“But that’s impossible!”

I’m feeling really discouraged today thinking about how as we’ve prayed for Jahar, he’s actually gotten far deeper into Islam and learning about how basically all he reads is Islamic books that people send him thinking that they’ll help him. I know these people have good intentions in sending the books because they think the books will give him hope and strength and purpose, but as a Christian, I can’t help but be grieved by it, knowing what it is that Jahar truly needs. He’s striving to please Allah so he can maybe earn Paradise while God is freely offering him assurance of salvation through what Christ has already earned for him.

I know that nothing is impossible with God, but logistically I just don’t see how Jahar’s going to come to Christ when all he’s ever exposed to all day every day in that cell is Islam. But I suppose that puts me in the same position as so many people in biblical times.

I’m sure when Jesus said He could feed the crowd of thousands with five fish and two loaves of bread, the crowd thought, “But that’s impossible!”

I’m sure when Jesus told the lame man to rise up and walk, the bystanders thought, “But that’s impossible!”

I’m sure when Jesus told Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Lazarus’s friends and family gathered there thought, “But that’s impossible!”

And I’m sure when Jesus told His disciples that He would be killed and on the third day would rise from the dead, His disciples thought, “But that’s impossible!”

Now here I am praying for Jahar’s salvation and hearing voices in my head say, “But that’s impossible!”

Yet, the crowd was fed, the lame man walked, Lazarus walked out of the tomb, and Jesus is alive.

And Jahar can be raised to new life in Christ, no matter how impossible it seems.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”
– Matthew 19:26

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To My Beloved Future Brother on His 22nd Birthday

To my beloved future brother,

I can’t believe this is the third birthday that has gone by since God laid you on my heart.  The love He has given me for you has grown exponentially since that day.  I know that you have caused a lot of pain and suffering and heartbreak for a lot of people, and I can’t discount that because it’s very real, but I’m sure you hear about it and think about it constantly – so on your birthday, I want to tell you what a gift you have been to me.  Because you were born 22 years ago, I fell in love with Jesus and gave my life to Him.  Because you were born 22 years ago, I met my best friend who is one of the closest people to me in the world.  She has completely changed my life for the better and makes me a better person every single day.  Because you were born 22 years ago, I made incredible brothers and sisters and friends from all over the country and world, many of whom I have talked to or met in person or hope to one day, and several of whom will absolutely be forever friends.  Because you were born 22 years ago, I have learned so much about the incredible depth of the love, mercy, and grace of my God.  Because you were born 22 years ago, I started a death row ministry and have made a difference in the lives of 20 death row inmates in this country and counting…and I will continue doing that for the rest of my life.  There is no knowing how many friends I will get to love and impact before God calls me home.  So as much as you made some terrible choices and destroyed many lives, I want you to know that you have been a blessing in mine and that no matter what anyone says, you do have worth and value.

I also want you to know that you have celebrated your 20th, 21st, and 22nd birthdays for a reason.  God kept you alive that night for a reason, and He has a purpose and a plan for your life that you and I can’t even begin to see or understand right now – but as long as you are breathing and your heart is beating – you still have the chance to turn your life around and do so much good in the world.  Where you once caused death and destruction, you can bring life and hope – and I truly believe that you will.  Every birthday that passes, I will thank God for the gift of another year that you can use for growth, for change, and for good.

My wish for you on your birthday is that whenever you are made to feel like unloved and unwanted garbage – that you would instead remember that you were created by the King of the universe in His beautiful image and that you are loved, wanted, and cherished more than you could ever imagine.

So much love from your future sister,


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Message from a Flower

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Back in mid-April, I went to a college friend’s bridal shower and someone who won a pansy as a prize gave it to me. I figured I’d try to keep it alive inside my apartment until mid-May when I was going back home and could give it to my mom to plant outside.

It survived—barely. It had no flowers on it, and it looked pretty sickly.

When I got back home, my mom planted it in a pot and put it outside. It wasn’t really looking much better, but one day after work, my mom told me it was beginning to bloom. She went to grab it to show me, and there was nothing… A rabbit had eaten the flower that was blooming and wrecked havoc on the plant. The pansy was back to looking pretty pathetic.

