The Martyr, by Wendy DeRaud

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Jesus

Most of us want to think that if ever faced with the choice, we would choose to proclaim our faith in Christ and be willing to die for it, like Rachel Scott at Columbine High School, who was mocked for her faith moments before she was shot and killed.

 

Most of us think very little about the many martyrs of the 20th and 21st Century, those who have given their lives for their faith: The Muslims who had dreams of Jesus, and who decided to leave Islam to follow Christ, who were disowned and even lost their lives because of it. Those Coptic Christians in Egypt who joyfully proclaimed Jesus as Lord as they were systematically beheaded by terrorists. The Syrian Christians who fled their homeland because of religious persecution, some who willingly gave their lives to stand for Christ.

 

We know little of present-day martyrdom in our part of the world, but it can strengthen our faith to hear of the long history of Christian martyrs who took seriously the call to follow in the steps of Christ.

 

 

Pope Francis declared, during a mass in honor of Christian martyrs, "There are many martyrs today, in the Church, many persecuted Christians. There are more witnesses, more martyrs in the Church today than there were in the first centuries." (Christian Post, July 2014)

 

 

The word we use today for someone who is killed for their beliefs, martyr, is the basic Greek word used in the New Testament which is translated “witness.” So when Jesus said, “ye shall be witnesses unto me” in Acts 1:8, the meaning of that word held more power than we imagined.  Not every follower of Christ will be killed for their faith, but because the witness of the early church followers lead to their martyrdom, we use the word today to mean someone who dies for their faith.

 

 

Read more about martyrs here.

 

 

So we can put a face to some of the stories in our world today, here are some 21st Century martyrs:

  • Gayle Williams, a 35 year old aid worker for SERVE Afghanistan, who was shot on her way to work in Kabul,by two men on a motorbike. A spokesman for the Taliban claimed responsibility for her death and said she had been killed "because she was working for an organization which was preaching Christianity in Afghanistan". Gayle knew of the threat of death, but because of her love for the Afghanistan people and her commitment to serve the poor there, chose to stay.
  • Ghorban Tourani was an Iranian convert to Christianity and a lay-minister, who was brought up as Sunni Muslim, but converted to the Christian faith, establishing a Christian ministry and a house church in his predominantly Islamic home town. Following multiple threats of death, he was abducted and murdered in November 2005. His death was a major point of escalation in the renewed persecution of Christian converts from Islam in Iran, and the small but growing house church movement.
  • The Zirve Publishing House massacre took place in April 2007, in Malatya, Turkey. Three employees of the Bible publishing house were attacked, tortured, and murdered by five Muslim assailants.
  • Son Jong-nam was a North Korean defector and Christian missionary, who died in a Pyongyang prison after being arrested in 2006. Son's brother believes that the international pressure led North Korean authorities to cancel his public execution, only to switch to torturing him to death as a less public method of killing him.
  • More recently in 2016, Jacques Hamel, a French Catholic priest, was murdered in Normandy  while he celebrated Mass in his church, by two Muslim men pledging allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq.

"The Martyr", Oil Painting by Mark DeRaud

 

 

Mark painted, "The Martyr", honoring the brave men and women who are counted among the great martyrs from the first century after Christ's resurrection. May we continue to remember them and tell their stories to inspire our faith.