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Francis of Assisi: Fearless in the Crusades
One of the last commands Jesus gave his Apostles was to “go throughout the world” and tell others about Him. This can be intimidating, telling others about Jesus, but Church History provides an excellent example of courage. That example is Francis of Assisi (1181-1226). Once you read about one incident in his life, you will agree that he was afraid of nothing when it involved telling others of God.
A little about Francis. He was raised in a wealthy household, but rejected his family heritage in order to follow a simple life of poverty and service to God. He attracted like-minded followers and eventually received approval from the pope in 1210 to form a monastic order, the Franciscans.
While in his late 30s, Francis decided on an ambitious venture: he would go to the Crusades and preach about God. Now, the Crusades did not involve one battle, but a series of battles from 1095-1291. In fact, scholars have isolated eight different Crusades in that time period. And the one that Francis joined was the Fifth Crusade, which lasted from 1217-1221. By the time of the Fifth Crusade, the battlefield had enlarged to include Egypt. Therefore, when Francis decided to join the Crusades, he did not go to Israel, but to Egypt.
Once in Egypt, he witnessed at least one battle. He then decided to share the message of God with one particular person, a person who could influence future battles. But meeting this person meant that Francis could be killed. As he left to go, no doubt many soldiers believed that they would never see him again, that he would be tortured and killed. But Francis was undeterred and went anyway: his act of bravery for Christ would far outpace the bravery exhibited by soldiers. So where did he go and what was the result? Read on.
The Crusaders were successful in capturing the city of Damietta in 1219 and set about moving on Cairo. This would prove unsuccessful and they were defeated by the Muslim Sultan al-Kamil. Francis was with the crusaders at this time, and he decided to visit the Sultan himself and share about Jesus. He did this knowing that he could die. A contemporary historian of the time, James of Vitry (Jacques de Vitry), included the incident in a book on the crusades which he wrote about five years later.
“We have seen the founder and master of this Order, Brother Francis, a simple, uneducated man beloved by God and man, whom all the others obey as their highest superior. He was so moved by spiritual fervor and exhilaration that, after he reached the army of Christians before Darmietta in Egypt, he boldly set out for the camp of the Sultan of Egypt, fortified only with the shield of faith. When the Saracens [Muslims] captured him on the road, he said: ‘I am a Christian. Take me to your master.’ They dragged him before the Sultan. When that cruel beast saw Francis, he recognized him as a man of God and changed his attitude into one of gentleness, and for some days he listened very attentively to Francis as he preached the faith of Christ to him and his followers. But ultimately, fearing that some of his soldiers would be converted to the Lord by the efficacy of his words and pass over to the Christian army, he ordered that Francis be returned to our camp with all reverence and security. At the end he said to Francis: ‘Pray for me, that God may deign to reveal to me the law and the faith which is more pleasing to Him.’”
The Sultan wanted to give Francis gifts, but as one who had vowed poverty, Francis rejected them. Instead, the Sultan gave Francis a safe travel guarantee so he could visit Israel, which Francis did.
©2008 Mark Nickens
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