“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal. 2:20).
The words had seared Robert Patterson’s heart. At the time he was a twelve year old boy who had been virtually drug out of bed by his mother that Easter morning to attend a sunrise service at Fair Meadows Baptist Church. It was the last place he wanted to be at 6:30 AM on a Sunday morning, but after hearing Pastor Utley’s sermon that morning Robert knew he would never be the same.
Prior to that day Robert had been a typical twelve year old boy - lazy, self-centered and generally disinterested. He barely got by at school only doing what he had to do to pass. He had never had a thought about what he wanted to do with his life other than fish, play baseball, or watch television.
All that changed in an instant. He was transformed and in that instant had committed his life to Christ. Without any indication to his astonished and weeping Mother he walked forward at the invitation that morning and was saved. He began reading the gift Bible that had been given to him by the young peoples’ Sunday school teacher at Fair Meadows. He absorbed every word. Before that day the most challenging thing he had ever read was the “Life of Babe Ruth”.
Afterwards he was reading books like “The Imitation of Christ”, “My Utmost for His Highest”, “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. He read sermons by Charles Spurgeon, John Wesley, and Martin Luther. Robert began to apply himself at school and by the time he graduated from high school he had served as Student Body President and was his senior class valedictorian.
He received an academic scholarship to Campbell College, a Baptist affiliated school in Buies Creek, N.C. where he also excelled. He went on to attend Southeastern Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N. C. and graduated with honors. Upon ordination he was offered the pastorate of no less than three Southern Baptist churches. He chose a small struggling church in western North Carolina that was barely able to pay the electric bill, must less a top notch young pastor.
Robert never considered the money. He felt it was where God wanted him to go. His passion, to be crucified with Christ, had not waned. He immediately went to work and transformed the struggling little church into a model of growth and ministry.
It wasn’t long before he was offered a big church in a big city and believing that it was God’s call he accepted. The church had over one thousand members when he arrived. Within five years they had grow to forty-five hundred members. Robert had become well-known and respected in religious circles and in the public. He wrote and published several books, he went all over the country lecturing, and counseling other pastors. The Rotary Club selected him as the “Citizen of the Year” in North Carolina.
He had not married, though he had many young women who would give their right arm to be Mrs. Robert Patterson. His firm commitment was to serving Christ. A wife and children would only hinder his ministry he thought. Maybe some day, but not yet.
Even with all his success and approbation Robert began to feel some uneasiness about his relationship to God. On the surface he was doing exactly what he had vowed to do, sacrifice his life for others, but he knew, in his heart, something wasn’t right. The more successful and famous he became the colder he felt. His passion was fading. He prayed about it but God was silent.
It was his custom every year to go on a month long mission trip. He would always take two and three men from the church with him, usually the same ones. They had ministered to people after the tsunami in Southeast Asia; they had built houses in New Orleans after Katrina; and they went to Puerto Rica after the earthquake. Even these mission trips had become more show than substance. It wasn’t that they weren’t helping people. They were but Robert could no longer see the suffering Christ in the people he ministered to.
This year they were going to Afghanistan. They would be working with a Baptist Missionary in a small village near Jalalabad in Northwestern Afghanistan. Accompanying him would be Bill Curtis, a retired builder; James Christopher, a pediatrician; and Walter Lassiter, a retired school teacher, all members of his church. This would be the most dangerous and most challenging mission they had ever encountered, but Robert anticipated it with great relish. Maybe he would be able to rekindle that old spiritual fire that had driven him to serve Christ.
It was hot and hostile. All of the villagers were Muslim, and deeply suspicious of the Christian workers in their midst. They had to be very careful not to attempt to proselytize or say anything that would be interpreted as an effort to promote Christianity.
The first week was tense but by the beginning of the second week Robert and his companions had gained the trust and respect of the village leaders.
One night a group of Islamic extremists came into the village and took Robert, his companions, and the missionary captive over the objections of the village leaders. They bound them and led them on a long forced march into the mountains to their base camp. What began was an endless barrage of interrogation and torture. With very little water and virtually no food their strength was failing fast. One day the missionary did not wake up. He had died in his sleep. Robert found out later that he was diabetic.
