International (MNN) — On June 29, Voice of the Martyrs and other organizations recognized the first-ever Day of the Christian Martyr. The teams involved in this project hope that churches around the world will begin regularly adding it to their calendar.
But what is it in the first place? According to Todd Nettleton of Voice of the Martyrs USA, “it’s a day to honor the example and honor the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for Christ, as well as, hopefully, sort of spend some time in self-reflection.”
Nettleton hopes the day will drive people to engage in deep reflection and prayer. He wants Christians to ask questions like “What would I give up? What would I sacrifice to see God’s kingdom advanced, to see the gospel preached?”
Since the birth of the Church, Christians have undergone persecution, and this new day hopes to shed light on their plight by recognizing both ancient and modern martyrs. After all, June 29 is the anniversary of the apostle Paul’s execution, while the day was used to recognize a more recent tragedy.
Remembering the Groenewalds
“One of the things we did was add some names to the Martyrs Memorial at our headquarters,” Nettleton explains. “We added the names of the Groenewald family that was martyred in Afghanistan in 2014, and it was really a good day of honoring their memory.”
The Groenewalds were serving in Afghanistan when Taliban insurgents launched an assault on their compound. Werner Groenewald and his children, Jean-Pierre (17) and Rode (15), were shot and killed by the insurgents. Only mother and wife Dr. Hannelie Groenewald, who was working at a nearby medical clinic at the time of the attack, survived.
“They knew it was dangerous, they knew they could be killed, and yet when God called they said, ‘Ok, we’ll go,’ and they went, they served there for more than 10 years, had really an amazing ministry there to the Afghan people, and ultimately, three members of the family did give their lives,” Nettleton says. “We think that’s worth having a day on the calendar to think about that, to reflect on that, and to honor their sacrifice.
Stories like theirs are what drove Nettleton and others to institute this day of recognition in the first place.
“We hope it will become a day that is on the church calendar and doesn’t get buried. We hope it will rise to the top as people really understand the power of the example of the martyrs.”
Day of the Christian Martyr might only be celebrated one day every year, but the gravity of giving everything for ministry is painfully and daily on the minds of some survivors.
“In the case of the Groenewald family, Hannelie, the wife and the mom of the husband and two teenage children that were killed, she’s still alive, she’s still going on in ministry, she’s still serving the Lord, but I’m certain that she still misses her family, so we can pray for those left behind as the martyrs made that ultimate sacrifice that God will sustain them and comfort them and open doors for ministry for them.”
Header photo courtesy of Voice of the Martyrs USA