The following is a powerful story from one of our Summit members who spent several years in Central Asia. This story exemplifies a life defined by faith in the unseen. As is inscribed on the tomb of William Borden, buried in Cairo, Egypt, where he died preaching Christ to Egyptian peoples, “apart from faith in Christ, there is no explanation for such a life.”
In January of 2008, a friend of ours, Clara*, was kidnapped in a country in Central Asia by the Muslim exremists. Clara was a humanitarian aid worker and Christian woman who had moved to this far-off country to serve the poorest of the poor. She had worked for five years in the harshest areas in the country, leading a women’s skills program and being a light for the gospel in a very dark place.
Her presence in the country was a threat to radical Islamist leaders for several reasons. For one, Clara was bringing education to women, who they believed should not learn skills outside of their homes. Second, she was a Christian woman, and they were threatened by the idea that these women would be exposed to outside ideas, making it more difficult to control what these women thought.
Clara had gone to serve Central Asian Muslims out of a desire to be a witness to Jesus. The only reason she was there in Central Asia was the gospel. It was her understanding of what Christ had done for her on the cross—how he had made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant—that led her to leave her life in suburban Richmond to move to one of the most forsaken places on earth.
She lived in a place where dust storms are a daily occurrence, where windows require blast film because of the constant risk of explosions, a place where there is no electricity to run even a fan in the midst of 100-degree heat, where she had only sporadic internet access to get news from home, a place where an armed Islamic group that is hostile to the gospel operates with impunity.
Clara did all of this because she understood that Christ had come to earth to face even greater dangers for her, enduring even more separation from his Father, experiencing even more discomfort for her sake.
I and some other members of our team negotiated with the hostage-takers for six months. During that time, we received news that Clara was being constantly moved to keep her hidden. United States Special Forces tried several rescue attempts, and twice they got very close. On one occasion, she was moved to a neighboring house just before the troops arrived. On another, she was hidden in the basement of a house that the troops searched. I can only imagine the frustration Clara must have felt to hear her rescuers just feet away and realizing that the attempt had failed.
Knowing Clara, though, I am confident that despite these disappointments, she did not lose faith in her real Savior. When news of her kidnapping was heard in the streets, women from the southern stronghold of these Islamic extremists were outraged. For the first time in the history of that oppressed place, 300 women marched to the governor’s mansion to demand that he do something to free her. These women had benefited from Clara’s projects, but they were protesting because they knew the witness of humble service that Clara had had among them. You might say that they protested because they saw Christ in her.
I wish I could share a happy ending to this story. But we don’t know what happened to Clara. She kept being moved from village to village, handed off from one group of rogue men to another. The last we heard was that she had been taken by a nomadic group of arms smugglers across a Central Asian desert.
And then the trail went cold. We don’t know if she was killed. They had threatened to kill her because she was a Christian, but we have no proof and no body. Still, there has been no news for over two years.
Is Clara an extraordinary hero of faith? In a sense she was. I and several other members of the Summit Church knew her well—she is a great woman of faith. But as I remember her, I remember a regular girl from Virginia, a smiling friend, a person who struggled like the rest of us when it was hot, a girl who loved to go on vacation, a regular American girl who decided to step out in faith and obey a calling from Jesus to go to a place that she wasn’t sure she could handle.
I saw God’s grace and strength enable Clara to set up an amazing project in Central Asia, and I know that God’s grace and strength were with her when she was taken by the Muslim extremists. Faith is demonstrated in times of adversity, but its work is manifest long before that. Sometimes faith is quiet, working humbly in love, but it is that same faith that makes a regular girl like Clara stand up to one of history’s most vicious regimes and say, “Christ is better. And the mission is worth it.”