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 travelled to Bangladesh to collect new stories to share with our readers. 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 western 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 Number 8 on the list for living a bold Christian life, sharing the Gospel and baptising 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 Voice of the Martyrs is to tell the stories of our persecuted brothers and sisters standing firm in their faith in the 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 church, to live a better faith story by hearing those of our persecuted family members. After reading how they’ve overcome fears to stand for 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 writes for VOM USA.
A Muslim mob looted and torched Christian property and homes in Al-Beida village, Egypt on 17 June, after rumours spread of a Christian-owned building being turned into a local church.
More than 80 Christian families were affected by the attack last Friday, leaving hundreds afraid and without a place to conduct their Christian worship.
Christian residents of Al-Beida do not have a local church building. In fact, they are forced to worship at the Holy Virgin and the Archangel Michael Coptic Orthodox Church, which is seven kilometres away. The presumed church construction was actually the construction of a home for a local, Naim Aziz.
The angry mob attacked the building and destroyed all of the construction materials. They then attacked Naim and his brother, Mousa, leaving both men injured. After this, the mob turned their wrath on the Christian homes adjacent to the building, hurling rocks, looting houses and setting fire to any Christian property in their wake. The damages are estimated to be around 500,000 Egyptian pounds (approximately $75,000).
When police arrived on the scene they were unable to protect the Christians from the ongoing assaults. The Muslim mob continued to set homes and cars on fire in the presence of the police, unabated. The mob terrorised residents by gathering outside of Christian doors to perform their afternoon prayers on loudspeakers aimed at the houses, all in the presence of the security forces.
In the end, police arrested six Muslim men, all of whom were released by that evening, and six Christian men, who were released on bail the following day. The police station in Amirya charged the Christian men with erecting a building without permit and holding prayers without permission.
Source: International Christian Concern
- Ask the Lord to bring justice to these people who suffered injury and loss so that those who were responsible for the strife will be held accountable. Ask the Lord to intervene in the case of the Christians who were charged.
- Pray to the Lord, our great healer and our provider; ask Him to restore health and courage as well as homes and livelihoods.
- Pray these Christians will not be timid about their faith but be all the more determined to meet together to encourage each other. Pray the witness of these Christians may be used by the Lord to bring many to Christ.
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The founder of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, Western Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighbouring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
- Pray for Islamic Extremists and those they Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorised.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience ‘Saul-to-Paul’ transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when IS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an IS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in the West was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members.
- Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When IS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or ‘N,’ on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Koran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
- Stand with our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. We serve the persecuted church through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by IS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On 13 April 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Dr Jason Peters works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
With the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) in 2014, and many terrorist killings each year, it can be easy to focus on the negative. Instead, several Iranian Christian leaders worked together to share eight reasons why Muslims, particularly in Iran, are being drawn to Christianity more than ever before.
1) Wherever political Islam enters the stage, Muslims are drawn to Christ.
The healthiest governments are often those where religion and politics are kept separate, and the most corrupt governments are usually those where religion and politics are mixed together. Wherever religion takes on a political dimension, it results in a religious dictatorship and people are deprived of democracy, permissible freedoms and choice. The rulers end up making all the decisions. We see it today in countries like Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia as well as others where religion and politics are intertwined. This has laid the groundwork for people to take refuge in Christ.
2) Disasters and tragedies can help lead Muslims to Christ.
History has shown that disasters, wars, fleeing refugees, earthquakes, famines, illness, terror and persecution prepares people to be ready to hear the Gospel of Christ. The Bible says, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). Usually in the face of disaster and national calamities, it is Christian charities who offer assistance to those facing such disasters. Many refugees who have lived for years in some of the most difficult circumstances with no help from the government or United Nations have responded positively to the Gospel, especially in places like Iran and Afghanistan.
3) Refugees are meeting believers and hearing the Gospel.
Many who have left their home country as emigrants or refugees, especially from Iran, have come in contact with Christians and been drawn to Christ. Since the Islamic Revolution in Iran, approximately six million Iranians have moved to other countries as either immigrants or refugees over the past 36 years. Many Iranians also travel as visitors to other countries before returning home. Wherever they go, be it Europe, the United States, or neighbouring countries, they usually meet up with Iranian believers and become acquainted with the message of the Gospel. This has resulted in a tremendous growth of Iranian believers, and this has impacted their friends and families in Iran. This can be said of other groups as well, and the number of Afghan believers is increasing rapidly as well.
4) Miracles, healings and answers to prayer are drawing many to Christ.
Miracles, healings and answers to prayer though Christ is another way of drawing Muslims to Christ. Muslims, who have some knowledge of the Koran, believe that no prophet did as many miracles as Jesus did. There are many stories and testimonies, especially among Iranians who have been drawn to Christ in this way. In fact the miraculous work of God in Iran is so great that there is no other country that is experiencing it on this scale. In the same way, through visions and dreams, God is revealing Himself and the truth of the Gospel. There are many Muslim converts in Iran who are not connected to any house church or Christian leader. It seems that the Lord does not give knowledge of all of these believers to us or other groups working among the house churches because we could not cope with the response. When we are ready, then God will gradually introduce them to us in his time.
