China: Bible Recipients Say THANK YOU

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Since 1967, VOM has used innovative ways of getting Bibles to believers in nations hostile to Christ. From sewing Scriptures into the lining of clothes to carrying boxes of Bibles across rugged mountains on pack animals, we are committed to doing whatever it takes to get God’s Word to every believer. As our worker in China said, to “strengthen and challenge the local churches in the most difficult areas is my first priority. That begins with providing them with sufficient Bibles for their own use.”

In this nation that has been indoctrinated with communist ideology, the need for truth is great. “There were not enough Bibles when I just believed,” wrote a Chinese Christian who received a Bible from VOM. “There were a few believers who had Bibles. … I used to treat the words of Chairman Mao as the truth and I admired his words very much. But after I was saved and blessed by God, I threw the book of Chairman Mao away. The Bible is the most precious book in my heart now. No other books can compare with it.”

Here is another letter from a Chinese believer, thanking VOM for a recent Bible delivery:

Because that the number in the church increased recently and we lacked Bibles seriously, many brothers and sisters don’t have Bible and they just borrow from others. Thank God that your church helped us and donated many Bibles for us, which really saved us from the serious difficulties.

The church is the body of Christ and we are all body members in the Lord! Let’s help each other, encourage each other and pray for each other and wish we have the same mind in the Lord to revive the gospel! May God’s will fulfill in the church and then the church can spread the gospel and build more churches, and bring more people to repent, so that the name of the Lord can be glorified in every place! We wish that your church can continue to help us and we hope all people who come can have a Bible to read. Thank you very much! Thank God for making the church extended and thank God we lack nothing in Him! May the blessings, grace, peace from God and the fellowship of the Spirit be with all the churches! 

Yajin

You can read more thank you notes from Chinese Christians who received Bibles through VOM's efforts here. You may also choose to support VOM's efforts this month to deliver 191,267 Bibles to Christians in restricted and hostile nations.

Extreme Conquerors

ROMANIA: PASTOR RICHARD WURMBRAND

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

“My wife is sleeping in the other room because she has been ill,” Pastor Richard Wurmbrand began. “She and I are both Jewish. Her family perished in the same Nazi concentration camp where you just boasted of killing Jews with children still in their arms. Perhaps you murdered my wife’s family.”

Upon hearing this, the pastor’s guest, a soldier, became very angry and stood to leave. But Richard stopped him. “Wait. I want to propose an experiment. I want to tell my wife who you are and what you did. But my wife will not curse you or even look at you angrily. She will accept you.”

The man sat with his mouth open, but speechless. ED_Cover

The pastor continued, “Now if my wife, who is only human can forgive you-then how much more will Jesus love and forgive you?”

The man buried his face in his hands. “What have I done? How can I go on living with the guilt of so much blood? Jesus, please forgive me.” The soldier went on to give his life to Christ.

Then Richard went and woke his wife Sabina. “This is the murderer of your sisters, your brothers, and your parents,” he introduced the man. “But now he has repented.” She wrapped her hands around his neck and kissed him on the cheek.

“Love conquers all” is a popular saying. Christians, however, know the truth of this saying first hand. When we are at the mercy of our anger, we are consumed with hatred. But when we have allowed God (who is love) to control our lives, we find that our natural emotions like anger submit to him. We don’t even feel like getting upset over situations that used to enrage us. Love must conquer anything within us that is contrary to the character of Christ. The end result is that we are so consumed with love that even our worst enemy benefits from our transformation. Are you experiencing victory over bitterness and vengeance? Ask the God of love to conquer your anger today. 

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.

Freed Captives Recount Boko Haram Abuse

Many have been killed or kidnapped by Boko Haram, an Islamist militant group, but six girls who managed to escape their brutality are now living in Christian centers, where they are putting the pieces of their lives back together. The girls—Anna, Hajja and four others—were kidnapped in separate attacks. Hajja was held for three months, while others were held for several days.