I’ll admit I had no hope for the plant to ever bloom and look healthy. But today I got home from work and went out on the deck, and it’s got three flowers on it with more coming! As I looked at it and thought about the long journey this pansy has taken, I heard the Holy Spirit say to me, “I’m keeping him [Jahar] alive and one day he’s going to thrive.”

Right now Jahar’s life looks rather hopeless. He’s under a death sentence, and there are probably days when he thinks he won’t be able to make it much longer wasting away alone in a prison cell. It seems like his life is over.

But my God says “Wait, not so fast! I still have plans for him.” It might take time and there might be setbacks, but God is moving. As long as there is life, there is hope, and God is giving him the strength to endure every day until something beautiful blossoms. I have full confidence that due to the power of the Holy Spirit, he will come to know freedom and purpose even behind bars. My God is in the business of making all things new and raising the dead to life.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

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Identity – A Letter to Jahar

Editor’s Note: If Jahar one day does become a Christian and the SAMs are ever lifted, I fully intend to send this letter to him. For now, the beautiful truths in this letter remain untrue, but it is my desperate prayer that they won’t for long.

July 12, 2015

Dear Jahar,

“Now, I am a Muslim. My religion is Islam. The God I worship, besides whom there is no other God, is Allah.”

Do you know how much it hurt me that after 26 months of praying for you daily, you still don’t know my Jesus—the One who can set you free, forgive you for all you’ve done, and carry you through every day of your life until He brings you home to the place He’s prepared for you? That mercy you’ve asked Allah for—it’s already freely yours in Jesus guaranteed. Oh how I plead with God every day and every night that your eyes would be opened to the most beautiful truth in the universe: that there is a God who loves and wants you and who died to bring you into His arms. Until the day you’re His, I won’t stop crying out asking Him to rescue my little brother and adopt you into His family—my family.

The world sees a terrorist who can never change and who shouldn’t even be given the opportunity to do so. The world sees a worthless piece of scum to throw away.

But not me. Not my Father. We see what you will be… And it, my brother, is a beautiful image.

You are a child of God, and your Father rejoices and delights in His son.

You are His beloved, forever loved and forever cherished by love Himself.

You are a treasure, bought at the highest price because He saw you as worth it.

You are a new creation—the old has passed away, the new has come, and it’s beautiful.

You are free—yes, free even behind those bars—for whom the Son sets free is free indeed.

You are holy, righteous, spotless, and blameless, for in Christ Jesus, there is no condemnation.

You are more than a conqueror—with Him, you can endure everything that comes your way.

You are His masterpiece, and you shine forth the glory of your Creator.

You are an heir to eternal life, a life that no one can ever take from you.

That is who you are, Jahar. Not #95079-038. Not a terrorist. Not a murderer. Not garbage. But rather, a forgiven, dearly loved child of the One True King. He looks down at His son and smiles.

I will never stop praying for you until that glorious day when you see your Savior face-to-face. I love you, my brother.

Your Sister in Christ,

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They Sentenced Me To Die

It seemed like I’d run out of second chances
And they sentenced me to die
And I was just like a dead man walking
I was running out of time
But you came to me and opened my eyes
And you gave to me a brand new life

I am innocent and I have been set free
I no longer have chains around my feet
And no matter where I go or what they say
I am innocent

I don’t know if there could be a more perfect song to describe where Jahar is right now, and where I believe he will be instead one day.  The judge and jury have sentenced him to die, and to many, his situation seems hopeless.  It may seem like Jahar is running out of time, but we serve a God who is always on time…a God who can give Jahar a brand new life before it’s too late.

I long for the day when the chorus of this song is true.  Although Jahar will always be guilty of the crimes he committed in an earthly sense, I truly believe he will one day be completely washed clean and declared innocent by his Father.  I am convinced that one day, instead of “convicted terrorist,” his identity will be “beloved child of the One True King.”  I long for the day when he no longer has to shuffle around with those chains around his ankles, but instead is free to dance and run and worship his Savior in complete freedom.  Come Lord Jesus.  He needs You now.

