“But we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” Hebrews 2:9 (ESV)
Every day of this internship, I encounter stories beautifully marked by God’s grace. God is pruning hearts, ripping out roots of bitterness and despair, and nurturing buds of compassion and hope. He is working for His children’s good. I had managed to hold in tears…until one Monday.
That day, I couldn’t stop myself. I found a journal entry written last September after my aunt lost her long battle to cancer. Although losing her still hurts at times, what finally made me cry was a reminder about our “gracious God who knew this would happen and died to save her.” God knew my precious aunt’s body would betray her, so two thousand years ago, He took on a body and suffered to provide her with life that no disease or scheme of man can destroy. In His great love, He endured the cross so that she would have eternal peace.
In the lives of persecuted Christians is the same reality. Though we have pain, we have hope, for Jesus, who has conquered death, is with us. Aware of our hurts, He has provided the means of hope and strength: He has given Himself.
The only thing that explains my aunt’s bubbly joy, gentle strength, and constant sweetness even while in pain is the presence of Christ. He was with her during her cancer. He is with us in trials and suffering, working a plan that is not easy to understand but is always good. And the tender grace in His plan make me cry with joy.
J.G. Spires is a college student studying English and Broadcast Media on the east coast. She grew up in a Christian family and came into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ while in middle school. Over the years, the Lord has developed in her a passion for His people and His Word. Her goal is to write for the edification of the Church and the evangelization of the lost. She loves being outside, writing fictional short stories and serving the Church.
People love seeing their name in print.
During my days as a reporter for a small daily newspaper, people who had been featured in the paper would often stop by to pick up extra copies. They wanted to send them to family or friends, or cut out their story to display on their refrigerator. Some would even frame it.
Seeing their name, story and photo included among the day’s top news and feature stories was a validating experience. They felt, maybe for the first time, that their story mattered.
Given the opportunity, I think we all would feel the same way. We all want to be known on a deeper level. We all want to be remembered.
In January, a field worker and I traveled to Bangladesh to collect new stories to share with our readers across the United States. During the trip, we met “Fani” Bitan, 44, a pastor living in northern Bangladesh. That night, he sat in a plastic chair across from us and, in front of a room full of other pastors sitting on a dirt floor, shared the story of the persecution he had experienced.
In our American context, his story was remarkable. It included him being shut off from the Muslim society and suffering multiple beatings. In the context of the other pastors in the room, it was somewhat ordinary. In fact, he started his story by saying, “As a believer of Christ, we have to go through lots of persecution every single day.” In Bangladesh, pastors often receive death threats and have been attacked conducting VOM projects for persecuted believers.
As I listened, I waited for something that made his story stand apart from the rest – those details that were unique to him.
Suddenly, his eyes grew big. He remembered something. He put his hands in his right pants pocket and pulled out some crumpled pieces of paper. Under the room’s single light bulb, he handed them to me.
I unfolded the papers to discover copies of newspaper articles. Although I couldn’t read Bangla, I knew why he was excited.
His story was print-worthy.
The articles discussed a Top 10 list created by the Islamic extremist group Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh. The list ranked the most-wanted Christians in the region – those who were working among Muslims.
Fani was No. 8 on the list for living a bold Christian life, sharing the gospel and baptizing former Muslims.
“Oh my goodness, I saw this news on TV, but I didn’t know he was one of them,” our translator said after Fani explained what he had just handed me.
Fani’s inclusion on the list didn’t bother him. He was actually thrilled to see his name in the paper.
“I am very happy because my name is on the list,” he said. “How many people can get their name on the list?”
I then asked him if he was worried since his name – and Christian faith – were now in print, for potentially thousands of Muslims to see.
“No, I have no worry,” he said. “I am not nervous. If God wants me to die in this way, why not? It is up to God. What can I do?”
One of our many goals at The Voice of the Martyrs is to tell the stories of our persecuted brothers and sisters standing firm in their faith in the 68 countries where we serve. And they are not spiritual superheroes. They are regular believers, like you and I, who, after remaining faithful, were empowered by the Holy Spirit to stay strong in their faith during persecution. The strength of their story is found in its ability to be shared as a testimony to God’s work in their lives.