On May 15, 2013, Anna boarded a bus in Maiduguri, Borno state, along with five other passengers. When they reached their destination, they were attacked by Boko Haram as they got off the bus. Anna watched as the militants killed the other five passengers, all men. The lone survivor, she was taken to the Boko Haram camp as their hostage. While in captivity, she saw more than 50 others killed by the militants. Those brought into the camp were quickly identified as either Christian or Muslim by their ID cards. The Christians were immediately executed, and the Muslims who refused to join the Boko Haram were also killed. Nigeria_Map

On May 26, Anna was told by one of her captors to be ready to convert or face death the next morning. That same day, one of the hostages tried to flee in an unoccupied vehicle. As he started to drive away, others, including Anna, ran to get into the vehicle. Only Anna and another young man made a successful escape, finally walking a distance of more than 160 miles to safety.

Another abductee, Hajja, was held captive for three months after being abducted in July 2013. One of the Boko Haram members planned to marry the young girl, but they still beat her mercilessly, demanding that she convert to Islam and wear a hijab. After finally managing to escape, Hajja was taken in by a Christian center, where her hope is gradually being restored. The home of the girl’s parents was burned by Boko Haram during an attack on their village shortly after the girl’s escape.

Like Anna and Hajja, the other four girls were abused and told that they must convert or face death. All of them were terrorized by Boko Haram as they watched loved ones and others die around them. Three of them, including two young sisters, were forced to marry their captors.

Each of the six girls managed to escape, and because their villages and homes have been destroyed and their families displaced, they are living in Christian centers supported by VOM. They are all reportedly in good physical health and are also very happy to have hope for a future.

(This story first appeared on VOM's primary web site, www.Persecution.com.)

I'd Rather Have Jesus

This morning in the VOM chapel service for staff and volunteers, we sang a song that relflects so clearly the heart of our persecuted brothers and sisters that it is worth offering as today's blog post. Perhaps you know it and have sung it many times; perhaps you've never seen these words before. Either way, the song's lyrics invite us into reflection about where we place Jesus on our life's list of priorities and values:

  • I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
    I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
    I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
    I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand
    • Refrain:
      Than to be the king of a vast domain
      And be held in sin’s dread sway;
      I’d rather have Jesus than anything
      This world affords today.

 

  • I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
    I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
    I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
    I’d rather be true to His holy name

 

  • He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
    He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
    He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
    I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead

~Rhea F. Miller, 1922 (Public Domain)

LAOS: “If I wasn’t a real Christian…”

Recently I had the privilege to travel to Laos and to meet Christians there who face persecution. One of the brothers we met with is an evangelist who leads people to Christ almost every day. He has seen numerous people miraculously healed through the power of God, and many overcome drug addiction with God’s help. He told us that his cel phone rings regularly with people who say, “I need help.” Laos-map

“I tell them, ‘I can’t help you. But Jesus can help you,’” he said, and he introduces them to the Savior.

One of those that he reached, we’ll call him “Phong,” lived in a village where there were no other Christians. Phong quickly won six other people to Christ in the village. But such outreach upset the village leaders, and they expelled Phong from the village. Forced to leave, he and his wife and their two children moved in with relatives in another village; relatives that were not yet believers in Christ.

Our evangelist friend asked Phong, “Are you discouraged?”

“No. This is God’s plan.”

“How do you feel about this?” the evangelist asked.

“I feel honored. This is in the Bible! I’m not disappointed. If I wasn’t a real Christian, this wouldn’t have happened.”

If I wasn’t a real Christian…

I was reminded by his statement of a verse that is a troubling one for many American Christians like me, II Timothy 3:12: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” How do we, who aren’t currently facing persecution, read that verse? What does it mean to us? If we aren’t being persecuted, does it mean that we don’t truly desire to “live godly in Christ Jesus”?

Matthew Henry’s commentary on this passage sheds light on some of those questions:

When we know the afflictions of good people but in part, they are a temptation to us to decline that cause which they suffer for; when we know only the hardships they undergo for Christ, we may be ready to say, "We will renounce that cause that is likely to cost us so dear in the owning of it;’’ but when we fully know the afflictions, not only how they suffer, but how they are supported and comforted under their sufferings, then, instead of being discouraged, we shall be animated by them, especially considering that we are told before that we must count upon such things (v. 12): All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution: not always alike; at that time those who professed the faith of Christ were more exposed to persecution than at other times; but at all times, more or less, those who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. They must expect to be despised, and that their religion will stand in the way of their preferment; those who will live godly must expect it, especially those who will live godly in Christ Jesus, that is, according to the strict rules of the Christian religion, those who will wear the livery and bear the name of the crucified Redeemer. All who will show their religion in their conversation, who will not only be godly, but live godly, let them expect persecution, especially when they are resolute in it.