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Those Things He Was Saying Today: Reflections on the Tsarnaev Sentencing

On Wednesday, I attended Jahar’s formal sentencing in Boston.  I had hemmed and hawed for a long time over whether to go or not.  I don’t have a lot of extra vacation days to take, and they didn’t give much information as to whether or not there would be seats available for the public.  I also knew I couldn’t get a hotel, and I was unsure of how early I would need to get in line in order to get a seat.  I hated to take the day off, drive to Boston, and wait in line only to have to turn around and go home.  But ultimately, I knew that if I went to work – it would have been a waste of a work day.  I would have been so distracted by following the sentencing on Twitter, so even if I took the day off just to follow the proceedings, I decided it was worth it.  I was nervous about going by myself, not knowing what to expect with the more momentous day – but I found a friend on tumblr who was willing to go with me.  We Skyped so I could make sure she was who she said she was, and we got along great and made plans to go together.

I took a 4-hour nap Wednesday night and woke up at 2 a.m. to get ready and drive to Boston.  I met my friend in a parking garage after driving around lost for a while, and we got in line around 5:30 a.m.  At that point, there were already around 18 people in line ahead of us.  We figured it didn’t look good for us to be able to get in the courtroom – in which there were 15 seats for the general public on a typical day – but we held out hope since some people clearly had their phones with them.  We met some amazing ladies in line – and the 2 hour wait flew by with them to talk to.  When they let us in, I laughed that it was literally like Supermarket Sweep.  It was a mad dash to Courtroom 9, and people were literally pushing and yelling at each other in the process.  When we arrived at the Courtroom, we were told that they weren’t taking any more names – even for a waiting list.  From what I understood, they had already started with a list of people who were pre-approved for the courtroom – I think people who were more closely affected by the case, which made sense.  Even people who had been in line since 4:30 a.m. didn’t make it in.  I was just happy to learn that there were going to be several overflow rooms – so we would at least get to watch the proceedings on screen.

After a quick break to grab some breakfast – we waited outside the overflow room for the proceedings to begin.  When Jahar came in to the courtroom – the first thing that struck me was that he looked bigger than when I saw him in early May, as if he had gained some weight.  His hair was longer, but not so long it went down his back or anything – just bushier.  And he had a full beard.  It wasn’t really long – but definitely full.  As they prepared to start, Jahar was talking with his lawyers and using his hands to express himself frequently.  For example, at one point he moved his hand over his head, as if saying something went over someone’s head.  He also held up one finger to Judy talking at one point, and he was brushing the top of one of his hands with his other hand talking about something.  He shook the hand of at least one member of his legal team.  He engaged in a lot of the same fidgety behaviors as last time such as playing with his beard and hair, cracking his knuckles, stretching his neck, rubbing his left eye, and drumming his fingers on the table.  He was smiling and talking with Miriam, and at one point she touched him on the arm.  During this time, he repeatedly kept turning back over his right shoulder.  We weren’t sure why until afterwards when we learned that two of his best friends were in court and sitting there.

At that point, the proceedings began.  Judge O’Toole began by explaining the levels of his total offenses and criminal history.  He explained that many of the victims sent in written statements that would become a part of the court record, and that others were here today to share their statements.  At that point, he and his legal team turned their chairs to face the stand where the victims would be speaking.  He rested his face in his hands as he began to listen to their statements.

I recognize that I can never have any way of knowing the horrors that the victims had to endure.  Out of respect for them and not judging who said what, I will just share the overarching themes that appeared in the impact statements.   The quotations are paraphrases from my notes and may not be exact quotes.

