The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian


The Last Testament of a Beheaded Christian
Brian Zahnd

Christian de Chergé was a French Catholic monk and the Trappist prior of the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria. With the rise of radical Islam in 1993, Father Chergé knew that his life was in danger. But instead of leaving Algeria, Father Chergé chose to stay and continue his witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. On May 24, 1996 Father Chergé was beheaded by Muslim radicals. Anticipating his death, Father Chergé had left a testament with his family to be read upon the event of his murder. The testament in part reads:

“If it should happen one day — and it could be today — that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. I ask them to accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I ask them to pray for me: for how could I be found worthy of such an offering? I ask them to be able to associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity.

My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a clear space which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God and of all my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.

Obviously, my death will justify the opinion of all those who dismissed me as naïve or idealistic: ‘Let him tell us what he thinks now.’ But such people should know that my death will satisfy my most burning curiosity. At last, I will be able — if God pleases — to see the children of Islam as He sees them, illuminated in the glory of Christ, sharing in the gift of God’s Passion and of the Spirit, whose secret joy will always be to bring forth our common humanity amidst our differences.

I give thanks to God for this life, completely mine yet completely theirs, too, to God, who wanted it for joy against, and in spite of, all odds. In this Thank You — which says everything about my life — I include you, my friends past and present, and those friends who will be here at the side of my mother and father, of my sisters and brothers — thank you a thousandfold.

And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too I wish this thank-you, this ‘Adieu,’ whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen!”

–Father Christian de Chergé

Christian de Chergé lived as a citizen of the kingdom of God. The manner in which he died and the testament he left behind is the only Christian response to militant Islam I can think of which is faithful to Jesus Christ. Father de Chergé does not call for his blood to be avenged, but like his Savior, Father de Chergé prays for the forgiveness of his murderer and speaks of him as “my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing.” In his martyr’s testament Father de Chergé bids his murder “Adieu” and hopes that they might meet in heaven “like happy thieves.” This is beautiful. The kind of beauty that can save the world. Father de Chergé lived a beautiful life and in his death overcame Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of his testimony. Christian Chergé would rather die following the way of the Lamb than follow the way of the Beast.


(This is adapted from Beauty Will Save the World, pp. 124-125)

  • the_bexter85

    Beauty! If we could all manifest that fearlessness and love, wow!! How this world would change!

  • Selah.

    When I read this in your book, I had to take a break from reading on for several days so that I could think and pray over this. This is too beautiful, too Christlike to rush over. I had several such interruptions with “Beauty Will Save the World.” I’m thankful for your voice of prophecy, Pastor Zahnd.

  • Thank you, Rachel.

  • Nate
  • Nate

    This seems to be another good example. The brother of the executed thanks the executioners for including the martyrs’ declaration of faith, and afterwards he prays for his enemies.

  • Not every victim of Islam is a willing martyr who leaves behind no dependents; many of those killed are children who were denied the privilege of ever expressing their thoughts about God as an adult.

  • Chris Campbell

    Joe, Somehow I have this sense within me that total passivity in the presence of these types of evil is not always Christ like. I really do think I recognize the beauty in a death such as this one, and realize that I will be lumped together with all the others who lust for acquisition and power…… But something just doesn’t set right in my heart when people make flat out statements on what would Jesus do in these cases. Some times He’s throwing chairs and turning the tables over, other times He’s gentle and kind , other times He’s making statements like ” Ill kill her children with death, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation except they repent . What would Jesus do ? People better be real sure, before they go putting others down for how they reacted.

  • I have to wonder when we Christians ponder martyrdom while sitting safely an ocean away from our Coptic brethren, for whom sudden death at the hands of violent Muslims is an all too real possibility.

    And any subtle suggestion that Christians should roll over and die in the face of naked aggression brings to mind the motto of our Jewish brethren: “Never Again!”

  • Joe, I address this, in some detail, in the first chapter of my book “Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness.” I won’t try to reproduce that book or even that chapter here (I write books for a reason — if I could say it in less than 70,000 words I would), but I will say that what Christ calls us to is indeed quite radical. “Never again” is not a confession that comes from the lips of Jesus and it’s not what he teaches his disciples to say. Should Nazis be forgiven? It’s the question I address in the first chapter of “Unconditional?”.

  • Daurelle

    I’m interested in reading the Unconditional book you mention but I don’t see a kindle version. For those of us overseas, it’s a big help to be able to download books. I saw an audio version, but is there a kindle version to read?


  • It’s available on Kindle under the title “Radical Forgiveness.” Same book, different title.

  • Pastor Zhand, you don’t have to reproduce your book for me as I own a copy and have reread it numerous times.

    I recall the story of Siedl, the SS soldier who so desperately wanted Wiesenthal’s, or any Jew’s forgiveness for what he had done to them. It reminds me of one of my unit’s Bosnian tour guides who emailed me an unsolicited apology after 9-11 despite the fact that, even as a (nominal) Muslim, she had nothing in common with the jihadists who hijacked those jets.

