Just as I expected, nothing happened at first. Then one day a guard informed me that I had mail. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. He handed me the envelope. It was postmarked from Greece. For a moment I just stared in disbelief. I didn’t know anyone in Greece.
Slowly, I tore open the envelope and removed the letter.
Hello in Christ . . .
I always remember you and pray for you. Who knows? Maybe our Lord
permitted your imprisonment so that you’ll be able to know Him better; to love
Him more. His wills are unexplored. But we are sure about one thing: That He
is thinking of us.
A Christian minister signed it. My eyes welled up. Some stranger in a faraway land had taken the time to write me. Her letter gave me something to do. I wrote her back.
Within weeks, more letters came. I spent my days writing back to them. The more I wrote, the more letters I received. A few letters turned into hundreds. I was so encouraged that I decided to write a letter directly to Gordon B. Hinckley, the head of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City, Utah, just before Christmas in 1998.
I didn’t actually expect to hear back. But I did. I received a letter from President Hinckley’s personal secretary dated January 26, 1999. It was sent directly to the prison and said that President Hinckley had read my letter, appreciated my expressions of faith, and encouraged me to keep the faith.
The letter was a big boost, and it came just in time. Right afterward, I suffered a stroke. A cardiologist was dispatched to my cell, and he had me transferred to a hospital on February 15, 1999. Over the next few days, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. The cardiologist recommended open-heart surgery, but prison officials refused to approve the procedure.
While I remained hospitalized, I wrote another letter to President Hinckley. I updated him on my medical condition and thanked him for his support. Not too long after I sent it, I received
a package at the hospital. It had come from Salt Lake City and contained a leather-bound edition of the Bible and the Book of Mormon. It had been sent by President Hinckley’s office.
I also received a letter from a program specialist with the Church’s Social Services office in Salt Lake City, informing me that Church headquarters was in direct contact with Church leaders in Cairo about my condition.
“Remember, Brother Momen, the Lord knows you by name. He loves you without limitation. May the Lord bless you with the faith to follow Him and do His will.”
The words of encouragement gave me the desire to persevere.
At the time I had a cellmate from Zaire, and one day I overheard him talking about a diplomat from Niger who was helping him apply for clemency. At one point he said the diplomat’s name: Muhammed Donle. I knew that name. I had attended primary school with Muhammed’s brother
I immediately decided to get in touch with Donle. Within a week he showed up at the prison. He filed a petition with President Mubarak seeking clemency for me. He assured me that my medical condition qualified me for an early release under medical hardship. As he put it, my
strokes, heart disease, and diabetes were a good thing. He said I should thank God for them.
I took his advice—I thanked God.
Meantime, Donle did more than petition the Egyptian government for clemency. He went to the Nigerian embassy and started putting backdoor pressure on the Egyptian consulate. At the same time, CSW stepped up its public campaign to have me and other Christian inmates released. Other human rights organizations got involved. And thanks to Donle’s efforts, representatives from the Church in Cairo were able to spend more time with me in prison,
enabling us to start mapping out a transition plan to help me settle in Ghana once my release was secured.
Before I knew it, I was behaving as if I were definitely going to be released. My whole outlook underwent a change. So did my physical appearance. My paralysis lifted. I actually regained the use of my limbs on my left side. From a medical perspective I can’t really explain this, and neither could the doctors. But men from the LDS Church administered to me, and Christians from all over the world were praying for me.
My spirits were lifted. I had hope again. Hope has a way of being self-perpetuating. Hope breeds faith. And faith produces miracles.
On April 8, 2006, after 15 years in prison, I was finally freed. The guards led me to the doors that led outside. The sun was just coming up over the horizon. It was so bright I had to shield my eyes.
“Good luck,” one of the guards said.
With the help of the Nigerian embassy and individual members of the LDS Church, I landed in Ghana shortly after my release from prison. Unlike in Egypt, Mormonism was flourishing in
Ghana. Church members there were on hand to greet me at the airport. They helped me find housing. They bought me groceries, helped me look for employment, and provided me with money during the interim. They even gave me a used computer and set me up with an email account. I had never even heard of email.
I began settling into a new life. Then, on a hot September day in 2006, I had a chance encounter with a cousin I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years.
“Your father is dying,” he said. “And he wants to see you.”
That made me suspicious. There was no way my father wanted to see me. My family had held a public funeral for me in 1989, two years before I went to prison. In their eyes, I had died when I became a Christian. What if this whole thing was a ruse to get me to go back there? I could be a dead man if I went home.
But something told me he was telling me the truth. I vowed to return home before it was too late.
I went directly to the hospital. When I entered my father’s room, I found him sleeping on his hospital bed. He was bald, emaciated, and frail.
Then his eyes opened, and he recognized me. A peaceful smile came over his face.
“My son,” he whispered.
I approached slowly. We stared at each other in silence. Then he reached for my hand. I leaned over the bed to get closer to him.
“Now that I see you,” he whispered, “Allah has answered my prayer. I asked Allah that if what you believe in is true, I should see your face before I died. Allah has shown me your face. So I believe in whatever you believe in.”
Was I hearing things? Was my father senile?
“Is it too late for me?” he asked. He sounded so desperate, so pathetic.
“Christ died for everyone. Everyone can be redeemed, Father.”
“The Lord you’re worshipping will take care of me?” he pleaded.
Too choked up to speak, I just nodded.
We talked for two hours that day. It was the best conversation I ever had with my father. He died later that afternoon.
The next time I see him will be on the other side.At that point he won’t be a Muslim and I won’t be a Christian. We will simply be children of God. I fully expect that he will open his arms and I will accept his embrace. It will be sweeter than any embrace I have felt in this life. My mother will be there, too. I expect her to be at my father’s side. She will be proud of me.
She will know what I believe. And she will be forever grateful.