They reached the special cell containing The Coffin. The iron door creaked open, and they hustled him into the cold, damp chamber. The Coffin stood in the center of the room, its threatening interior awaiting him. Sanders couldn’t stifle the cry that came unbidden. “No! I can’t take it!”
The lead guard motioned to the two holding their prisoner. “Put him in. If he wants to avoid this, he knows what he has to do.”
They pushed him to the door of the box. He resisted with the little will he had left. The leader held up his hand to halt the others. “You know what we want. Renounce your Jesus. Say the shahada. Become a Muslim.” The guard, himself a convert, seemed to take pity on him. “Come on, man. It’s easy. Then you don’t have to go through this again.”
He wasn’t sure what he wanted. I can’t do this, he thought. God, help me, I can’t do this!
The grip on his arms loosened. Maybe they thought he’d come around this time. Maybe he would. He was weak.
About to capitulate, he opened his mouth. Before he could utter a word, he felt the Spirit of God surge within him. No!
He gathered his strength and shrugged off the guards. “Wait, give me a moment.”
They relaxed their hold further to see what he would do.
Sanders closed his eyes, inhaled, exhaled, and steeled himself. Eyes open, he stepped into the enclosed space. With a slow, careful movement he turned around to face his tormentors. “Thank you. God loves you.”
“That’s your problem, Pastor. There is no God, at least not one like you describe.” The door clanged shut in his face as the clicking of the lock echoed in his ears. One of the guards made a comment, and the other laughed. The three men exited the tiny cell, closed the outer door, and left Sanders in the dark.
Bob Sanders stood completely still. He had no choice. Stiletto sharp nails surrounded him. Spaced every two inches apart from top to bottom, they would punish any false move. The only reason he’d survived the other two times in this box was by the grace of God.
The Coffin was aptly named. Too many of his fellow prisoners had perished here. Bob knew that if a light were to illuminate the nails, he’d see them stained with the blood of martyrs. He had spilled plenty of his own blood here.
The interior left no room to change position. Bob could only stand. He couldn’t lean even a fraction, bend his legs to relieve the pressure, nor stretch his back to take away the increasing strain.
The depth of evil pervading the guards’ hearts astounded Sanders. He’d seen the devil’s deeds throughout his ministry, yet they were never greater than the works of God; although lately their perversity and ingenuity had grown.
By his count, he’d been here at the Grayling facility more than three years. At first the depravity had included violence and death, but never torture. Guards had killed prisoners for the slightest provocation and beaten them if they hesitated to obey orders. But over time, the nature of the camp had changed.
Bob felt sweat curl down his cheek and onto his neck. It tickled and made him want to do the impossible: to wipe it away. Impossible, indeed. The attempt to raise his hand held the promise of ripping his arm to shreds.
Like the other two times in The Coffin, Sanders couldn’t think of any scenario that would allow him to escape or find relief. Memories cascaded across his mind, images of life before his incarceration, pictures of happier times with his wife, Annie, and their two children. Their smiling faces, the tender moments and joyful victories in his family’s life sliced through the darkness. Suddenly the scene changed to the last year of his marriage with the challenges that had beset them: the loss of a child, his wife’s deep depression, his further immersion into the pastoring of his church, the alienation with Annie, even to the point of occasionally sleeping in separate bedrooms. He wished he’d had the means to make it right before they’d taken him away.
With a shaky voice, he began to pray. The sound of his words, spoken as softly as they were, reverberated in his ears. God had heard and answered him before. He had delivered Bob through those ordeals when others had succumbed to fatigue. They had died, pierced on a hundred nails and slumped in death. Why hadn’t God saved them? Sanders couldn’t fathom their deaths, nor why God had poured mercy out on him and not the others.
With strength of will beyond him, Bob lifted up praises to God that would have seemed out of place to someone aware of his situation. Where most would expect to hear the prisoner rail at his fate and denounce his God, Bob sang of his love for the One who created him and bought the freedom of his soul with His own life. The hours slipped away; time became meaningless. His body became lighter and great peace came over him. He couldn’t describe it, but had he been able, he might have said it felt like invisible hands held him aloft and cushioned his body from the deadly nails.