Even though he is young in faith, Phong seems to have grabbed hold of these truths deeply. He understands that false or shallow Christians don’t suffer the persecution he and his family currently suffer. So he can say “I feel honored” to suffer such mistreatment, for he sees it as a mark of his growing faith and God’s faithfulness. It is the same honor that the apostles felt after being questioned by the Jewish leaders and beaten: “they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

Please pray for “Phong” and his family, and for other Christians in Laos.

YOUR TURN: If you were persecuted for your Christian faith, do you think you would be able to think of it as an honor? How would you respond?

Todd Nettleton has served the persecuted church and VOM more than 15 years. He has been interviewed more than 2000 times by various media outlets. He's the author of Restricted Nations: North Korea, and served on the writing team for FOXE, Extreme Devotion, Hearts of Fire and other VOM books.

INDIA: Christ Is Preached

One of our VOM contacts in India recently shared an inspiring story of a young woman that lives her life for Jesus in spite of her many trials.

A 30-year-old widow, Vani is the sole provider for her family. While I’m not sure when Vani lost her husband, imagine the grief that a young mother must face with such loss. As a daily laborer, it is now up to her to provide shelter and food, clothing, as well as school fees for her 7-year-old daughter. Not an easy task, but she presses forward and finds her strength in Jesus.

Vani is a strong woman who is a faithful member of her church. She regularly travels with Rekha, 50, who is the pastor’s wife, and Mala, 34, who is a widow with two children, ages 12 and 14. Can you envision the sorts of conversations that they must have along the way? Together, they routinely go out to other villages where they meet with people who need to know about Jesus. They distribute gospel tracts, and actively seek opportunities to share God’s love with those they meet.

In early February, as Vani was on her way home from church, she found just such an opportunity when she noticed a young teenage girl at the bus stop. As they made introductions, she came to learn that Kusuma was a 15-year-old girl who was very depressed and sad about her home situation. She faced a lot of problems with her parents and her relatives.  

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Following her recent release from prison, Vani is pictured with her 7-year-old daughter.

Vani shared the gospel with her, and Kusuma was very intrigued. As evening came, Kusuma decided to go to Vani’s house. The next morning, she still wasn’t ready to return to her parents’ home, so Vani invited her to attend church with her. There, she introduced the girl to Rekha and Mala, who also took interest in helping the girl and shared stories of Jesus with her before she went back to her home.

When Kusuma returned home, one can imagine how upset her parents must have been. Although Vani, Rekha, and Mala had cared for their daughter, it must have seemed suspicious. The parents told others about what happened, and soon they along with a group of radical Hindus filed a false complaint with police, stating that the women were kidnapping children and forcing them to convert to Christianity.

On March 2, police arrested Vani and took her to jail. Rekha and Mala managed to escape immediate arrest, but authorities were still looking for them as they wanted to charge all three with kidnapping and forced conversions. Vani’s 7-year-old daughter was left in the care of church workers.

While many people may have been discouraged, Vani saw it as a new opportunity to preach Christ. When we first learned of this, VOM was arranging to help with legal fees, including bail for Vani and anticipatory bail for Rekha and Mala.

Yesterday, we learned something even more exciting. She had been released after spending 15 days in jail, but it gets better. Vani tells us that she “did not lose her faith in the Lord” and used the time to continue to pray and share the gospel with those around her.

When the jailer saw the changes in the habits and activities of these women, Vani was encouraged to share the gospel and pray for nearly 70 ladies. In the 15 days that she was locked up for “forcing” a 15-year-old to convert, 14 of the women that Vani shared the gospel message with made decisions to follow Jesus.

Vani’s story reminds me of Paul’s words in Philippians 1: 12-13, “But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ.”