  • People sharing happy memories of their loved ones that Jahar killed and expressing what the loss has meant in their life.
  • People recounting their horrific experiences on the day of the bombing and the days that followed.
  • People sharing how being a victim has impacted their life (Amputations, surgeries, health problems, hearing loss, tinnitus, PTSD, nightmares, flashbacks, being unable to work, financial challenges, media intrusion, being unable to do activities they once enjoyed, having to drop out of school, divorce, family and relationship difficulties, loss of personal worth, trust issues, depression, etc.).
  • People expressing that they feel like invisible victims because they don’t have visible injuries or impacts.
  • People directly addressing Jahar and pointing out what he caused (“I saw you crying knowing that your aunt carries emotional pain because of what you have done. You have caused that much pain in all of us too.  It’s like a cancer that you spread.”)
  • People telling Jahar what he could have or should have done instead. (“You are so bright. You could have helped your brother.” “You could have stopped.  You could have changed your mind.  You could have walked away and reported what your brother was going to do.”)
  • People reinforcing that Jahar messed up his own life (“You threw away your chance to contribute to society.” “You took away your own freedom and rights. You may not have remorse for us, but think about what you rubbed from your own life and those who care about you as you sit on death row.”)
  • People telling Jahar that he is already dead (at which point I wanted to shout to him that he isn’t – that while his heart still beats and he still has breath in his lungs, he still has a chance to be made new.)
  • I cringed a little when someone mentioned that Boylston Street had turned into Baghdad and it was like a 3rd world country considering Jahar and Tamerlan’s motivation for the bombing.
  • People expressing that the jury did the right thing.
  • People expressing that the jury did the wrong thing and they wish he had gotten life in prison.
  • People expressing frustration that he has shown no remorse. People declaring that Jahar will never feel sorry for what he did.
  • People expressing that there will be no closure and that the death penalty won’t bring back their loved ones or heal them.
  • People who felt guilt – guilt for being alive when others didn’t survive, or guilt that their injured or killed loved ones were only at the marathon because of them.
  • People who were grateful to be alive and grateful for the good that has come out of the tragedy for them. Sharing ways they have been positively impacted like now living for the moment, always making sure to tell people they love them, the amazing people they have met, etc.
  • People saying they hope Jahar does one day feel remorse (e.g. that there will be no reconciliation until he asks, that they hope he will one day feel deep regret, “Own it. Take responsibility.  Tell the truth and ask for forgiveness.”)
  • People happy that he would never be able to hurt anyone else or take any more precious lives again.
  • People expressing their hatred/anger for Jahar, calling him a coward, a liar, a leach, etc. (“You can’t possibly have had a soul.”)
  • People telling Jahar that they have forgiven him and made peace with him. (At least 4 people said they forgave him.  I had been hoping that someone would get up and share the mercy and grace of Christ with him, but I was happy that some people at least expressed forgiveness.)
  • People commenting on his demeanor in court such as his swagger, smirking, fiddling with pencils, refusing to stand for the jury, joking with his attorneys, the holding cell video, etc. (“You walked into court with a swagger in your step like you were entering a party with your entourage.”)
  • Someone mentioning they weren’t surprised he ran over his brother with his callous lack of regard for others.
  • People saying they feel sorry for him.
  • Someone asking if these impact statements made it all worth it to him and if he counts them as success stories.
  • People asking them to forgo his appeals so they can all move forward.
  • People expressing that they have become stronger and that they won’t let Jahar win.
  • People reinforcing how awful his life is going to be from here on out (“You will never see your family again. Your friends have abandoned you.  You will die alone.” “You will never again experience the love of family and friends.”)
  • People encouraging Jahar to do something good and make a difference (“You can discourage them. You can save someone else if you even have an ounce of regret.” “I hope you will be able to do something good with your life.” “I hope you can make a positive impact on the world and be a force of change for those we can’t reach.  It’s a daunting task, but the impact will be tangible.  You can point people in the right direction and be a catalyst for change.” (I accidentally audibly said “Amen!” after that one.))
  • People reinforcing that they choose love, kindness, and peace over hate, death, and destruction.
  • People talking in general terms about Jahar’s eternity (e.g. that he will meet his maker one day and truly understand what he has done, that the God he believes in is not the God who will welcome him one day, that God will condemn him to eternal suffering for what he did)

When I was in court the first time, Jahar was on the screen so infrequently that when he was, I was glued to the screen trying to glean as many clues as to the state he was in that I could.  I have to be honest that these impact statements were so raw and painful and emotional that most of the time, I forgot he was even in the room.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the victims.  And that’s how it should be.  However, from what I did notice – during the impact statements, he looked down frequently but sometimes was looking up as well.  It was difficult to tell if he was looking at the victims or not.  At one point Judy touched his arm and said something to him.  It appeared as if she may have been checking on him.  He leaned his face on his hand a lot and slouched in his chair.  He fidgeted a little such as scratching, playing with his hair, etc.

