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Almost seven years have passed since I’ve written about Asia Bibi.

Recently, I was pleased to learn the Pakistani woman was released from prison, where she’d lived under the heavy shadow of a death sentence for about nine years.

Her crime?

She was convicted of blasphemy.

It all began in 2009.

Asia was a farm laborer picking berries in Punjab province.

One day, she handed a cup of water to some co-workers, who refused it, saying it had been contaminated by an infidel. Muslim women taunted Asia for being a Christian and said Jesus was born without a father.

She replied with: “Our Christ sacrificed his life on the cross for our sins. Our Christ is alive. Our Christ is the true prophet of God.”*

Asia would be arrested on charges of committing blasphemy against Muhammad.

After many court appearances, she was sentenced to death in 2010.

A high court in Pakistan upheld that sentence, which attracted worldwide attention.

In the meantime, she lived in a tiny cell. Her husband, Ashiq, had to quit his job to care for their young daughters.

The Voice of the Martyrs, an organization that aids persecuted Christians, helped the family with living expenses and legal assistance. It gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures for a petition seeking her release.

Asia also won the support of Pope Francis, who called for the charges to be dismissed.

But Asia’s case met with much opposition. Two Pakistani politicians were murdered for advocating for her release. Her family went into hiding.

In 2012, I read about Asia in a Voice of the Martyrs magazine and was touched by her courage.

“I have faith that my Lord will release me like Daniel, Peter, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” she said in the article.

Most people know how God sent an angel and shut the mouths of lions, preserving Daniel’s life, and rescued Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace.

Fewer people know how God rescued Peter from prison.

The intriguing story is found in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 12. It starts with verse 3.

In this account, King Herod has imprisoned the Apostle Peter and plans to bring him to trial. The night before the trial, Peter is sleeping between two soldiers. Two sentries guard the entrance.

Suddenly, an angel appears and light shines in the cell. The angel strikes Peter on the side, waking him.

“Quick, get up,” the angel says.

Chains fall from Peter’s wrists. The angel tells Peter to put on his clothes and sandals.

“Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel adds.

So Peter does, but thinks he’s just seeing a vision.

Peter follows the angel out of the prison, past the first and second guards.

He and the angel come to an iron gate leading to the city of Jerusalem. The gate opens by itself. When they walk the length of one street, the angel leaves Peter.

Peter suddenly realizes the Lord really did send an angel to rescue him.

What happens next makes me smile.

Peter goes to a home where people are praying. He knocks at the entrance and a servant girl, named Rhoda, is so excited when she hears his voice that she runs to tell the others — without letting him in first.

Can you imagine Peter standing outside, still knocking and wondering what’s going on?

And poor Rhoda. Nobody believes her. They tell her she’s out of her mind.

“It must be his angel,” they say.

After Rhoda keeps insisting, they finally go to the door.

Guess what?

Peter really is there.

They’re astounded.

Peter tells them what happened, then goes elsewhere.

I love what I read next: “In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter.”

Talk about astonishment. Even Herod makes a thorough search, cross-examines the guards — then has them executed.

I’ve read where Roman soldiers could be ruthless, but I hate to hear that these guys were put to death. It really wasn’t their fault.

They were no match for God or even his angel.

Why didn’t God send an angel to rescue Asia?

I don’t know.

But in October 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan acquitted her due to contradictions by witnesses.

Human rights groups celebrated, while Islamist parties protested.

At one point, Asia was kept from leaving the country, but in May she and her family were allowed to go to Canada.

Will Asia and her family spend the rest of their lives looking over their shoulders, fearful that an extremist might kill them?

I don’t know. I pray that God will provide them with protection and peace.

And from what I’ve read about Asia, it sounds like she already has a strong faith.

I can’t imagine living under the shadow of death all those years.

Yet I know what I read in Psalm 23, verse four. Here, David, the psalmist, writes:

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Listening to sermons about Psalm 23, I’ve learned that shepherds use a rod as a weapon against predators to protect the sheep.

By contrast, the shepherd’s staff has a curved end that can fit around the neck of the sheep and be used to pull it back from danger.

Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, who would lay down his life for his sheep.

I believe while Asia was in prison – and even now—neither she nor her family members have ever been out of the Good Shepherd’s sight.

And neither have we.

The world can be a scary place and we can face untold dangers.

I’ve prayed so many times that God would put a hedge of protection around my friends and loved ones.

Or that God would send legions of angels to guard my beloved family members.

I’ve been told to pray Psalm 91 for them as well.

Then – when I’ve prayed everything I can think of in the moment – I try to stand firm, trusting God to take care of them, and me.

None of us is promised a long, pain-free life, but God has given his followers promises like:

“…I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

“…whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” (Proverbs 1:33)

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” (John 14:27)

Does Asia know these verses? I don’t know, but I’ve written Bible verses on index cards – and put them where I can see them. I’ve read them aloud so I could hear them with my ears and my heart.

That comforts me.

And once in a while, I find encouragement through stories like the one about Asia Bibi.

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Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She writes a weekly spiritual column.

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