[ABOVE—Senglea Gate, Malta. © Plamen Agov • studiolemontree.com [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons]
Katherine Evans and Sarah Cheevers were members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). In 1658, they felt impelled by the Spirit of the Lord to sail to Alexandria, where they hoped to distribute Christian literature and win souls. On the way, their ship put into Malta, a solidly Catholic island. The Inquisition arrested, interrogated and imprisoned them. At times, the conditions of their incarceration were terrible.
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Francis Anne Budge described one stage of their imprisonment in these words:
They were next removed to a room where the heat was so intense that it was thought they could not long survive it; for it parched their skin, caused their hair to fall off, and made them faint away; whilst the closeness of the apartment frequently compelled them to rise from their bed, and lie down on the floor in the hope of inhaling any breath of air that might find entrance under the door. In addition to these sufferings they were so violently stung by gnats that their faces became swollen as with small-pox.
They could have escaped their incarceration merely by agreeing to kiss a crucifix; this, however, they considered idolatry, and refused to do. The pair were separated for a year, one of their more trying experiences. They succeeded, however, in establishing a secret means of communicating to each other by letter.
Altogether they were in prison for over three years, but despite hunger, thirst, threats, and endless interrogation, and their longing for home and family, they remained true to their principles and preached the gospel at every turn.
Perhaps the deepest pain for prisoners who are close to their families, is the separation from those they love. The two women wrote their families, and their letters are testimony to Christ, who was more important to them than freedom or comfort. Here are those letters.
Letter from Katherine Evans to Her Husband and Children
For the hand of John Evans, my right dear and precious husband, with my tender-hearted children, who are more dear and precious unto me than the apple of mine eye.
My dear heart, my soul doth dearly salute thee, with my dear and precious children, which are dear and precious in the light of the Lord, to thy endless joy and my everlasting comfort; glory be to our Lord God eternally, who hath called you with a holy calling, and hath caused his beauty to shine upon you in this day of his power, wherein he is making up of his jewels, and binding up of his faithful one in the bond of everlasting love and salvation, among whom he hath numbered you of his own free grace; in which I beseech you (dear hearts) in the fear of the Lord to abide in your measures, according to the manifestation of the revelation of the son of God in you; keep a diligent watch over every thought, word and action, and let your minds be continually stayed continually in the light, where you will find out the snares and baits of Satan, and be preserved out of his traps, nets and pits, that you may not be captivated by him at his will. Oh, my dear husband and children, how often I have poured out my soul to our everlasting Father for you, with rivers of tears, night and day, that you might be kept pure and single in the sight of our God, improving your talents as wise virgins, having oil in your vessels, and your lamps burning, and clothed with the long, white robes of righteousness, ready to enter the bed chamber, and to sup with the lamb and to feed at the feast of fat things, where your souls may be nourished, refreshed, comforted, and satisfied, never to hunger again…
In our deepest affliction, when I looked for every breath to be my last, I could not wsh I had not come over seas, because I knew it was my eternal Father’s will to prove me, together with my dear and faithful friend [i.e. Sarah]; in all afflictions and miseries, the Lord remembered mercy, and did not leave nor forsake us, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail us, but caused the sweet drops of his mercy to distil upon us, and the brightness of his glorious countenance to shine into our hearts, and was never wanting to us in revelations nor visions. Oh how may I do to set forth the fulness of God’s love to our souls? No tongue can express it, no heart can conceive it, nor mind can comprehend it. Oh, the ravishments, the raptures, the glorious bright-shining countenance of our Lord God, who is our fulness in emptiness, our strength in weakness, our health in sickness, our life in death, our joy in sorrow, our peace in disquietness, our praise in heaviness, our power in all needs or necessities. He alone ia a full God unto us, and to all that can trust him; he has emptied us of our selves, and has unburdened us of ourselves, and has wholly built us upon the sure foundation, the rock of ages, Christ Jesus, the light of the world, where the swelling seas, nor raging, foaming waves, nor stormy winds, though they beat vehemently, cannot be able to remove us; glory, honor, and parises is to our God forever, who out of his everlasting treasures does fill us with his eternal riches day by day; he did nourish our souls with the choicest of his mercies and doth feed our bodies with his good creatures; and relieve all our necessities in a full measure. Praises, praises be to him alone who is our everlasting portion, our confidence, and our rejoicing, whom we serve acceptably with reverence and God-like fear; for our God is a consuming fire.