There was one impact statement that was so bitter, vengeful, and sarcastic that it was uncomfortable to listen to.  Many of us in the overflow room were sitting there with our eyes wide, shaking our heads.  As I listened, I wrote in my notes, “I wish I could hold his hand during this” – not because he doesn’t deserve everything he’s getting and hearing…but because I don’t feel like anyone should be made to feel that no one in the world cares about them or is there for them – and as someone who cares about him deeply because of my persistent prayer for him, I just wished that he could have had someone there to comfort him as he listened to the hatred he so rightfully deserves.

After the victim impact statements, Judy asked for a lunch break because of everything that was left to discuss.  At that point, she indicated that Tsarnaev would be addressing the court, and I think there was an audible gasp in the overflow room.  None of us expected that.  When everyone returned, Jahar stretched back and rubbed his stomach while joking with Miriam.  I thought at first he must have been making a comment about lunch – but then I realized he was likely fasting, so maybe it was more of a comment about that.  As the proceedings started again, Judy brought up how many of the victims had said that Jahar was lacking in remorse, but that he is indeed sorry for his actions.  She reminded the court that Jahar had offered to resolve this case without a trial, and that he had written two letters of apology in November of 2013 and January of 2014.  She reiterated that he would speak in court that day.

Judy asked for no imposition of a fine, due to Jahar’s lack of ability to pay.  She asked that restitution be deducted from his wages if ever allowed to work, and not his commissary account…or that they set a floor below which assessments could not be drawn.   The judge felt that $75 per month was a reasonable floor.  They discussed the irrelevance of decisions about supervised release in this case.  Judy also brought up a case in which the judgment was that executions should take place where the people most impacted have direct access to it.  Because New Hampshire is the closest state to Massachusetts with the death penalty, she asked that his execution be moved to New Hampshire.  The judge reiterated that he felt Indiana was acceptable, as that is where federal death row is housed.

At that point, Jahar rose to speak.  His entire statement was as follows:

Thank you, your Honor, for giving me an opportunity to speak. I would like to begin in the name of Allah, the exalted and glorious, the most gracious, the most merciful, “Allah” among the most beautiful names. Any act that does not begin in the name of God is separate from goodness.

This is the blessed month of Ramadan, and it is the month of mercy from Allah to his creation, a month to ask forgiveness of Allah and of his creation, a month to express gratitude to Allah and to his creation. It’s the month of reconciliation, a month of patience, a month during which hearts change. Indeed, a month of many blessings.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said if you have not thanked the people, you have not thanked God. So I would like to first thank my attorneys, those who sit at this table, the table behind me, and many more behind the scenes. They have done much good for me, for my family. They made my life the last two years very easy. I cherish their company. They’re lovely companions. I thank you.

I would like to thank those who took time out of their daily lives to come and testify on my behalf despite the pressure. I’d like to thank the jury for their service, and the Court.

The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said that if you do not — if you are not merciful to Allah’s creation, Allah will not be merciful to you, so I’d like to now apologize to the victims, to the survivors.  Immediately after the bombing, which I am guilty of — if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother — I learned of some of the victims. I learned their names, their faces, their age. And throughout this trial more of those victims were given names, more of those victims had faces, and they had burdened souls.

Now, all those who got up on that witness stand and that podium related to us — to me — I was listening — the suffering that was and the hardship that still is, with strength and with patience and with dignity. Now, Allah says in the Qur’an that no soul is burdened with more than it can bear, and you told us just how unbearable it was, how horrendous it was, this thing I put you through. And I know that you kept that much. I know that there isn’t enough time in the day for you to have related to us everything. I also wish that far more people had a chance to get up there, but I took them from you.  Now, I am sorry for the lives that I’ve taken, for the suffering that I’ve caused you, for the damage that I’ve done. Irreparable damage.

