The bus is full of travelers on the way from Aleppo, Syria to the smaller city Al-Qamishli in the far northeast of the country.
After some hours, they approach one of the many checkpoints along the road. This time, the checkpoint is controlled by fighters of Islamic State; their black flag waves proudly in the slight breeze that blows over the fields. In the distance, the passengers see the city of Raqqa. The driver slows down and stops when one of the fighters dressed in black raises his hand.
Three fighters enter the bus and check on the passengers. Meghrik sits further back in the bus; he sees how one-by-one, the other passengers show their ID. His sweat makes his back wet. To calm down, he takes a deep breath. A fighter stops next to him. He reaches for Meghrik’s ID card.
“Are you a Christian?” he asks.
“No,” Meghrik’s answers.
Yes, he was raised a Christian in a Christian family and has a Christian family name, but Meghrik doesn’t believe in God anymore; he thinks Christianity is ridiculous.
“You’re lying. Your name says you’re a Christian. Come with me.”
Meghrik is paralyzed by fear. He knows the reputation of IS. He rises from his chair and takes his small bag with him. The other passengers stare at him, he sees horror and fear on their faces, but no one acts or even speaks.
When he leaves the bus, the IS soldier shows Meghrik’s ID to the commander of the checkpoint.
“An infidel,” he says, “you cannot continue with this bus.”
Meghrik wants to say something, but the commander orders him to shut his mouth.
Evening comes, and he finds himself sitting face-to-face with an IS judge in a ‘court-room’ in a house in Raqqa. The judge looks again at his ID and concludes from his name that Meghrik is a Christian.
“YOU’RE SENTENCED TO DEATH,” HE DECLARES.
Meghrik hears the words; he is in the midst of a nightmare. This cannot be true. He feels all strength leaving his young body.
“But I am not a Christian, I don’t believe what my parents taught me,” he tries whispering, but it seems his voice doesn’t function as it should.
“This is the verdict,” the judge simply answers.
He is thrown back into the room that serves as his prison cell. In deep fear, he stays awake, hoping that this is just a misunderstanding, or that he might wake up from this nightmare.
Several hours later, men in black clothes come to bring him to the execution place. They tie his arms, cover his eyes and push him into a car. After a ride through the city, they arrive at an open area with dugout graves. The fighters take off the blindfold. Horrified, Meghrik looks into the hole and two men push him in. He can’t break the fall with his arms because they are tied to his back. He hears the sound of loading weapons – his last moments alive. He can’t think properly now. Tears run down his cheeks. He feels completely helpless.
Suddenly, he remembers what happened a month ago.
He was challenged by a friend to pray and ask God to show him that He really exists. That happened after a long discussion about the existence of God, the person of Jesus and what, according to his Christian friend, He had done for mankind. He accepted the challenge of his friend. This remembrance makes him pray again in this grave, a heart cry in his darkest hour.
“IF YOU EXIST, LET ME LIVE. PLEASE GIVE ME A CHANCE TO GET TO KNOW YOU,” MEGHRIK CRIES OUT TO GOD.
Seconds pass by, and a voice breaks the tense silence: “You can live and be free when you convert to Islam,” one of the men shouts to Meghrik.
“I will convert,” Meghrik said rapidly, seeing no other way out.
The men take him out of his grave and back to his cell. A big relief, mixed with new fear. He stays with another man. “Converting is of no use,” the man says, “they will kill you anyway.”
The next day, IS men entered the cell and begin torturing him with a cable. He counts somewhere between 20 and 30 lashes that day.
This goes on for three days.
Meghrik continues to pray, “God, You saved me the first time, so why do You let them torture me again? Please, Lord, get me out of here so that I can search for You and learn about You.”
Every day, he faces the same torture and interrogation. On the fourth day, one of the men says, “Tomorrow, we will kill you.”
But God had other plans for Meghrik. That day, one of the IS leaders comes to the prison. The man says they won’t execute him. He is taken to another IS judge who is a bringer of good news: “You will be freed within some days.”
On the tenth day of his imprisonment, Meghrik walks out of prison with a document that gives him the right to pass the IS checkpoints and return home.
“It was an indescribable moment when I finally left that place, a moment of happiness and a fulfillment of God’s promises. He heard my prayers.
I had denied Jesus and was even ready to convert to Islam…
But God didn’t leave me or let me down, He stayed with me until the end to show me His existence.”