Robert feel into a deep state of depression and recrimination. No matter how hard he tried he could not feel anything but hatred for his captors. If he had the means he would have killed everyone if them mercilessly. He beseeched Christ to come to his aid. His prayers were only met with silence. “Oh My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried out just as Christ had cried out from the cross.
He sought light, but only found darkness and despair. In his mind he searched the scriptures. Unfortunately, when they were taken captive the terrorists had confiscated the New Testament in his pocket. He hungered for it, to feel it in his hand, to turn the pages searching for an answer from God.
One night as he mentally searched the scriptures fragments of verses came to him from First Corinthians, chapter thirteen: “Love suffers long and is kind… Love bears all things… Love never fails.”
Then the words that had brought him face to face with Christ returned to him. “I am crucified with Christ. It is not I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
Then the searing words of Christ came flooding into his mind, “Love you enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you and pray for those who use you and persecute you.”
Robert felt the overwhelming love and grace of God flow into his body and all the hate, the anger, the fear was gone. In it’s place was irrepressible joy. He knew that finally he understood. He understood why God had called him many years before; why he didn’t marry; why he felt so empty when he was considered to be a great success. This was it. This is what God had called him to do. Not to give great sermons, not to administer a successful church, not to be a person of influence and status. God had called him to wash the feet of his captors and demonstrate to them the unrelenting love of Jesus Christ.
He prayed on his knees all night. The next day he began to do everything he could to help and serve his captors. He volunteered to clean their clothes; he cleaned their living quarters, such as they were; he cooked them meals; he made toys for the kids; he reflected the joy of Christ in everything he did.
The other captives thought he had lost his mind. He shared the scriptures with them that had saved him from despair but they resisted, still filled with hate and anger. At first the more Robert did to serve the captors the more they abused him, but soon the tide began to turn. Their mistrust and prejudice turned to trust and respect. He befriended the children and they accepted him.
Eventually Bill and the others began to come around. They started building a school for the children. Walter taught the kids English. James started a small health clinic though he had very few supplies to work with. Soon the missionaries were walking freely about the camp.
Then, one day Robert, heard that a rival group had captured the son of the leader, Atash Kahn, and were threatening to execute him if Kahn did not turn over the American captives to them.
Robert knew what he must do. He went to Atash Kahn and said, “Exchange me for your son. The only thing I ask is that you set my friends free.”
Atash Kahn thought a minute. “You know what they will do to you.”
“Yes, I know”, said Robert, “but I am compelled by the love of Christ to do this one thing. I believe it is His will.”
Kahn pulled out the center drawer of his desk. He removed a small book and handed it to Robert. It was his New Testament. “You will need this.”
“Thank you, Atash Kahn. God Bless you.”
“May Allah bless you, Robert Patterson.”
The exchange took place the next day. Before leaving Robert was given the opportunity to pray with his companions. As they did so their captives stood silently nearby.
The next day, after his son was safely returned, Kahn sent word to the nearest U.S. military commander that he wanted to talk. The commander, Lt. Colonel Alex Richardson, himself met with Kahn. In good faith Atash Kahn turned over the Americans as he had promised. The two men worked out an agreement for cooperation and aid. When it was time to go Bill Curtis and the other two missionaries told Colonel Richardson that they wanted to go back with Atash Kahn.
“Why?” he said. “You are free to go home.”
“Sorry, Sir, but we have work to do. We promised the children of the camp that we would build them a school and it is not finished.”
“I see”, he said looking at Atash Kahn. Kahn nodded his approval.
“What about Robert Patterson, Sir. Have you heard any news of him”, asked Walter hopefully. His hope was quickly shattered.
“I’m afraid so”, said the Colonel. “The terrorists posted an internet video of his execution yesterday. I heard what he did. He must have been an extraordinary man.”
Atash Kahn spoke up, “I believe it was your prophet, Jesus, who said, ‘Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for his friends.’ Robert Patterson was a man of great love.”
Bill, James , and Walter returned with Atash Kahn and finished the school. The next year they returned and built a health clinic and brought a team of doctors with them. Atash Kahn became a valuable ally in the struggle against the Taliban in Northeastern Afghanistan. All of this because one twelve year old boy was willing answer the call and be crucified with Christ.”