Another goal of VOM’s is to inspire you, as part of the American church, to live a better faith story by hearing those of our persecuted family members. After reading how they’ve overcome fears to stand Christ, we hope you’ll be moved to do the same in your own unique circumstances.
Not all of us will experience the thrill of seeing our stories told in the pages of a newspaper. Thankfully, we don’t need that to happen to be known on a deeper level or to be remembered.
God already knows our stories intimately. He knew them before we were born (Psalm 139:16), and is recording the stories of those who look to him in a “Book of Remembrance” (Malachi 3:16). Your story matters to Him. What a validating thought.
In the meantime, we must allow Him to continue writing our stories while prayerfully and courageously following his lead. Then, when the time is right, we’ll be able to reach into our figurative pockets, pull out our testimony of his work in our lives and be able to share it with others, printed or not.
Darren Sanders is a writer on staff with VOM. He learned about VOM as a teenager after reading Jesus Freaks and began receiving the newsletter. He continues to be inspired by those living out their faith despite persecution.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12:9
“Hurry, get into the closet. Do not make a sound unless you hear my voice. Do you understand?” Rose heard the two small voices of her preschool children say, “Yes, Mommy,” then she bolted out the door and headed toward her daughter’s school, praying that it was not too late.
At the proclamation of Sharia, or Islamic law, by the Nigerian government, pockets of violence broke out against Christian groups because they had opposed the laws. Rose’s oldest daughter was still at school during the rioting, and Rose was sure she would not be safe there. When she arrived at the school, her daughter had been taken to a military base for safety. Eventually, Rose found her, and they returned home where the two younger children were waiting safely.
The following day, when her husband left for a Christian gathering, it was the last time she saw him alive. Roughly 260 churches were destroyed during these riots, and more than 460 Christians were killed.
In the months since her husband’s murder, Rose has drawn comfort from the book of Acts. She said, “The same God that allowed Stephen to be stoned also allowed Peter to escape from prison. God has been faithful, and his grace has been sufficient.” Today Rose continues to work in the church where her martyred husband pastored, and she busily raises her three children.
It has been said God will never lead us where his grace cannot keep us. We must realize that sometimes his plan does not include a miraculous deliverance from illness, death, or oppression. Yet his grace is sufficient, and he has not abandoned us. We must trust that God would not lead us to a place of ministry or work without an adequate measure of his grace to make it. Sometimes his plan involves simply seeing us through an ordeal instead of delivering us from it. Have you come to a point where you are willing to entirely rely on him? You’ll likely never say that God’s grace is all you need until his grace is all you have.
This is one of the readings from the book, Extreme Devotion, available from VOM’s online bookstore. You can also receive devotional thoughts daily via email. Sign up here. Daily devotional readings are also available in the PRAY TODAY app for your smartphone or tablet.
A brief reminder to pray about and to carry with you into this weekend, from Sabina Wurmbrand, the wife of VOM's founder, Richard Wurmbrand. Sabina spent three years in a labor camp in communist Romania because of her Christian work alongside her husband. Pastor Richard spent 14 years in prison.
[TOBYMAC:] Hey, this is TobyMac with truth every Jesus Freak should hear from The Voice of the Martyrs.
[TODD:] A word for persecuted believers everywhere: More than half of the Psalms confirm that God wants us to cry out to him – even in despair. And then ultimately to trust Him.
Psalm 13 begins with this lament: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”
Psalm 13 ends with this: “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.”
For more from The Voice of the Martyrs, go online to persecution.com.
[YOUR TURN:] Have you ever echoed the Psalmist's cry: How long? Did you also come to the Psalmist's conclusion? "But I trust." Share your story in the comments to this post.
Semse Aydin's husband, Necati, was one of three Christian men martyred for their faith and ministry in Turkey. The next day, on national TV in Turkey, Semse offered forgiveness to her husband's killers, along with the widow of one of the other martyrs.
Listen to VOM Radio this week as she shares how the Holy Spirit enabled her to forgive, and how God has sustained her and her two children since she gave Necati to Jesus. You’ll also hear how Necati dealt with family members who were still Muslims, and how he went to meet with his killers, even though he thought their motives might not be pure.
You'll be inspired by God's faithfulness and equipped to pray more for the nation of Turkey and for the families of martyrs this week on VOM Radio.