    I think there’s a difference between someone seeking forgiveness and someone who thinks that his actions are sanctioned by God , i.e., between a Nazi soldier who swore an oath to Hitler and a jihadi who swears allegiance to Allah; I don’t think the latter will be seeking an apology for beheading a monk, 9-11, or any other violence sanctioned by their Quran.
    And these same jihadists still surround Israel.
    So when Jews state “never again,” IMO, they are referring to victimhood and not a call to un-forgiveness as forgiveness is in the OT as well as the new.

  • pennyjane

    the confession of a soul i can admire and hopelessly emulate, but can never reach. grace such as that is His and He does His will.

  • Bill Brown

    Your unease, Joe, is legitimate. We need some perspective here: Christian De Cherge’s response to his situation was indeed Christ-like…for who he was and the context in which he lived his life–a single man, a priest, an ambassador of the church in a culture other than his own. However, we can see from scripture that while the church is God’s instrument of mercy in this present age, government is his instrument of justice to maintain order in this present age. Both are God-ordained. Heaven forbid either deny its responsibilities. Does government fulfill perfectly its role as order-keeper and justice-enforcer? Of course not, we are all deeply flawed. But things are much worse when government denies its responsibility to confront genuine evil with measured strength.

    A man can be a believer and one of the order-keepers as well. Even Pastor Zahnd’s church is under the authority and protection of the St. Joseph police department (Police FORCE, that is).

    Violence begets violence, but violence unchecked by legitimate authority begets utter anarchy. If all lived as Christ did, we would have no violence. But some human beings choose to live on the dark side regardless of the measure of mercy shown them. We will have no genuine, lasting peace in which no hard choices need to be made until Christ returns.

    You so rightly point out that this debate is easy (at least for now) for those of us who live in the West. We can sit back and throw around scriptures to support our various positions. In the meanwhile, for Christians in cultures where you can’t even openly have such discussions, their convictions mean life and death for themselves and those they are responsible for. I’m married and have three children…age 5, 2, and 3 months. I face different questions, pressures, challenges than de Charge. I would wrestle deeply with my options in the face of brutality but I don’t now know how I would respond. I know exactly how some of my sincere Christian friends would respond…immediately and with as much force as possible. And who can blame them? Their love for their own children…who depend on them…is far stronger than for someone who has given himself over to pure evil. And it is extremely shallow to dismiss that sentiment with, “Well, God would take care of my family once I’m dead.”

  • JK

    Is de Chergé holding out hope for universalism, or for repentance in this life? Sounds like the former. What’s your take on universalism?

  • Nellie

    How incredibly moving. I cry for joy, that he saw so clearly, The Lord in all things…even in him who would slay him! Praise God for such as Father de Cherge’…Praise God!!!

  • charlesburchfield

    i recall something i heard from corrie ten boom: when she had to face her abuser, a former guard from ravensbruk consentration camp who, after the war, asked her to forgive him. She struggled to even be in the same room w/ him and knew positively she didn’t have the inclination what soever to forgive yet knew the presents of the holy spirit was there giving her that forgiveness. Clearly god worked a miracle for both she & the man b/c all desire for revenge left her as did residual bitterness. The man received a touch from Jesus and knew positively that forgiveness was real. I think the father in this story just told the truth abt the necessity of forgiving his executioner in advance. This was god loving through him breaking the cycle of war. Another thing I’ve been thinking through lately is god giving me his, god’s, faith.

  • charlesburchfield

    yes! father showed the way it is as it is: christ is in all of us i think & here and now shatters the patterns of cultures that find war, slavery & genocide the way to control self & others.

  • M Vallazza

    Charles, the former guard didn’t ask for HER forgiveness, but if I recall, he was speaking of how God forgives us our sins if we but repent.

  • charlesburchfield

    i think all any label like “universalism” is, at best, a way to start a convo abt what one percieves as comming closest to what one hopes or wishes to be a setteled and established reality.

  • charlesburchfield

    yes there is a lot of nuance in corries testimony. one takes away what is most healing to one’s need i think.

  • Jennifer A. Nolan

    Wow, thanks for that comment, Brian! I think I’ll go look for your book at my nearest bookstore.

  • Mike Brooks

    With all of the heated discussion lately concerning Islam and to what degree it should or should not be associated with terrorist groups like ISIS, I found it interesting that: 1. The lead-in uses the terms “radical Islam” and “Muslim radicals” in the same paragraph, and 2. The middle paragraph of De Cherge’s letter, in which he differentiates the faith of the terrorists from mainstream Islam, is omitted.

  • ReadJohn6
  • Rob Jones

    An amazing and humbling testimony.

    As a personal ideal it is something to be aimed for.

    But, after long reflection, I am no longer a pacifist. Do we have the right to forgive atrocities committed on others? I don’t think we have, only God can do that. Is it right to passively stand by while others are brutalised because it goes against our principles of non-violence? I don’t think so, that would make us complicit in the violence.

    Should we preemptively kill groups of people to prevent violence? No, the risk of killing innocents is too high.

    The world is not a simple place and there are no simple answers.

  • Dave Stanton

    Revelation 12:11Amplified Bible (AMP)

    11 And they have overcome (conquered) him by means of the blood of the Lamb and by the utterance of their testimony, for they did not love and cling to life even when faced with death [holding their lives cheap till they had to die for their witnessing].