Oh my dear husband and precious children, you may feel the issues of love and life which stream forth as a river to every soul of you, from a heart that is wholly joined to the fountain; my prayers are for you day and night without ceasing, beseeching the Lord God of power to pour down his tender mercies upon you, and to keep you in his pure fear, and to increase your faith, to confirm you in all righteousness, and strengthen you in believing in the name of the Lord God almighty, that you may be established as Mount Sion that can never be moved. Keep your souls unspotted of the world, and love one another in the eternal, and bear one another’s burdens for the seed’s sake, and so fulfil the law of God. This is the word of the Lord unto you, my dearly beloved.
Dear hearts, I do commit you into the hands of the almighty, who dwelleth on high, and to the word of his grace in you, who is able to build you up to everlasting life, and eternal salvation. By me who am thy dear and precious wife and spouse in the marriage of the lamb, in the bed undefiled.
My dearly beloved yoke-mate in the work of our God, doth dearly salute you; salute us dearly to our precious friends in all places. I do believe we shall see your faces again with joy.
Letter from Sarah Cheevers to Her Husband and Children.
My dear husband, my life is given up to serve the living God, and to obey his pure call in the measure of the manifestation of his love, light, life and spirit of Christ Jesus, his only begotten son, whom he hath manifested in me and thousands, but the brightness of his appearing to put an end to sin and Satan, and bring to light immortality through the preaching of the everlasting gospel by the spirit of prophecy, which is poured out upon the sons and daughters of the living God, according to his purpose, whereof he hath chosen me, who am the least of all; but God who is rich in mercy, for his own name sake hath passed by mine offences, and hath counted me worthy to bear testimony to his holy name before the mighty men of the earth. Oh the love of the Lord to my soul! My tongue cannot express, neither hath it entered into the heart of man to conveive of the things that God hath laid up for them that fear him.
Therefore doth my soul breathe to my God for thee and my children night an day, that your minds may be joined to the light of the Lord Jesus, to lead you out of Satan’s kingdom, into the kingdom of God, where we may enjoy one another in the life eternal, where neither sea nor land can separate; in which light and life I do salute thee my dear husband, with my children, wishing you to embrace God’s love in making his truth so clearly manifest among you, whereof I am a witness even of the everlasting fountain that hath been opened by the messengers of Chirst, who preach to you the word of God in season, directing you where you may find your savior to purge and cleanse you from your sins and to reconcile you to his father, and to have unity with him and all the saints in the light, that ye may be fellow citizens in the kingdom of glory, rest and peace, which Christ hath purchased for them that love him and obey him. What profit is there for to gain the whole world and lose youro own souls? Seek first the kingdom of God and the righteousness thereof, and all other thigs shall be added to you, godliness is great gain, having the promise of this life that now is and that which is to come; which is fulfilled to me, who have tasted of the Lord’s endless love and mercies to my soul, and from a moving of the same love and life do I breathe to thee my dear husband, with my children; my dear love salutes you all; my prayers to my God are for you all, that your minds may be joined to the light, wherewith you are lightened, that I may enjpy you in that which is eternal, and have community with you in the spirit. He that is joined to the Lord, is one spirit, one heart, one mind, one soul, to serve the Lord with one consent. I cannot by pen or paper set forth the large love of God in fulfilling his gracious promises to me in the wilderness, being put into prison for God’s truth, there to remain all days of my life, being searched, tried, examined upon pain of death among the enemies of God and his truth; standing in jeopardy for my life until the Lord had subdued and brought them under by his mighty pwer and made them to feed us, and would have given us money or clothes, but the Lord did deck our table richly in the wilderness. The day of the Lord is appearing, wherein he will discover every deed of farkness, let it be done never so secret; the light of Christ Jesus will make it manifest in every conscience; the Lord will rip up all coverings that is not of his own spirit. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.
Written in the Inquisition prison by the hand of Sarah Cheevers, for the hand of Henry Cheevers my dear husband; give this, fail not.