5) Blossoming of cultural identity and knowledge spreads the Gospel.
This blossoming of cultural identity and the knowledge of other ethnic groups has also helped to draw Muslims to Christ. Our century is a technological one based around the internet. People from different cultures and countries are getting to know each other. We live in an age of communication where people are no longer restricted to one way of thinking or one particular ethnic group. One positive aspect of this is that many Muslims, despite the controls over the means of communication, find a way through various websites to become acquainted with the message, culture and ways of thinking of Christians and also with the personality of Christ. If someone wants to find Christ, that person will find a way.
Concerning Iranian people, the culture, customs and thinking of Iranians is vastly different from those of Islam and Arabic backgrounds. In the Iranian history of civilisation, there are poets and writers who express themes of love, freedom, forgiveness, truth, equality and justice throughout their literary works; truths that are found more in Christianity rather than Islam. People inside Iran today face pressure, lies, violence, discrimination and hate. Since the Islamic Revolution, 80% of the population are disillusioned and tired. They are searching for the God who is love and just and where there is salvation, equality, truth and freedom, and this God can only be found in Christ. It is for this reason that when Iranians hear the Gospel, they respond positively. And again it is for this reason that the Iranian government has forbidden the printing, distribution and sharing of the Gospel and even announced that it is dangerous. They spend all their efforts on closing down the evangelical churches and the production of Christian resources in the Persian language. However, Paul reminds us that no one can prevent the spread of the Gospel. Praise the Lord!
6) Radio and satellite television allow many to hear Christian broadcasts.
It is clear that radio and satellite television has a vital role in helping Muslims to get to know the Gospel. Fortunately, the number of Christian radio and TV channels in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and Persian related languages are many and are on the increase. Some of these channels are 24/7 and in fact, as far as Persian is concerned, there are now four 24/7 channels. There are millions of viewers both inside and outside Iran. Iranian preachers and teachers are doing all they can to produce good quality programming. In addition to these channels, other preachers have Christian programs on some of the political channels as well. There has never been such an opportunity for Muslims to hear the Gospel, especially in view of all the restrictions that exist in Iran. The effectiveness of all these programs bringing the Gospel into people’s homes is seen through the many testimonies that exist.
7) Churches around the world sending workers into the Muslim World.
Churches throughout the world are involved in sending missionaries and workers into the Muslim World. In spite of the fact that many governments have restricted access to such workers by not granting residence or visas, we are aware of many tent workers, teachers and medical personnel who have entered the Muslim World. They have sacrificially learned the culture, customs and language in order to spread the Gospel. Workers are not exclusively from the West, and many entering the Muslim World are from countries in South America and even from countries in the Far East such as China, Japan and South Korea. There are many organisations that are supporting them to fulfil the commission to preach the Gospel. Furthermore, there are many workers who cannot travel to these countries, but operate behind the scenes to help those on the front lines. In this way, the work will not stop.
8) God is exposing the truth and reality of Islam.
As God has exposed the reality of Islam, this in turn has led to many Muslims becoming disillusioned with Islam and being drawn to Christ. In fact the best way of exposing Islam is when the extremists take over. Even while it is true that moderate Muslims say that what is happening is not connected with Islam, many Muslims are realising that Islam has its roots in terror. In any country where Islam develops, so also violence, terror, rape, compulsion, lies and dictatorship increases.
In the history of Iran there has never been an ‘evangelist’ such as Khomeini who has helped people to know what Islam is really all about and therefore has prepared the way for Christ in the same way as John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ. A new building cannot be built on an old foundation. The old has to be demolished so that a new foundation can be built. God is allowing Muslim leaders to destroy the old Islamic foundation so that a new Christian foundation can be built. The situation in Iran today is that Islam is weakening and therefore we must use every opportunity and every method to enable people to hear the Gospel.
Dory P is a writer for The Voice of the Martyrs USA
After ‘Musa’ told his sister about Jesus, his father threatened to kill him and kicked him out of their home.
Musa, who grew up Muslim, came to faith in Christ several years ago without his family’s knowledge. Since then, he has often talked to his sister about Christ’s love, and his parents recently found out. “If you do not leave this home, I will slaughter you,” his father told him. “And if you do not take all your things, I will burn them.”
Musa hopes to continue his evangelistic efforts in his home area. A VOM partner has found an apartment where he can live, and VOM is helping cover the cost. Our partner asks for prayers for his safety. “This man faced a lot of attacks from Satan recently, and he is still steady in his faith,” the partner said.
Source: The Voice of the Martyrs USA
- Thank the Lord for Musa’s faithfulness; pray he may not be fearful but may be used mightily by the Lord as a witness for the Gospel.
- Pray for the Lord’s spiritual protection over Musa.
- Pray the Lord will honour Musa’s conversations with his sister so that she too may come to know Him. Pray also for Musa’s parents.
WEST BANK: Pray for Mahir, Sharing the Gospel