In the 1840’s, leprosy began to spread in Hawaii. In order to curb the spread of the disease, leprosy patients were sent into forced quarantine at Kalawao on Molokaii island. The first patients were sent in 1866, with about 8,000 more to follow over the next 103 years. In 1873, Father Damien felt a conviction to show the love of Christ to the people who lived there. Where prior missionaries would not dare to touch the infected, Father Damien went beyond and embraced them; he taught them to farm, play instruments and they viewed him as a father figure. One day, after approximately 12 years of ministry, he accidentally spilt boiling water on his leg and had a disturbing realisation that he felt no pain, for he had himself contracted leprosy. His usual custom at each church service was to ascend the pulpit with the address “my fellow believers”, but this time would be different for he addressed them “my fellow lepers”.
What is beautiful about this story is the fact that Father Damien not only helped the lepers but demonstrated the humility of Jesus Christ by becoming one of them – this is the Gospel story. Philippians 2:5-7 (NKJV) Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.
It is easy to address persecuted believers with grand titles such as ‘our brothers and sisters’. When we examine our lives however, sometimes we do not live as familiar ‘brothers and sisters’ but as ones estranged; while they are willing to share the Gospel and die for it, we can sometimes shy away from the Gospel and live as its enemies.
Richard Wurmbrand stated, “Not all of us are called to die a martyr’s death, but all of us are called to have the same spirit of self-sacrifice and love to the very end as these martyrs had.”
This is a challenging statement though it is not unfounded in Scripture. In Acts 1:8 (NKJV), we are told: But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
The word witnesses here is derived from a Greek word which means martyr. To be a witness of Christ is in one sense, to be a martyr for Christ.
Challenge for this month: Are you a fellow martyr for Christ along with our brothers and sisters? If you are like me and lack in this area, now is a good time to repent before God and ask Him to develop a love for neighbours, family, friends and strangers who will perish if they do not hear or see the Gospel in our lives.