LAHORE, Pakistan -- Believers around the world have rallied to take action on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian sentenced to death for violating her country's strict blasphemy laws.
The 45-year-old mother and wife has been imprisoned for more than two years.
When CBN News recently visited the family she left behind, 10-year-old Isham and her 12-year-old sister Isha were playing a popular Pakistani board game with their father, Ashiq Masih.
The girls had all the game pieces. But since June 2009, one important part of their family game night has been missing: their mother.
Defending the Faith
Asia is confined to a small 8 feet by 10 feet prison cell near the Pakistan city of Faisalabad, awaiting possible death.
She was arrested after an argument with her Muslim co-workers. They refused to drink from the same water bowl as Asia, saying it was contaminated because she's a Christian.
When Asia defended her faith, the farm workers accused her of insulting the Islamic prophet Mohmmed. She was taken into police custody soon afterward.
A local judge found Asia guilty of blasphemy and sentenced her to death by hanging.
Persecuted, But Not Broken
Since then, Asia's husband endured ongoing threats against his family, as well as the hardship of raising two daughters alone.
"I was strong in my faith before this incident, but after the incident I am more encouraged," Masih told CBN News. "It is written in the Bible, 'In my name you will face persecution and people will blame you and curse you.' And we are facing that."
"Asia never left her faith," he added. "She's faithful and she never denied her faith."
Asia's case has caused turmoil in Pakistan. Two prominent Pakistanis who came to her defense were assassinated by Islamists.
One of those murdered was Salman Taseer, the Muslim governor of Punjab state, who was gunned down by his own bodyguard.
The murderer is now hailed a hero by Muslim extremists. The Pakistani judge who found him guilty and sentenced him to death has had to flee for his life.
Asia's other advocate was Shabaz Bhatti, the Pakistani minister for minorities.
Just days before he was murdered, Bhatti said he'd prefer to die for his principles -- including opposing Sharia and Pakistan's blasphemy law-- rather than give in to the threats of Islamists.
"I believe in Jesus Christ who has given his own life for us," Bhatti once said. "I know… the meaning of the cross and following the cross, and I am ready to die for a cause."
Asia's children have rarely seen their mother during the past two-and-a-half years.
When they were allowed to visit Asia in prison, the bars of the prison cell kept them from hugging or kissing her.
Just before CBN News' recent interview, the girls were finally granted a visit with their mother outside her cell.
"This time we hugged momma and we kissed momma, and my sister was very happy to hug and kiss momma," Isham said. "Then momma and Isha were both crying."
"I was encouraging momma and saying, 'Don't cry, momma. Don't cry," Isham continued. "God will help us."
Help for Asia is coming through prayer and advocacy led by Pakistani Christians and other believers around the world.
More than 400,000 people from more than 100 countries have signed a petition asking the Pakistani government to have mercy on Asia Bibi and release her from prison.
The "Call for Mercy Campaign" is sponsored by the Voice of the Martyrs.
VOM held a contest asking supporters to create a video to help raise awareness about Asia and the petitions.
Masih said his wife was elated when she learned that Christians around the world are praying and signing a petition urging her release.
"She was very happy and she said, 'I pray for them, those people who are signing, and now I have hope that I will be released soon,'" Masih said, quoting his wife.
Little Isham is also grateful for the petition campaign.
"I want to say thank you to the people who are signing," she said. "I want to say thank you very much that you are doing so much for my momma."
"Pray for us," Masih told CBN News. "Pray for our family. Pray for Asia that she may soon come back home and she can say thank you to the entire world when she returns home."
"We know God is alive," Isham added. "We know He is with us. He will be with us forever."
--Published Nov. 4, 2011.