As a tall, lanky redhead born and raised in Colorado, 34 year-old Brother David Johnson definitely sticks out in Syria, the Middle Eastern country where he serves with the St. James the Persian Carmelite Monastery in Qara.
He originally came as a student to study the language, but decided to stay after he fell in love with the country and felt God’s call to the religious life there.
That love for language and for God would one day save Brother Johnson’s life. At a recent prayer breakfast in Denver, Brother Johnson recalled the story of Easter Monday, three years ago. He was up in the monastery tower, and, in typical, friendly Colorado fashion, waved hello to some Syrian military men he saw in the hills in the distance.
“I didn’t even know there were Christians in the Middle East when I moved there – but there’s two million of them.” – Brother David Johnson in an interview to CNA
Immediately the army became suspicious and turned their convoy toward the monastery. When they arrived, they demanded to know who waved at them, and kidnapped Brother Johnson when they found out he was American, thinking him a spy.
“They said what is he doing here, he’s probably just playing like he’s a monk,” Brother Johnson told CNA.
His brothers immediately started praying.
“My community, instead of panicking, they immediately went to the church, began the liturgy, began praying, began Mass,” he said, “and I was in God’s hands, I felt no fear.”
Strangely at peace, joyful even, Brother Johnson began to sing songs of Jesus’ resurrection to his captors in their native language. At first they were taken aback, but then Brother Johnson realized their hearts were softening.
“They said ‘I’ve never heard that before, why don’t you sing that again,’” Brother Johnson recalled one of the soldiers saying. “So I sang again, ‘Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.’”
The soldiers started laughing and clapping along, and decided they would take him back to the monastery unharmed. But first, they had to show their friends the singing American brother.
“They opened the doors (to their camp) and had me sing these songs of the resurrection to a crowd of soldiers, and they all were clapping! I thought I was dreaming! I thought I had entered into an alternate reality!” Brother Johnson said.
While Brother Johnson is sure that his ability to speak in the soldier’s native language helped in his immediate release, he said he is convinced that the prayers of his Brothers and the name of Jesus in the songs he sang is what saved his life that day. That’s why his advice to all who are concerned about the Islamic terrorists in the Middle East is to pray.
“Pray, pray, pray,” he said, “And put all your trust in His wisdom.”