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Meriam Ibrahim: World Freedom Fighter

Freedom is not free.

Those words adorn a granite wall on one of my favorite memorials in Washington, D.C. - the Korean Veterans Memorial on the National Mall. The expression is used to pay respect to our fallen military heroes who fought to defend freedom around the world.

However, "freedom isn't free" took on new meaning this week with the safe arrival of Meriam Ibrahim and her family in the United States. She's the Sudanese mother who was imprisoned and sentenced to die for refusing to renounce her faith in Jesus Christ.

Meriam Ibrahim with husband, Daniel, arriving in Manchester, New Hampshire

Her first stop in the U.S. was a brief layover in Philadelphia, whose name is derived from the Greek words phileo (love) and adelphos (brother). The city's cultural heritage is rooted in what its founder coined "the Holy Experiment," a place where people of all religious expressions could coexist. Of course, Philadelphia would later become the birthplace of American democracy. So in many respects it was fitting that Philly was the site of Meriam Ibrahim's first footsteps in the land of the free.

Foremost among American values is the freedom to worship, enshrined as the first enumerated right in the Bill of Rights. It's something we too easily take for granted. But Meriam's plight reminds us why we shouldn't.

Under strict Sharia law in Sudan, she was jailed and sentenced to die for apostasy. Although, she insists she was never Muslim and was raised as an Orthodox Christian by her mother. (She claims her Muslim father abandoned the family when she was a child.) She also was accused of adultery under Sharia law for marrying a Christian, Daniel Wani, who is also a U.S. citizen.

After a private meeting in the airport, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter described Meriam as a "world freedom fighter." And he's right.

This is a woman who stared death in the face -- a courageous woman who was willing to die by hanging and suffer 100 lashes without flinching once for her Christian faith. This brave woman endured being confined in a cell while pregnant and caring for a young toddler, Martin. Eventually, she gave birth to a baby girl, Maya, while shackled to the prison floor. The young mother has expressed concern that the traumatic birth may have disabled her daughter.

For Meriam, who is now starting to settle in America with her husband and their two small children, freedom was not free. Yet freedom offers hope and a new beginning.

The sad truth is Meriam Ibrahim represents only one of many countless others who are harassed, persecuted, and/or marginalized because of their faith. While we celebrate her newfound freedom, we must pray that others will also receive their just reward, if not here - then certainly on the other side of eternity.