    Revelation 6:10Amplified Bible (AMP)

    10 They cried in a loud voice, O [Sovereign] Lord, holy and true, how long now before You will sit in judgment and avenge our blood upon those who dwell on the earth?

  • Judy Dominick

    Beautiful, thank you for sharing. In a similar spirit, I wrote this last night about praying for ISIS.

  • This is an honest question (without tone and context I worry people may take my questions the wrong way).

    I may be miss reading what you’ve written but why is violence or passively stand by the only options? I often get confused with why it’s act violently OR do absolutely nothing? Is there not a great deal one could do that is not violent?

  • Yes. I have never advocated passivity in the face of evil. For an exploration of the many options that lie between passivity and violence you might want to look at “Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way” by Walter Wink.

  • I don’t remember why it was edited this way. (I wrote “Beauty Will Save the World” five years ago.) Don’t read anything into it.

  • Thanks! I wouldn’t advocate for that either but it seems that often those are the options presented. I’ve been making a concerted effort to understand those I disagree with. I doubt I’ll change but I think there is value in understanding others who are honestly struggling with the same scripture and come to such a different interpretation.

  • Susan

    Brought tears to me eyes…thanks for this

  • Jeff

    “Of Gods and Men” is the 2010 French film that explains and shows this testimony and the experiences of all the monks serving in that monastery. It is available and very worthy of seeing.

  • Jeannette Reinecker LCSWC

    What a beautiful witness, and worthy of weaving into the tapestry of the Mystery of “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done”.
    I am reminded of the book, The Heart and The Fist by Eric Greitkins who discerns/travels 3 roads to peace: Education, at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; Humanitarian mission trips and Ministry with Mother Theresa’s sisters; and finally he trains to become a Navy Seal to overthrow evil regimes so that education and charity can take hold. I would suggest that changing the world must happen at all levels. God has a magnificent tapestry and calls each of us to make a contribution. Definitely, one size does not fit all.

  • Jeannette Reinecker LCSWC

    In the book, The Heart and The Fist Eric Greitkins travels 3 roads to peace: Education, (Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar; Humanitarian trips and Ministry with Mother Theresa’s sisters; and finally
    he trains to become a Navy Seal to overthrow evil regimes so that education and missionary work can take hold. I would suggest that changing the world must happen at all levels. God has a magnificent tapestry and calls each of us to make a contribution. Definitely, one size does not fit all.

  • ann

    Cherge grew up in Algeria where his father was a French army officer. Algeria was his home and the Algerians his people.

  • Chris Campbell

    Somehow I don’t believe that a forceful response toward these types of aggression should always be labeled as unforgiveness. Our police force when responding sometimes lethally, isn’t looked upon as unforgiveness. I also believe the word of God teaches non violence. I think I understand we as a nation have really fallin short of this mark . Is total passivity the answer to try to swing the church back from this . I don’t see it as the only response taught in the new testiment.

  • diane

    I still wonder why Jesus said, ” I tell you now, he who had no sword should buy one”, and yes Jesus turned over tables ( but he’s not angry? ), He knocked a whole army down when the mob came to arrest Him and said, “let these others go”. I believe they obliged because they knew he knocked them down once. People are accusing people of, “wanting violence”when they bring up scripted and have quotations. But I seriously winner about these things. Also, God gave the earth to man and the bible says the powers that be are placed there by God,referring to the justice system . It says it war made for murderers,theives,kidnappers,etc and that if you’re not a criminal you have nothing to fear BUT IF YOU ARE A CRIMINAL BE AFRAID FOR HE BEARS NOT THE SWORD IN VAIN. It seems to me we’re responsible for the safety of others. How will that happen if we all stand around twittering or thumbs while evil men slaughter the world? I think this is a very bad teaching. Someones for their theories wrong. It’s not Jesus not protecting these victoms. He would.

  • Diane

    Sorry for the many typos. On phone. How to edit?

  • Gerry

    Not executioner! Murderer. Let’s call spade spade.

  • Rumifan

    This is quiet sad and tragic. But my understanding is that he was not beheaded by so-called radicals. But rather he was killed accidentally by the Algerian military.

  • Deacon Raymond Moon Sr.

    Bill Brown, yours is one of the most measured, thought out responses I have read on any of the threads that have been posted that I have seen. This violence needs to be checked by legitimate authorities from around the world, or we are in for WWIII.

  • Kathy Bramley

    If international governance fulfilled economic justice this would all be different, surely. Economic injustice fuels panic-penitence and fanatical behaviour, anger and/or passivity. Yes, sheep can be driven by the whip, paralysed stubborn by it, as well as being drawn to known shepherds; and sometimes people grasp at straws and the nearest thing to heroes. Fighting is not the way to stop ideology. Fighting and imprisonment didn’t halt the last height of Klan activities, civil actions taken in court did. Too many people want to play Caesar, court luxury in Dubai, not pay Caesar.

  • Kathy Bramley

    What Jesus did at his most robust was clear corruption from his father’s house.

  • Stephen Hulsey

    Beautiful Brian! Thanks.