Some were beheaded, some were tortured to death, others burned to death, some were crucified, others sentenced to receive 80 lashes. Many of these things were done in public, as an example for all to see of the “dangers” of Christianity. Who were these individuals? The apostles, perhaps? Most of them were martyred for their faith in Jesus. That is true, but the examples I mention above come from an article written on December 9, 2013. These are modern day martyrs, being killed for their faith in Jesus in our own day and age. The title alone says it all: Christians are Being Burned Alive, Beheaded, Crucified, Tortured to Death & Imprisoned in Metal Shipping Containers, written by Michael Snyder for End of the American Dream. According to Snyder, there are 100 million Christians currently facing persecution, and that about 100,000 Christians die each year for their faith in Christ. That comes down to about 274 people each day, or about 11 every hour. In the amount of time it will take me to finish this article, approximately 10 Christians will die somewhere in this world because of their faith.
I’ve been thinking a lot about martyrdom lately. The recent news about the pregnant Sudanese woman sentenced to death for her faith, coupled with this past week’s Gospel reading about the stoning of Stephen, compelled me to take a closer look at persecution in our world today. What I found shocked and saddened me. Most of you reading this are probably in North America, and our media doesn’t report Christian persecution elsewhere in the world. The one notable exception has been the 8-month pregnant woman in Sudan who has been sentenced to death. An unusual rallying of support has been shown for her, no doubt due to the fact that she’s pregnant. Reports on the subject (such as this article from nydailynews.com) claim her sentencing will not be carried out until after she has given birth and nursed the child, but the story has garnered more attention than most cases of Christian persecution. It shocks and horrifies our Western ears to hear of such injustice, but the fact is that this is not uncommon in many parts of the world today.
A number of years ago, I received a free copy of the book Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand, founder of The Voice of the Martyrs. It is an awful book. And by “awful” I don’t mean poorly written. I mean the things he reports are awful beyond words, absolutely sickening to read. He himself suffered under the Communist regime in Romania, and by a sheer miracle survived to tell about it. Doctors have told him since that he should have died. His lungs are scarred from the tuberculosis he suffered in prison, and his body bears the scars of the countless beatings and torture he endured. He realized that his survival was no mere accident, and went on to work tirelessly to bring the plight of the Underground Church to the attention of Christians in free countries. The examples he gives in his book are nauseating, as in the case of the man who was tortured with red-hot pokers and knives. More was done to him personally, but when they saw he would not denounce his faith, they brought in his 14-year old son so they could beat him in front of his father. This was too much for the poor father, who cried out to his son that he had to say what they wanted him to say in order to stop the beatings of his son. This amazing teenager said, “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, ‘Jesus and my fatherland!'” That boy met Jesus that day. As a parent, I cannot even imagine what that was like for the father. I am literally shaking as I write these words, and my screen looks a bit blurry through the tears in my eyes. It is heartbreaking, but again, all too common. The devil is hard at work in persecuted countries, trying his darnedest to stop the spread of the Gospel by force. But here’s the thing- it’s not working.
Wumbrand tells of the utter joy of the Underground Church. They considered it joy to be persecuted. “They were reckless and daring for Christ,” Wurmbrand writes, “always saying that it was the least they could do for Christ who died for them.” These Christians are living the words of Acts 5:41-42, who were beaten by the council for their faith and then “left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” And this constant witness bears much fruit. Wurmbrand gives countless examples of people who were converted from the dead end of atheism and Communism to the true life of Christianity. People may ask why God allows His saints to suffer so. Wurmbrand answers that question this way: “The fact that the work continued to bear fruit proves that it was from God and not from us.” The Christians in prison witnessed to their prison guards, many of whom were converted. Many people, after seeing the courage and conviction of those who were tortured and killed for their faith, came to faith themselves. He tells even of a cruel officer who beat a man to death, claiming to be God, with the power to give life or death. The answer the dying man gave him planted a seed in that officer’s mind, and he later became a Christian himself. Amazingly, the persecuted church is a flourishing church. The devil’s plan is backfiring. Instead of scaring people away from following Christ, this persecution actually allows for more of an intensity and urgency in witnessing. Christians are being added daily, despite the fact that they know exactly what will happen to them if they do convert. Their faith amazes and humbles me.
Free Christians of the world, take note of what your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering even today. Pray for them. Go to the Voice of the Martyrs website to find out how you can help by donating money for Bibles and resources they desperately need. Many of these Christians do not even have their own Bibles. They have the willingness and desire to spread God’s Word to their fellow countrymen but do not have the resources to do so. Those of us who do have the resources need to step up and help them. Take strength from their courage and step out yourself to do a bit of witnessing. The devil may try to prevent the spread of the Gospel there by force, but the weapons he utilizes here in America are far more insidious and effective. His most effective weapon here is complacency. We have become largely complacent here, leading us to be lazy in our witness for our Savior. Fight that desire in your own life and get out there to share the Good News. God has given us a great gift of freedom here in America, and our freedoms are being challenged, yes. But while we still have them, take advantage of them. Go. Tell. Risk being mocked for your beliefs. That’s nothing compared to the physical torture your fellow Christians suffer in persecuted countries. Jesus has promised to be with us. Take Him at His word in Matthew 28:19-20. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. He is with them. He is with us. And someday we will all be united before His throne in heaven. But in the meantime, there is much work to be done on this earth. Plant the seed wherever you can, and pray that God will make it grow and bear abundant fruit. So get ready to do some hands-on work in the fields. It’s planting time.