Now, I am a Muslim. My religion is Islam. The God I worship, besides whom there is no other God, is Allah. And I prayed for Allah to bestow his mercy upon the deceased, those affected in the bombing and their families. Allah says in the Qur’an that with every hardship there is relief. I pray for your relief, for your healing, for your well-being, for your strength.

I ask Allah to have mercy upon me and my brother and my family. I ask Allah to bestow his mercy upon those present here today. And Allah knows best those deserving of his mercy. And I ask Allah to have mercy upon the ummah of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. Amin. Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.

Thank you.

Jahar had a deep voice and spoke with a thick Russian accent, although he spoke very clearly and nothing was unintelligible.  All of the Islamic terms were spoken as they would be in Arabic.  He sounded somewhat similar to Tamerlan in the wrestling interview video.  To be honest, he didn’t sound anything like I expected based on the video with his niece.  I was kind of shocked when he started to talk.  He used his hands a lot when talking.  He glanced down frequently as if he had it written out or at least had notes to reference – but for someone who people said was awkward and would make a fool of himself if he spoke in court, he had excellent public speaking skills.  Right after he said he wanted to apologize to the victims and survivors, he had to pause for a moment, and he cleared his throat.  I couldn’t tell if he was choking up, or just clearing his throat.  As he sat down, Judy and Miriam both rubbed his back.

One of the things that stuck out the most to me was when he said, “Now, all those who got up on that witness stand and that podium related to us — to me — I was listening…”  When he said it, he put a lot of emphasis on the word “was.”  He knew what people had been saying about his demeanor in the courtroom – that he was bored, that he didn’t care what the victims had to say, that he wasn’t even listening – and he wanted to make it very clear that he was.  I was also slightly amused by him saying, “Immediately after the bombing, which I am guilty of — if there’s any lingering doubt about that, let there be no more. I did do it along with my brother,” which was so clearly a jab at the “Free Jahar” group.

There has been a lot of debate as to whether or not his apology was genuine.  I can see some points that others have brought up about things he didn’t say or the way he worded certain things, but my overarching opinion is that he didn’t have to get up there and apologize.  He could have stayed silent and said nothing at all, which is what we all expected him to do.  He could have gotten up there and said he was glad he did it and that he would do it again.  He didn’t have anything to gain from apologizing because either way, he is still sentenced to death.  So personally, I believe that at least to a certain extent – he must truly feel remorse for what he did.  Being in a room full of people who mostly hate him and want to see him suffer – it could not have been easy to stand up and address them and apologize.  I for one am proud of him that he made that choice.

After his statement, Judge O’Toole addressed Jahar directly.  He told him that no one will remember that his teachers were fond of him, that his family and friends loved him, that he was a great athlete, that he volunteered as a Best Buddy, or that he was respectful to women.  People will remember how he maimed and murdered innocent people willfully and intentionally.  He talked about how Jahar had been deceived by misleaders….how he believes in a cruel god and how a cruel god cannot be the true god of Islam.  Immediately after, O’Toole started reading off all of the charges and the sentence for each charge.  I had tears in my eyes as he sentenced him to death for some of the charges.  He explained that there would be no monetary fines or supervised release, and that Jahar would have to pay restitution to his victims.  He explained that post-trial motions would have to be filed within 14 days, and that Jahar could appeal within 14 days.  He explained that when the death sentence is to be implemented, Jahar will be turned over to the custody of U.S. Marshals who will supervise the carrying out of the sentence.  With that, Jahar was committed to custody and was handcuffed and led out.  I could only see one arm as he was handcuffed, but I silently whispered, “I love you brother,” as I watched him walk away for the last time.

