International (MNN) –Twen Theodros has been imprisoned in Eritrea for 5,105 days. Abraham Ben Moses has been in jail for 92 days in Indonesia. Asia Bibi has been held for 3,182 days in Pakistan. These are just a few of the Christians who are currently imprisoned for their faith. And their stories echo those of countless Christians from centuries past.
The Voice of the Martyrs is committed to supporting believers like this. But, as they walk alongside the persecuted, they also share the stories of these believers to draw the greater Body of Christ into action and solidarity.
50 years of supporting the Persecuted Church
In fact, Voice of the Martyrs was born out of a persecution story.
Todd Nettleton of the Voice of the Martyrs USA says, “We are at Voice of the Martyrs celebrating our 50th anniversary as a ministry. Our founders, Pastor Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, have an amazing story of faithfulness.”
And it’s this story that they’ve shared in the new “Tortured for Christ” movie alongside the book.
“Richard was in prison for 14 years. Sabina was held for three years, part of that time in a labor camp, building the Danube Canal. Richard was in solitary confinement for three solid years.
“So, you think about the worst human suffering, yes they went through that. But then you think about the highest spiritual value of even in that suffering, being a witness for Christ. They did that too. They lived out the Gospel. They loved the people who were persecuting them.”
Eventually, the two would go on to start the ministry.
The movie came out yesterday in hundreds of theaters around the country. You can check and see where it’s playing near you.
A response to the stories of Persecution
“Our goal in all of this, and I think the end result is, as a Christian you watch this film, you read this book, and you say ‘OK, what would I do?’”
What would happen if it became illegal to attend worship services? If you were told you couldn’t own a Bible or share your faith? If you were told you had to convert to a different religion or die?
Until we’re facing such a dilemma, we can’t really say how we would respond. But, this unknown should drive us first to prayer, Nettleton says. We can pray for courage and strength and for God to help us respond in a way that honors him should we also face persecution.
Secondly, these troubling questions can lead us to search Scripture.
“What does the Bible say about persecution? It talks a lot about persecution; it’s got a lot to say.”
Nettleton believes that when we prayerfully work through these kinds of questions, all events in our lives will only serve to strengthen our faith and make us more like Jesus.
A glimpse of “Tortured for Christ”
Nettleton shared a scene from the movie that, while just a sliver of Wurmbrand’s story, reveals his strength of faith and dedication to serving the Lord.
In 1945, the Communist government of Romania called together a meeting to discuss the intersection of communism and Christianity.
“What they did is they invited all the different religious leaders to come together and they had this ‘Congress of the Cults.’ The honorary chairman was Joseph Stalin.”
The point of this meeting was to discuss how communism and Christianity could be compatible. However, the very nature of the discussion sought to persuade believers to sacrifice their undivided unity to Christ.
Wurmbrand and his wife attended the congress as local representatives with the World Council of Churches. To their horror, many of the religious leaders praised the union of Christianity and communism, even declaring their loyalty and desire to be good communists.
“Sabina looked at Richard sitting together and said, ‘You need to go up there and wipe this shame off the face of Christ.’ And Richard looked at her for a long moment and said, ‘If I do that, you’re not going to have a husband anymore.’ And Sabina looked at him and said, ‘I don’t want to have a coward for a husband.’”
And so, Wurmbrand asked for a moment to speak in front of the crowd. His request was eagerly granted because the communist leaders assumed he would be supporting their agenda. But they were so wrong.
Nettleton continues, “He went to the front and began to say ‘Our first loyalty as followers of Christ is to Christ, not the Communist party. What are you doing, praising the people who are locking our brothers and sisters in prison?’
“They cut the power to the microphone, they chased Richard off the stage, and from that moment on it was only a matter of time before he went to prison.”
Nettleton talks about this scene as a great example of Wurmbrand’s willingness to stand up for Christ, even when it was costly. Additionally, he says it shows the unity between him and Sabina and their desire as a married couple to serve the Lord without faltering.
The couple had come from a background of Judaism and atheism. They were so in love with Jesus for saving them from emptiness, and this led to their fervent servitude.
“One of their prayers was ‘Lord, please, if it be your will, allow us to carry a cross for you.’”
And God answered this unusual request.
“They certainly bore a cross, but they bore it so well and so honorably. And that’s why … they started the Voice of the Martyrs and here we are 50 years later celebrating their legacy and celebrating their faithfulness.”
Persecution leads to unity
The Wurmbrand’s story has led to a vibrant ministry that reflects the depth behind the Bible’s study of persecution. Matthew 5:10 says those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed with the promise of the Kingdom of heaven. But there is another blessing that comes from persecution that is realized right here on earth: unity among the Church.
“One of the great blessings of persecution is it tears down all those walls of denominationalism … all that goes away if they’re locking people in prison for being a Christian. And so, that unity is one of the blessings that comes from persecution. And we get to see it first-hand at Voice of the Martyrs as we go into these countries and interview these believers and then hopefully bring that back and share that so that it spreads in the American Church as well because that’s something we need more of, is unity and a sense of shared purpose within the Church—within the wider Body of Christ here in the United States.”
Header photo public domain via Wikimedia Commons.