Vani has told us that she is interested in continuing prison ministry and reaching out to these women. Although Kusuma’s parents and other radical Hindus wanted her locked away for her “crime” of preaching Christ, even the jailer noticed a distinct difference about Vani. It was the jailer who encouraged Vani to pray for the women and share her faith. As a result, the things that have happened to Vani have actually turned out for the advancing of the gospel, so that there are now 14 more sisters in Christ.

“Ann Kay” is a writer for VOM. She learned about VOM five years ago when she read Tortured for Christ and began receiving the newsletter. She is passionate about reaching the world for Christ and sharing stories of the persecuted church.

Asia Bibi Appeal Delayed Again

The Lahore High Court has, for the second time in two weeks, delayed the first hearing on Asia Bibi’s appeal of her conviction for blasphemy and the resulting death sentence.

A hearing last week was delayed because one of the two judges set to hear the case was unable to be in court. Today the court convened once again, but had to delay the proceedings when the attorney for the complainant was not present in the court room. The judges waited ten minutes and then announced a delay in the case.

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A photo of Asia Bibi taken during a prison visit.

In the case of Asia Bibi, the complainant, or “counterparty,” is Muslim mullah Qari Muhammed Sallam. Sallam is the man who submitted the original complaint in the case on June 19, 2009. The complaint accused Asia Bibi of speaking against the Islamic prophet, Mohammed, on June 14 of that year. Asia Bibi’s lawyers told Agenzia Fides that they will point to the five-day gap between the alleged statements and the complaint being filed as evidence that the charges were fabricated.

Asia Bibi was sentenced to death on November 8, 2010. Her appeal, No. 2509, was filed with the Lahore High Court on November 11, 2010.

Reportedly, April 14 was set for the next attempt to have this initial appeal hearing. VOM contacts in Pakistan are closely monitoring the case.

Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi as she waits in prison for the appeal process to move forward. Pray also for her husband and daughters as they await the court’s decision.

You can still sign the petition asking for Asia Bibi's release at www.CallForMercy.com.

Wise as Serpents and Harmless as Doves

In giving instructions to his disciples as they set out on a limited mission to Israel (Matt 10:16), Christ tells them that he is sending them out as sheep among the wolves, so they needed to be shrewd and not be seen as a threat. They were to remain innocent but not be foolish. While the instructions were meant for this limited mission, it makes good sense in our approach to the world. There is no need to rush out, foolishly crashing headlong into the opposition. That would be reckless. Why purposefully provoke those who are hostile when the point of the mission is to win those who are hostile to Christ? The message may invite and incite hostility but our behavior should not provoke them. VOMClassroom

We do not seek difficulty or trouble but we are foolish to believe that we will not face it. As hard as it is for many, the point may come when civil disobedience is required of us. Sometimes it requires us to request due process of the law and fairness in interpreting the law. In the story of Rev. Christo Kulichev (found in Holcomb, Imprisoned for Christ), the pastor (Kulichev) makes a good point during his interrogation. He mentions that he was being interrogated for preaching but that in reality the Committee (the Communist Party) had not officially taken this right away from him nor had any accusations been written or issued against him. So, he argued, he was being arrested illegally. In doing this, he was clarifying the issue so that the interrogator would recognize that he (the interrogator) was in an illegal position. While it may not matter in the ultimate outcome of the trial, at least the Christian does not appear to be weak or passive. Reasoning with those who are perpetuating injustice allows the Holy Spirit to work in their hearts.

Sometimes careful reasoning and civil dialogue with our accusers is not an option. James Howell, in his book Servants, Misfits, and Martyrs, tells the story of Paul Schneider, who was a pastor in the Rhineland during Hitler’s time in power. While preaching a funeral for a youth who was a part of Hitler Youth and who died in a tragic accident, a leader of the Nazi youth organization exclaimed that the youth was now one of Horst Wessel’s heavenly storm troopers. Schneider responded by saying that there are no storm troopers in heaven. For three years he continued to speak in Christ’s name. Finally, the Gestapo arrested him and sent him to prison camp where each morning they tried to force him to salute the swastika and pledge allegiance to Hitler. He was tortured and cast into solitary confinement, where he preached as loudly as he could from his cell. The SS officers would beat him senseless each time. Finally, he was given a Strophanthin injection which abruptly ended his preaching and his life.

He chose the only righteous path open to him. He did the right thing and died for it.

Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

Extreme Example

COLOMBIA: CHET BITTERMAN

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1

The hooded and armed guerillas, members of the Marxist revolutionary group known as M-19, tied up the twelve adults and five children who were present in the Wycliffe Bible Translators headquarters in Bogota, Colombia. “Where is your director? Where is Al Wheeler?” the leader shouted into the face of one of the secretaries. “We want Wheeler!”

“Don’t hurt her,” came a quick reply. “Wheeler is not here.”

The Marxist bristled as if to hit him, then reconsidered. “All right, we’ll just take you instead. Let’s go!”

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Chet Bitterman is one of those honored on The Martyrs' Wall at VOM's Ministry Center in Bartlesville, OK.

Their demands arrived several days later. “If your organization does not leave Colombia by February 19, we will execute our prisoner.” The guerillas even called President Reagan and demanded that their manifesto be published in the New York Times and the Washington Post or Mr. Chet Bitterman would die.

As the date approached, prayer chains were formed. A tape was received at a local radio station confirming that Chet had been witnessing to the guerillas. His wife, Brenda, received a letter requesting a Spanish Bible.

Chet reached his goal in life-to broadcast the gospel wherever it was needed. Chet’s body was eventually left on an abandoned bus by the terrorists. Colombians, along with Christians all across America, commemorated his death by stepping forward to fill the gap left by Chet. The following year, applications to serve with Wycliffe Bible Translators doubled.

Leading by example is a popular executive training principle. A company’s priorities ought to be modeled by the highest level of staff. When it comes to Christianity, leading by example is equally important. In fact, Jesus commanded it. He demonstrated how Christian leaders must model the faith for other believers to follow. He didn’t just give us his teachings-he lived them. How many of us are willing to live out a standard of radical obedience to Christ? If we are, we won’t control our own destinies. We will be an example to others as we follow the example of Christ. Who is observing your life today? What are they learning from your example about how closely you follow Christ? 

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.

Murderers Set Free in Turkey

This week I received an email from a Christian contact in Turkey. He shared the news that, under authority of a new Turkish law, the five men who murdered three Christians in 2007 were being set free. Their court case has dragged on and on and on, and the new law says that if a court verdict is not reached within five years, the accused should be set free until the verdict is reached.

Malataya men[8]
The story of the deaths of my three brothers— Necati Aydın, Uğur Yüksel and German national Tilmann Geske—is a story that has gripped me deeply. Seven weeks after the murders I went to Turkey, where I met the widows of the two married martyrs, as well as the fiancé of the third man. I listened in awe as these ladies told me how God had enabled them to forgive the young men who brutally killed their husbands.

The young men were captured at the scene of the crime. They had notes in their pockets that they were defending their nation and their religion, Islam. There really isn’t much question as to their guilt or innocence. The questions that have arisen in the trial have much more to do with who put the men up to the killing. Did they act on their own, or were their powerful men behind the scenes that ordered the killing?

According to my contact, another new law in Turkey raises the possibility that the Malatya murder case will be assigned to a completely new court, which would mean starting the trial over and maybe many more years before a final verdict is rendered.

Christians in Turkey are understandably frustrated. They see the freedom of these men as a clear signal that they are not safe in their own country, that their government will not protect them and will not punish those who harm them.

Yet their hope does not rest in the Turkish government, or any other worldly power. Their hope, as the song says, is “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Whatever the court or the government may do, the foundation for these Christians is secure.

When I met Susanne Geske, widow of Tilmann, she told me that her young daughter had asked when they would go to see the men that killed her father. She wanted to take a Bible to them, in the jail, in the hope that someday they might be reunited with Tilmann and the other men—in heaven. Will you join me and the families of these courageous martyrs in that prayer, that—whether in jail or not—these five men will come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord?

For further information on this case, read Faithful Until Death by Wolfgang Haede. You can also watch a video interview with Haede and Semse Aydin, his sister-in-law and the widow of Necati Aydin.

Todd Nettleton has served the persecuted church and VOM 15 years. He has been interviewed more than 2000 times by various media outlets. He's the author of Restricted Nations: North Korea, and served on the writing team for FOXE, Extreme Devotion, Hearts of Fire and other VOM books.