Imprisoned but free

It’s morning, and I pack the last things before I head out in the car to go to the bus. I check the time almost every minute. “I will probably get there right on time”, I said, hoping the driver would agree. “The bus is there!” the driver said, and I just missed it. We had to follow the bus for a while before we could pass it, and I could get on it. ”If the trip starts like this, I wonder how it will end?” I said, not knowing what would happen the following days. We planned to travel around in Israel and Jordan for 12 days, and had spent many days to make it happen according to the plan.

Christian Hjortland, Joel Mellin

Christian Hjortland, Joel Mellin

On Wednesday afternoon, Joel Mellin and I arrived to the airport in Tel Aviv. We were excited about the trip; to travel around Israel, see biblical archeology, beautiful nature, walk where Jesus walked, and meet many people, both jews and arabs. We were hungry and thirsty after a day of traveling, hoping the security would go smooth. Now it was my turn at the border control, where I told them that I’ll be traveling with a friend, and then added that I also will visit my sister. Joel was accepted and got his entrance card, but they called him back because they started to question me more. I grew a beard before this trip, to melt more into their culture, but I could tell that the border police reacted to my appearance right away.

After a while, they wanted to talk more both with me and Joel. They called us to sit down outside two rooms, where our passports were put on a desk. We didn’t really know what would happen. I saw a young man coming out of one of the rooms crying. Several other people were sitting down on benches around us. Some looked very worried. One lady was crying. I started to wonder if we really would get in to the country. I wanted to encourage some of them, as I approached them. One of the officers were in a dispute with two young guys. Finally he gets back to his office, after a long time. Now it was our turn to get into the room, where we met this officer.

Joel on the phone.

Joel on the phone.

Investigated at the airport
Right away, we were met by a hostile and threatening attitude. This officer really seemed to look down on us, and I found this to be true for most of the other people I met from the authorities. He asked many questions, and we met with him several times this day, to answer questions.  “You can stay in Israel for 6 days, on one condition: You have to live together with your sister all the time. Then, all the three of you have to leave the country!” “Your sister is illegal!”*, he said with a clear stern voice, like we knew this. “If you don’t leave after these 6 days, you will get in Jail and you [Joel] will lose your job on Swedish Television!”  “Why do we have to be punished for this?”, Joel asked. As the police officer leaned forward, he said:“I can deport you right now!”, and grew more angry. He claimed his power, and got angry for every question we asked. I clarified that we asked him questions to make sure we understand him correctly, and assured him that he certainly is in charge here.

The boarder police wanted us to show cash, and we showed them some, and also our credit cards. He guided us to an ATM in the airport, and told us to take out in total 350 euros. Joel and I prayed that God’s will may be done. I would be at peace if God would allow us to go back, even if I would not understand. So we tried our cards in the ATM. The machine took our cards, but it didn’t work. We asked if we could try another ATM or log into our bank accounts so we could prove that we had enough money, but the boarder police said firmly no. We asked for water three times, but didn’t receive any (not until later when I didn’t feel well, and they saw that something was wrong).

”I guess you have heard what will happen next…”, a police officer said, after they had spent a lot of time searching through all our luggage. ”No, we haven’t heard”, I replied. ”You will be deported in three days…until then you will get a room and food”, he added. ”That sounds good”, I thought, while he continued: ”It’s not quite a hotel, but…” I started to get good expectations now, and Joel and I thought that this can’t be so bad. We asked for a written explanation why we were denied to enter Israel but didn’t get any. “You will not get anything from me! I can deport you right now!”, the investigative police officer had told us very sternly upon my request. Now we had been investigated and questioned for 5 hours.

Taken to prison
Right before we were about to leave, a German guy warned us: “They will send you to a prison!” Now we were confused. Two police officers brought us to a car, and seemed to have lots of fun there in the front. It seemed like they watched a movie on a cell phone. After five minutes they stopped outside something that looked like a prison. “IT IS A PRISON!”, I told Joel. The police men continued to watch the movie on that cell phone. They didn’t say a word to us, being all busy with that comedy movie. I looked outside the window, where I saw palm trees. I looked behind myself and saw a tall fence, around the prison. I was stuck.

We arrived to the prison and they took away our freedom in many ways. At first we were not allowed to bring any belongings to our prison cell, not even necessary clothes, or medicine. We were shocked! “Can I bring my Bible?”, I asked with a kind voice. “No” said the Jewish officer. I pleaded with him, but he didn’t care.  At times we received no water (or very little) and barely food for many hours. We had told them beforehand that we could not eat meat and preferably no animal products. The first evening we still received a meat sandwich, and we repeated again that we are vegans, and asked if they have something with vegetables or fruit. They got the sandwiches back, and we thought they would give us something else, but we never received any food from them that evening. This led to an almost complete fast for 27 hours.

