WASHINGTON — Speaking in front of human rights and religious freedom advocates last week, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz recounted an encounter he had with a Sudanese Christian mother of two who was imprisoned and put on death row simply because she wouldn't renounce her faith in Christ.
Last Wednesday, Cruz spoke at International Christian Concern's annual policy day on Capitol Hill, which this year focused on the egregious human rights abuses and religious freedom violations in North Korea.
For much of his speech, Cruz spoke on the topic of North Korea and explained that his office recently met with a group of North Korean defectors who described how people are brainwashed at a young age to think America is a terrible place and that Kim family is divine.
"We must stand for those who are oppressed," Cruz said.
Cruz, a 2016 presidential candidate, spoke about his own family's story of persecution. His father, Rafael, who fled Cuba for the United States in 1957, was beaten and tortured as a political prisoner during the Cuban Revolution. Cruz explained that his father tells him that he didn't know at the time whether or not he would make it out alive.
Cruz then segued into talking about another prisoner of conscience — Mariam Ibraheem — who was the center of an international outcry when she was imprisoned and sentenced to death in Sudan for being a Christian in May 2014.
Ibraheem is the daughter of a Muslim man who left her and her mother when she was a small child. She was raised as a Christian and married a Christian man. Even though Ibraheem always identified as Christian, the government considered her to be Muslim under law and charged her with apostasy when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, Maya.
Ibraheem and her infant son, Martin, were detained in prison and she was sentenced to 100 lashes and execution by hanging. Although international outcry pressured the government to release Ibraheem in June 2014, it wasn't before she was forced to give birth to Maya while her legs were shackled in leg irons.
"Her captors in Sudan made a very simple demand. They said, 'We will release you. We will spare you this horrible fate if only you will renounce Jesus,'" Cruz said. "Now, I ask of the people here, have any of us had our faith tested like that?"
"I know what every one of us hopes, wishes and even would like to believe what we would say in that circumstance. But when you are in mud and grime facing your captors [who are] threatening to murder you and your children if you won't renounce your faith, how would each of us fare in those circumstances?" Cruz asked. "And yet, Mariam Ibraheem bravely and simply said, 'I can not renounce Jesus.'"
Recalling that millions of people around the world had urged the Sudanese government to release Ibraheem, Cruz said that the prayers and voices of the masses were heard.
Ibraheem was released and finally able to escape from Sudan in July 2014 and is now living in the United States. Her husband, Daniel Wani, is an American citizen.
"I have had the blessing of meeting Mariam Ibraheem, a women for whom I have prayed and for whom I have spoken out," Cruz told the audience gathered at the Rayburn House Office Building. "One of the things that is striking about her is how young she is. She is a young woman with two little babies, a young woman, quite slight, not a very large woman at all."
"I asked her at the time, 'How did you not despair? How did you not give up?'" Cruz added. "She just said with a simple, quiet peace, 'Jesus was with me.'"
Ibraheem told The Christian Post last year that while she was in the Sudanese prison, she secretly read from a Bible that was smuggled into the prison. She said that her Muslim cellmate helped her hide the Bible from the prison guards.
Ibrhaeem also told CP that when she was in labor at the medical clinic at the Omdurman Federal Woman's Prison with shackles around her feet, prison guards told her that if she renounced her faith in Christ and said the Islamic declaration of faith that she would be released to a hospital and have the shackles removed.
"I didn't want to say that," Ibraheem told CP. "I am not going to lie. My kids are not going to respect their mom if I did something like that."
Cruz concluded by praising Ibraheem's powerful testimony.
"This young woman from Africa, this scared mom, had the peace to stare down torture and death because of the reality of her Savior," Cruz said.