed him time for reading and reflection. He is reading the entire bible during his icehouse stay, from Genesis through Revelations. “I've got an audio version of the bible that I use for pacing; you can read the whole bible in 77 hours if you stay on pace.” He's also thought about the early Christians and modern ascetics who live monastic lives of prayer and reflection.
The cell door swings open for James Friday, but he has learned a lot from his experience and has food for thought. “I start looking around and say this is as close to a cell as I'll ever come and still I wonder if I could do this for the rest of my life. Even when it gets real lonely and real quiet I know I get to go home. But this is a chance for me to get a real perspective of what we are all about as Christians,” he said.