By Emily Green
The Indiana Conference and Community Prayer Breakfast kicked off the final morning of Annual Conference 2015 in the most fitting way – with prayer and fellowship. As we gathered together around the breakfast table, Bishop Mike welcomed our guests: Ed and Paula Kassig, members of Epworth United Methodist Church and parents of the late Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig. Just as we have strived this week to share our stories, the Kassigs were with us this morning to tell theirs.
The Kassigs’ story is one of trial, heartbreak and thankful hearts. It is a story of how prayer has sustained them in the midst of great mourning, since their son, Peter, was captured, imprisoned and murdered by ISIS. Their pastor and friend Rev. Bill Hoopes of Epworth UMC introduced the couple.
“They’re two people, ordinary people, who have done extraordinary things,” Rev. Hoopes said. “They have faced trials and experiences that no parent should ever have to face. But in the midst of it all, their witness has been transformative.”
Paula explained that gratitude, of all things, has been a common thread throughout the past months. She spoke of the reasons she thanks God in the midst of hard times – for His presence in her life since childhood, the kindness of both friends and strangers, and the prayers of many. Throughout it all, Paula and Ed have found their strength in Christ, not being angry with God, but standing strong in their beliefs.
“I firmly believe that God does not send bad things our way, and I believe He is in the midst of us, enabling us, through loving care and power, to turn the bad into good,” Paula said. “This is how I can strive to do as Paul admonished – to be grateful in all things.”
The Kassigs drew strength from their closest circles within their church family and took comfort in the global network of prayer that was established when the news was made public. Each evening, Paula was reassured that someone somewhere around the world was always in prayer on behalf of her son.
“I am sure that it was and is through the prayers of many that we still keep finding power, keep receiving power, to put one foot in front of the other,” Paula said. “I’m grateful for the knowledge that prayer undergirds those who support us.”
Ed, too, spoke of the overwhelming sense of being surrounded and uplifted by prayer.
“Every card, letter, tweet, call and email had the same message, and they came from every state and every people and continent,” Ed said. “Regardless of religion, the message was the same – ‘You are in our prayers.’ We were truly standing in the presence of collective prayer on a global scale.”
That knowledge alone was enough to sustain the two believers. How could they not be lifted up? How could they not continue on, grateful for the prayerful community that was rising up around them?
After Peter’s death, Ed was asked to give a statement to the media. Preparing for a statement no father should ever have to give, Ed could think only to ask for one thing: time. Time to mourn, to cry and to begin healing. But in his preparation, he felt uneasy. He sensed that something was missing. It was then that an inner voice spoke, and he appended his statement. He would ask for time to “cry, mourn, and yes – to forgive.”
“Deep inside, I knew there was no other way,” Ed said. “The rest of my life would be an attempt to walk that walk. I know it’s the only way I’ll ever find peace.”
As the Kassigs shared their final words, the INUMC community present joined together in a time of prayer. We prayed to have courage and faith like the Kassigs. We prayed for the strength to share our stories as they have shared theirs, that they would glorify God and bring others into the arms of our loving Savior.