“Dear Parents: I must, on this the 4th day of April, 1918, die. Please pray for me, my dear parents.”
And those were the last written words of Robert Paul Prager.
Prager, a German, lived in Collinsville, Illinois, and was an outspoken supporter of socialism, a very difficult subject to broach in 1918, during the time of what was then known as the Great War. His views led him to be severely persecuted by a population already roused to defend America against any German influences. Newspapers and pamphlets and demonstrations in various cities were warnings to those who were deemed to be disloyal to the American effort, or, more specifically, those of German descent.
Prager was followed home after expressing his opinions in Maryville, Illinois, a small mining camp, and, in the city of Collinsville, Prager was stripped and then covered with an American flag, and made to march through the streets.
He was secured and rescued by a local policeman, who took him to shelter in the city jail, but Prager was later removed from the basement of the building by 300 of the men in town, who arrived at the building in anger.
This is the description of his death, from a column written in The New York Times on June 2, 1918:
All reports indicate that at this time there was no intention to hang Prager. It was planned to tar and feather him, but tar and feathers were not to be obtained, and a passing automobile in which was a rope suggested hanging. The rope was knotted around the man’s neck and he was escorted a mile down the road.
The mob stopped at a large tree. A small boy, boosted up the tree, adjusted the rope. Prager was drawn into the air, but was lowered to bind his hands and feet. He fell to his knees and for three minutes prayed in German. He then wrote a short note to his aged parents, who live in Dreseden, Germany. This done, the knot was tightened around his neck and dozens of hands grasped the rope that swung him ten feet into the air to his death.
Eleven men were put on trial for the lynching, and, against the urging of the judge, were tried on the basis of an assumed homefront warning that the war, now called World War 1, should have no bearing on the decision of the jurors. He urged them to consider the basic fact of the trial, which was the murder of one man.
The jury only took 45 minutes to reach a decision of not guilty, and when it was announced, the courtroom erupted in applause. The eleven men who stood trial were congratulated amidst the singing of American patriotic songs.
Perhaps the most poignant part of this event, though, was the burial of Prager. Buried in St. Louis by members of an organization in which he participated, they fulfilled the last request of the dying man, made on behalf of his burial — an American flag was draped over his coffin.
Prager, a man in his twenties who sought to serve in the American Navy, a man whose views on government were controversial, was persecuted and killed because he was different. And though a subplot in the American involvement of World War 1, it speaks to the nature of humanity to always intimidate and oppress those with unique differences, from the world stage to small rural communities.
Christianity is no stranger to persecution, positioning itself as counter to human nature, and even counter to any culture. Early in its formation, Christianity bestowed blessings on those who endured persecution.
But persecution for Christianity has not ended. I want you to visit the website of the organization Voice of the Martyrs. VOM is dedicated to assisting and encouraging persecuted Christians throughout the world. On this site, you will read of Li Mei, arrested in China for singing Christian hymns to villagers, and praying for the healing of an elderly man. Her sentence was up to 18 months of reeducation, and she spent a portion of her incarceration chained to her bed, and according to the site, was beaten so severely that she required surgery. She is fulfilling the remainder of her sentence under house arrest.
Members of churches endlessly debate meanings of passages and visions of our churches. And while we engage in such conversations, there are those of the Christian faith who are being beaten and chained and killed just because they believe. We spend our spare time discussing and arguing, while underground Christians offer Jesus to those whose acceptance of Christ could condemn them to death. Our time is spent with coffee and commentaries, while Christians in oppressive regions always bless the food of what may be their last meal. We worry about styles and songs, while Li Mei is chained and beaten for a prayer of healing.
And those are the people called blessed.
Please visit this site. Your life, your faith, and your purpose, will change in a matter of moments.