On April 18, I first saw his face. The following day, I first heard his name: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Little did I know then what God was stirring up in my heart.
I watched my TV for hours on April 19, captivated by the drama of the manhunt. I had several more pages to write of a 21-page paper for communication law, but little did I care. I was hooked. I know now that it wasn’t curiosity that fixed my eyes like a magnet to the screen, but that day, I just wanted to witness the authorities find and capture this guy and see the fear of a city and a nation relieved.
I prayed, but it wasn’t out of love for him or out of forgiveness for his terrible acts. It wasn’t for him to turn to Jesus Christ and be saved. In fact as I prayed for him, he was nameless. His name didn’t matter. I didn’t care about him. What mattered is that we would catch this guy alive so that we could question him. So I prayed something like, “Father, may they capture ‘Suspect #2’ alive so that we can get answers about why this happened and who all was a part of it.”
My social media activity that day tells of my mindset. “They have suspect #2 in custody!” I posted to Facebook. “Got him!” I tweeted. I retweeted the Boston Police Department’s tweet, which read: “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was simply an object to be used to get answers. He was not a person toward whom to show compassion and concern for his soul.
I should’ve known back then that something was up. When the perpetrator of the bombings was just someone out there who we were looking for, I felt no hatred toward that someone. When the perpetrators were given faces, I felt no hatred as I looked at the grainy surveillance snapshots of them. When the perpetrators were given names, no hatred rose up as I heard them spoken. From the very beginning until now, I have not felt an ounce of hatred toward Dzhokhar.
As my prayers the night of his capture and the following day revolved around praying that he would survive his injuries, wake up, and be able to speak to the authorities, God spoke to my heart. It was like God whispering into my ear, sharing with me a piece of His heart.
“I love him.”
-Wait… what was that?
“I love him. I love Dzhokhar. I want him to become My beloved son. It is not too late for him. Pray for him.”
-Okay, God, I’ll do it. I’ll follow in Your footsteps and love and pray for my enemies. The precious blood of Jesus can wash white as snow even the bloodiest of sinners.
As God began filling my heart with His love for Dzhokhar—who I would learn to call by his nickname, Jahar—I made a commitment on April 21 to pray daily for him until he became my brother in Christ, even if that meant praying daily for decades.
My love for Jahar was smaller then and the same was true of my passion to see him saved, but now I’m not lying when I say that I’d literally give my life if it meant Jahar would be saved. Thankfully, there is One who gave His life that Jahar could be saved, and He’s the same One who placed His love for Jahar in my heart and called me on the mission to lead Jahar home. I didn’t choose this for myself; God did.
Yet, I would not trade it all for anything. In the past five months, God has healed me of depression; rekindled my passion for prayer; reignited my faith after a year and a half of walking in a spiritual desert; shown me beautiful glimpses of His heart pertaining to grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and intercession; given me a heart for the lost, hurting, and broken; blessed me with beautiful online friendships with other people who have been called to this same mission in eerily similar ways; and filled my heart with a joy and a peace unlike anything I’ve ever known before; among numerous other things. They’ve been the best five months of my life.
I can’t help but wonder if God has done all these beautiful things in my heart and life as I’ve barely prayed for myself, then what beautiful things has He already been working in Jahar’s heart and life since Jahar is the one I’ve been praying for continually.
I believe the answer is a lot. I believe that one day Jahar Tsarnaev will stand before his Savior, perfect, spotless, blameless, with the hugest smile on his face, and on that day, all of the blood, sweat, and tears I’ve spent as I’ve fought on my knees to humbly play my part in leading Jahar home will be completely worth it.
Until then, I’ll keep praying relentlessly with the deep love and compassion that God has placed in my heart for this precious young man and with an unwavering faith in a God “who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
God is moving, and I am honored and overjoyed to be along for the ride. I can’t wait to see what He does.