Kayla Jean Mueller was born on August 14, 1988. She was an American human rights activist and humanitarian aid worker from Prescott, Arizona. She was also a Christian. In just a few short years she worked in India with Tibetan refugees, worked with the international solidarity movement in Palestine and helped African refugees in Israel.
In August 2013, however, she was taken captive by ISIS in Aleppo, Syria, while leaving a ‘Doctors Without Borders’ hospital. For nearly 2 years she was held hostage, until in February this year, at the age of 26, she was tragically killed.
Before she died, however, she wrote a letter to her family that they released to the public. In it she described the difference her faith made to her:
"I remember Mom always telling me that all in all, in the end, the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our Creator because literally there was no-one else. By God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall… I have been shown in darkness, light. And have learned that even in prison, one can be free.”
Feeling "tenderly cradled" like a child in a parent's arms is no small thing for someone imprisoned by ISIS. On the face of the situation, she had no reason to feel this way. Her situation was perilous and proved to be fatal. Yet, in the middle of it she knew that her God was with her. It was a dark place, darker than I can imagine. But the light overcame the darkness. In whatever dark situations you face, it is possible to know a God who is with you and can make even the darkest places full of light and hope.
Kayla also wrote that though she was held captive to ISIS she was in a sense "free". That is a freedom that no-one can take away. A truly indestructible freedom. A freedom that doesn’t depend on things going our way. A freedom that even prison can’t steal. I wonder if you have that kind of freedom? If it was offered to you, would you want it?
Kayla knew that she was free because God had made her free. After her death her family spoke of how her deep Christian faith gave her courage. It’s a courage that comes from knowing that God has given us a freedom that no-one can take away. When Jesus died on the cross, facing the most barbaric execution known to man, He did it for a reason: to set us free – free to know God. Speaking before His death, Jesus told His disciples that He came, "not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10: 45). It was the reason He came, to pay the price that sets us free. He chose to die for us, that by trusting in Him and what He has done, we could know God and experience true freedom. As Jesus said of Himself, "If the son sets you free, you will be free indeed" (John 8:36).
Jesus paid for all the wrong things that we have done. We can be forgiven and have the slate wiped clean. Three days after He was publicly and professionally executed, He was publicly and personally seen alive by 500 people at one time! Men and women who saw Him alive went on to exhibit the same freedom and courage that Kayla Mueller showed us. A freedom from fear of hardship. When we know a God who loves us enough to die for us, we need never fear because that God is with us. We have a freedom from fear of death. When we know a God who rose His son Jesus from the grave, to never die again, we can have courage to face even death with dignity. Our lives are in God’s hands.
Look at Kayla’s life and you see that she lived without fear. She lived life to the full. She had the courage of her convictions. She was a bright light in a dark place. Jesus was the one who gave her that light – and He can give that same light to you too.