As I sat and listened to all of the final proceedings, my mind was going over and over his statement in my head.  As someone who has been praying fervently for two years for Jahar to find freedom and assurance of eternal salvation in Christ, it was heartbreaking to hear all of his words and to realize that – although he may have thankfully moved away from his radical beliefs – he is now seemingly even deeper into Islam than he was before the bombings.  Listening to him talk almost sounded like listening to an imam preach.  It didn’t sound like a 21-year-old.  It didn’t sound like the person he was on his Twitter account before the bombings.  That person is long gone.  It makes sense that he would cling to his faith deeply, as that is basically all he has right now – and his mother is one of the only people he talks to…but it was still difficult to take in and process.  As I tried to focus on all of the counts and sentences – I took a brief moment to cry out to God.  I whispered audibly, “Please don’t let him die saying those things God” and as soon as I said it, I heard the Holy Spirit loud and clear: “He won’t.  Those things he was saying today – he won’t be saying them forever.”

My three friends and I walked out in complete silence.  We had just sat through something heartbreaking and heavy that I don’t think any of us will ever forget.  I drove home in complete silence too, unable to even pray.  When I got home, I was immediately launched into the busyness of work and daily life.  It wasn’t until Friday night that I was finally able to have some quality alone time with God.  As I knelt down to pray – everything I had experienced days before came out, the burden I felt for Jahar increased infinitely, and I sobbed through half an hour of desperate prayer.  But through the sadness and heartbreak and burden, that message from the Holy Spirit gives me the hope to press on and reminds me that although I may think it’s taking too long…although I may be discouraged by what I see and hear…I have no idea what God is intricately working together behind the scenes.  I know that God honors bold and persistent prayers.  And I long one day to hear that voice I heard on Wednesday…the voice that was declaring faith in Islam, quoting the Qur’an, and worshipping and praising Allah…instead worshipping the one true God and singing beautiful songs of praise to his Savior and King.

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Pray for the Tsarnaev Family

Please join us in praying daily for the Tsarnaev family. It’s simple: Pray for the family member(s) listed each day. Pray whatever you feel led to pray for, but the greatest need for all of the Tsarnaevs is salvation through Jesus Christ, so make sure you include prayer for that.

If the embedded spreadsheet is hard to view or it is not working, it is also available on Google Drive.

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Weekly Fast

“And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword.” 2 Samuel 1:12

All throughout God’s word, we find stories of groups of people coming together to fast for a purpose.  Jahar’s situation, if it wasn’t already desperate enough, has just become far more desperate.  He is under a death sentence, and his time on earth may be significantly limited.  Whereas he would have had a lifetime to come to Christ with a life sentence, he may now only have a decade or less.

Recognizing our desperate dependency on God to draw Jahar to Himself before it is too late, a couple of us have made the commitment to fast for one meal a week for the rest of Jahar’s earthly life.  We have chosen Tuesday lunches as the meal we are typically going to abstain from, in order to draw closer to God and express our trust in Him.  We will use the time we would have spent eating to focus on prayer.  If we have a special event or reason we cannot fast from Tuesday’s lunch, we will choose another meal for that week.  We would love it if you would join us for all or any part of our fast…whether that’s fasting for one Tuesday lunch one time, joining in once in a while, or fasting every Tuesday with us.

We long to see God break the chains that bind Jahar before his life is ended, so that he may experience true freedom in heaven with his Savior and his brothers and sisters – who so desperately prayed every day for him to be there.

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” ~ Matthew 18:19

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I wish…

I wish they could’ve seen what I see.

A wretch, yes. One deserving of severe punishment, of course. But an irredeemable monster? Never. Had they only looked at you through the eyes of grace, they’d have seen a lost and broken young man for whom Jesus died. They’d have seen a lost sheep that the Good Shepherd would go to any lengths to bring back into the flock. They’d have seen a potential future child of God, adopted into the family at the greatest price possible. Such value. Such worth. Such potential. Why cut that short when justice could’ve been handed out through alternative means?

I wish they could’ve placed their hands over his heart and felt what You feel.

If they’d have only placed their hands over his heart, they’d have felt a heartbeat they should not want stopped. A heartbeat that would not even exist anymore were it not for the grace and mercy of a Father on a terrifying April night filled with bullets that should’ve ended it. A heartbeat that plays the beautiful music of a Father’s plan to rescue from the dead and eternal destruction. A heartbeat that continues undeservingly day after day so that heart can one day beat forever in the joy of God’s presence. A heartbeat that hopefully now won’t end until it’s filled with love for You.