This interview with Semse was recorded live at a VOM Advance Conference; to find a conference in your area, visit VOMEvents.com.
Jesus never intended for us to suffer alone. We may not be able to cross oceans or deserts and sit in lonely cells with colleagues, but we can traverse that distance spiritually and bear the burdens of our brothers in prayer. Knowing that they do not agonize alone empowers followers of Jesus under duress to bear unimaginable suffering. Collaborative suffering is bearable suffering.
Knowing from Scripture and from history that others have suffered and blossomed in pain is necessary preparation for our own trials. We can shore up our souls for trouble by reading and meditating on how those who have gone before us found strength to glorify Jesus before snarling beasts and men. The trials of others help us, and our trials, in turn, help others. “Blessed be…the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Paul went on to explain that both sufferings and consolations abound in Christ, and because there is a collective experience of both, there is endurance for salvation and consolation.
If our collective prior suffering helps those now under pressure, their current anguish also comforts us. Our suffering helps others. When my Sudanese brothers and sisters suffer, it draws me to them. It puts my marginal trials in perspective and gives me courage for my challenges. God, too, participates in collaborative suffering—primarily because He suffered for us but also by allowing suffering so “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead (2 Cor. 1:9). When our hearts are overwhelmed, God leads us to Himself, the rock that is higher than us (Ps. 61:2). Suffering collectively teaches the body of Christ to depend on Him and to anticipate life from death. Suffering is intended to be redemptive, and suffering for the gospel always results in unreached people responding to the gospel.
Excerpted from the March 2 reading in Live Dead Joy: 365 Days of Living and Dying With Jesus by Dick Brogden
Disclosure: VOM is part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the links in this post and purchase the book from Amazon, VOM will receive a very small percentage of your purchase as a referral fee.
"Sister Amber" spent more than a decade in Tibet, providing vocational training to the people and sharing the gospel message of Christ’s love. She felt God's call especially to work among Tibet's nomadic tribal people, who jokingly call themselves "the roof on the roof of the world."
Amber watched as God brought about a great ministry breakthrough: people who'd been totally closed to her message were now asking to learn more about Jesus. But just days after the breakthrough Amber experienced persecution as police came pounding on her door.
Listen to VOM Radio this week as she tells the story. You'll hear how the Holy Spirit strengthened and spoke to her, and how God brought Amber from a place of terror to the point of being able to express Christ's love, even to the men violently persecuting her.
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On this date in 1945, German pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hung by order of Adolf Hitler in a Nazi concentration camp. The following is excerpted from a letter Bonhoeffer had written which was circulated to a hundred or so of his former students during World War II:
...To be sure, God shall call you, and us, only at the hour that God has chosen. Until that hour, which lies in God’s hand alone, we shall all be protected even in greatest danger, and from our gratitude for such protection ever new readiness surely arises for the final call.
Who can comprehend how those whom God takes so early are chosen? Does not the early death of young Christians always appear to us as if God were plundering his own best instruments in a time in which they are most needed? Yet the Lord makes no mistakes. Might God need our brothers for some hidden service on our behalf in the heavenly world? We should put an end to our human thoughts, which always wish to know more than they can, and cling to that which is certain. Whomever God calls home is someone God has loved. “For their souls were pleasing to the Lord, therefore he took them quickly from the midst of wickedness” (Wisdom of Solomon 4.)
...Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.
...Only in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ has death been drawn into God’s power, and it must now serve God’s own aims. It is not some fatalistic surrender but rather a living faith in Jesus Christ, who died and rose for us, that is able to cope profoundly with death.
In life with Jesus Christ, death as a general fate approaching us from without is confronted by death from within, one’s own death, the free death of daily dying with Jesus Christ. Those who live with Christ die daily to their own will. Christ in us gives us over to death so that he can live within us. Thus our inner ding grows to meet that death from without. Christians receive their own death in this way and in this way our physical death very truly becomes not the end but rather the fulfillment of our life with Jesus Christ. Here we enter into community with the One who at his own death was able to say, “It is finished.”
You can learn more about Bonhoeffer's life, ministry and death, read BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas.
Disclosure: VOM is part of the Amazon Associates program. If you click on the link above and purchase the book from Amazon, VOM will receive a very small percentage of your purchase as a referral fee.