A cry to God
That evening Joel and I spent some time crying out to God, claimed His promises in His Word. I was thankful for every single verse that I had memorized – yet I wish I had more Bible texts in memory.
I told Joel that I already can see partly why God allowed this. I am so used to always be connected with people directly or through internet and phone. Now I could not be connected in any way, and was locked in without most belongings. I just had to trust my Creator, Savior, and Sustainer. I claimed Matthew 6:33 and asked for food, water, clothes, and freedom. “This is a foretaste of the time of trouble”, I exclaimed. I prayed for my fellow prisoner Misha, from Ukraine. I also prayed God to tell people to pray for us, and I found out later, that He certainly did! I was disconnected to the world, but was still connected with God! I remember I told Misha:

“They can take all our belongings, and take away cell phone and computer, but they cannot take away the connection we have with God.”

Misha was a divorced dad. He had an 8 years old son at home. He told us that he would be deported in 7 days! I thanked God that we only had 3 days. 1 hour was more than enough in this prison! Yet I prayed that Misha would get out earlier (which he eventually did!)

The hygiene was very bad: Dirty floor, sink, bathroom, and meat and other foods was on the counter by the sink from the day before, because the garbage was full. The only thing that was cleaned during our time there was the floor, and that was done only once and quickly swept. It was dirty still after it was cleaned. We asked for soap and towel, but we never received that. The mattress in the bed as well as the sheet and blanket were dirty and used. (Some of the beds did not even have this) No clean sheets/blankets were provided for new prisoners that arrived. You could tell that it was not changed in a long time, as former prisoners had left some things under the mattresses. Thankfully we had some clean sheets and blankets that we could bring up from the luggage room the second day. I went to bed this evening hungry. My back hurt. I was concerned about how long I would be in here, and how it would go without almost any belongings and without most of my medicine.

Getting stronger through trials
In the morning, Joel handed me a Bible, that he had managed to smuggle into the cell. Wow! I was thrilled about it, yet very tired, after a sleepless night. I read through the book of Philippians, that Paul wrote from prison. “Wow, he was allowed to have pen and paper, and send letters”, I thought. I have never before been able to relate to Pauls letters from prison as much as now. “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). I didn’t know what would happen to me, but I knew I was in safe hands. God knows our situation, and He will take care, when we surrender our lives to Him!
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings” (Philippians 2:14). God is good, all the time! I knew He had a plan for me, even in prison.
Now finally, I can with all my heart say with Paul: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:12-13). The last words have never before spoken so strongly to me, as I was in a similar situation as Paul.

We were not informed much what was going on in the prison, nor at the airport. They treated us very badly and harshly. When we asked questions we were usually met with a rude and careless attitude. Sometimes they eventually helped us after we had repeated our request many times. Other times they did not answer, or didn’t want to listen to us. We weren’t allowed to make all the necessary calls to the embassy and to Sweden in order to book earlier flight tickets back to Sweden. But thankfully, God was in charge, and He miraculously took us out when the time was right. “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37).

Free indeed
I was able to witness and encourage the prisoners, especially a prisoner that had been in prison for 1 year and 4 months (link)! The night before he came into our cell, he had been studying the prophecies of the Bible! After a good conversation with him, explaining to him about the prophecies he had been studying, I told Joel: “Now I know, why God allowed this to happen!” Why did he come in to our cell just to take a shower? I am certain that God put us in this mans path at the right time. He arrived from another prison the day before, and waited to get deported. After he left our cell, I prayed to God that I am willing to stay in prison as long as he has someone that I can witness for, and have an influence on. This was not an easy prayer, but God’s will be done.

There were no good way to communicate with the policemen at the prison. Practically the only way was either to scream, knock on the door, or make signs through the thick glass. Sometimes they ignored us, or told us to be quiet. The last day, a prisoner had symptoms of a heart attack. This fellow Romanian brother told one policeman that came in to the cell, about his problems, but he ignored him and left.  Being a nurse, I examined the prisoner in the cell, but was of course limited without equipment. I was happy for all the Romanian words that I had learned the last year, and we could communicate. I tried to get help, and it took about 45 minutes before they opened the cell, and took out this prisoner, that already had a heart attack earlier in life.

Finally the time came for us to leave, after being locked in for three days! Joel and I lost three kilograms each these few days in prison. We left in a prison car, and were still treated like criminals. They drove us directly to the plane, and our passports were handed over to the captain.

For both of us, this was probably the hardest situation we have ever been in. For three days, they took away our freedom. For three days we were treated like criminals. But we were still free: Free from guilt, free from fear, free in Christ. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free….If the Son[Jesus] therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:32,36).

They may have taken away all our earthly rights and belongings, through this time, but they could not take away the most important: Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who died for us, and lives for us.

Friends, we don’t know about tomorrow. But God knows about tomorrow, and He offers you a better life. Because of Him, I can experience to be free, even in prison. How about you? “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

* My sister was admitted entry on a legal tourist VISA for three months, only two weeks earlier. 

Thank you to all who have prayed for us, and helped us! Without your support, things would have been different.

Christian Hjortland


P.S.  Several other newspapers and online sites have picked up this story in the last 30-hours.  The Swedish embassy in Israel is saying that the deportations may have been illegal. Some sites currently running the story:






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