“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields — along with persecutions — and in the age to come eternal life”. Mark 10:29-30

Esther John, whose decision to leave the Muslim religion of her birth greatly angered her family, was almost certainly murdered by one of her own brothers.

She was born in India, where she attended a Christian school as a teenager and was struck by the life and love of her Christian teacher. She studied the Bible at this school and one day encountered the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ while studying Isaiah 53. Esther, who changed her name from Qamar Zia, said, “I began to realise that Jesus is alive forever. Thus God put faith in my heart and I believed in Jesus as my Saviour and the forgiver of my sins. Only he could save me from everlasting death. Only then did I realise how great a sinner I was, whereas before I thought that my good life could save me.”

In 1955, several years after converting to Christianity, Esther – whose family had moved to Pakistan shortly after it was formed in 1947 – fled her home and went into hiding to avoid being forced to marry a Muslim man by her parents. Esther first went to live at an orphanage in Karachi, where she helped care for the children and studied the Bible with one of the staff. After her brother tracked her down, she moved several hundred miles north to Sahiwal in Punjab. Over the next few years, she lived in various places, completing her studies at the United Bible Training Centre in Gujranwala in April 1959.

On 2 February 1960 she was battered to death, aged 30, whilst she slept in a missionaries’ home near Chichawatni; her skull was crushed. Esther was most likely killed by one of her own brothers seeking to expunge the perceived shame she had brought upon her family by converting to Christianity. When the police were making their investigations, they considered the possibility that she may have been murdered by a disappointed lover and went through her books and papers. When they had completed their search, they said, “We have found no clue. This girl was in love only with your Christ.”

Almighty and everlasting God, who enkindles the flame of your love in the hearts of the saints, grant to our minds the same faith and power of love; that as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may profit by their examples; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Gothic Missal

Photo by Gerhard Kupfer on Unsplash

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Fund and the Executive Director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life.