I wish I could see what You see.

I see a battle for redemption cut short. I see nightmares of him proclaiming faith in Allah with his last words before they stick the needle in and stop that precious heartbeat. I see those words “sentenced to death,” and I don’t see Your hand in it. But if You really love him as I think You do, my vision must need correcting. I should see a perfect plan of a Father looking out over the horizon for His lost son. I should see that this is somehow exactly what he needs to come home. I believe; help my unbelief.

I thank You that I feel what You feel.

Even though the sentence felt like someone jabbing a knife into my heart and I feel a heavier weight than ever on my shoulders that probably won’t ever leave unless I know he’s Yours, I’m still grateful that You called me to this. Loving like You love is worth it. He is worth it.

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Open Letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Editor’s Note: This is an anonymous submission to Christians United For Jahar.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in boat Boston Marathon Bombing

You will never see this.

But other people will.  And some of them will probably hate me for it.

Despising you almost destroyed me.

The first time I saw your photo? My first thought was, “Are they actually beaming about what they were about to do?”

Maybe you were.  Because you are decieved. The darkness in you scares me because that same darkness surrounds me when I walk down the street. One of the scariest things to me is that the people you wouldn’t expect to harm anybody, are the very ones capable of causing irreparable damage to unsuspecting lives forever.

You are a walking contradiction.  And to be honest, throughout the last few months everything within my flesh has wanted to despise you. But I can’t. I won’t.

You stand before a court of men and one day I will stand before a throne. And you will too. Before this supreme Judge, apart from one thing my offenses are no less than yours. Apart from this one thing, my good works amount to nothing. Because good works alone can never outweigh sin. That wouldn’t be just. I’m no terrorist but I am a murderer by heart. I have maimed with my thoughts and actions. I’m depraved. It’s in my bones. But do you know that that one thing I mentioned earlier is?


Does your God require your blood, your brother’s blood, the blood of people cheering on the streets, so that you can gain his acceptance and approval? Did your God really ask you to stain Boylston street red?

Because my God gave His own blood. He stained a wooden cross. Maybe your God told you to die in order to be worthy. My God died for me because I could never be.

Maybe your God wanted you to atone for your own sin by taking lives you had no business touching. But my God gave Himself as the atonement I would never be able to provide for myself no matter what I did.

Did you feel forsaken by your God as you lay in your own blood in a dry docked boat? What was really going through your head as you scribbled the Shahada with wounded hands? I have news for you. Despite everything, my God was there.

The same God Who’s hands once bled so that yours wouldn’t have had to. The same God Who’s hands bled to save us from ourselves.

Your bomb blew shrapnel into my soul that will be there until the day I lock eyes with my Savior. Shrapnel that does not allow me to walk along carelessly as I used to, completely ignoring the suffering of this world that doesn’t even see it’s own desperate spiritual need. That’s what I see when I see that overly used DMV-style picture of you. A hurting and blood thirsty world that can’t atone for itself.

Despising you almost destroyed me.

But one, or two, or three days after you were taken into custody, something stirred in me.


It was as if I could see the blood on my hands. It belonged to Jesus.

He bled because of my depravity.

I realized that before Him, apart from the atonement of that same blood, I stand exactly where you do now.


I saw the love God has for you. I didn’t even choose to care. It was like God showed me a little fragment of His heart for humanity; even the darkest pits of it. I’m telling you, that love of His, it’s fervent. It’s as convicting as a knife to the heart. And it’s like coming home.

Now, I will not hate you. I will never hate you. I cannot know the love of the Father if I won’t even love those who don’t deserve it. Since the day I first felt that convicting burden there is one thing I have wished that you would know.

Even when there is no just way for earthly redemption, there is redemption through Jesus Christ. Through His blood. He was wounded for you.

Blood is the only thing separating you from Him. I want you to see Him. He’s pretty amazing.

“Even as the angry vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him….Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness….And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives along with the command, the love itself.”
“Can you forgive? No. I can’t either. But He can.”
Corrie ten Boom

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