I am bewildered to think that 64% of the 70 million Christians who have been martyred in the history of our faith have died in the 20th and 21st century. Forty five million Christian martyrs is hard to comprehend, but we have some comparisons:
- The total population of Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey combined – nearly half the east coast.
- The total of civilian casualties from World War II.
- Nearly double the total deaths from the AIDS pandemic since its discovery in 1981.
Though I can hardly begin to comprehend 45 million people, I am able to grasp the number five. Five is the number of family members that Songhwa and her two daughters, Grace and Jinhye, have lost because of the repressive North Korean regime. I met these women recently and had the opportunity to hear their story of hunger, suffering, torture, and death amidst their search for Christ and life. In a matter of ten years, these women lost a grandmother, two brothers, a sister, and a father, along the way discovering a profound faith in Jesus as He guided them through a dangerous and difficult escape from this repressive nation to eventual safety and freedom in the United States.
They risked it all to find a means to a life of freedom and provision, and God blessed them for their faithfulness to Him. They had heard bits and pieces of God and the Gospel of Christ through other Christians hidden in North Korea, but had never heard a sermon, read the Bible, or openly aired their questions of faith – but their mustard seed sized knowledge gave them enough faith to move mountains in the face of persecution. I was humbled to meet them and left with a heavy heart for those in North Korea and across the world who thirst to know more about God yet are not able to quench that thirst because others prevent them from doing so.
Responding to Persecution
Some of us hear of this sort of persecution and are emboldened to fight back and seek to end such cruelty. Others of us encounter stories of martyrs and recall Paul’s admonition to the church in Philippi to bear under such persecution, saying “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” We see persecution as a privilege and opportunity to suffer in the footsteps of our Savior. We recall that Christianity has spread like wildfire primarily when it is opposed by the ruling forces.
Whether we fight against persecution, or see it as opportunity for growth in faith, we must always remember that our words and actions have tremendous impact, not only in the lives of the persecuted, but also in those who are committing atrocious acts against followers of Christ.
How we advocate for change and how we admonish the acts of others will show to a watching world what sort of disciples of Christ we truly are. We must always remember that Jesus called us to love, to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I believe that we must fight ardently against the horrific acts taking place across the globe in the name of religious intolerance. We have the freedom to speak and worship as we please, and the knowledge and connections to mobilize resources on behalf of others – and we cannot sit idly by as others are beheaded, burned at the stake, tortured, imprisoned, and forced to live lives of hunger, oppression, and marginalization because a ruling majority has deemed them less worthy.
But we must maintain a balanced understanding that our fight will never be over, and we must continue to act wisely and lovingly. As Christians, we cannot allow our desire for revenge and retribution to determine our course of action. Christ has ultimately paid the price for the sin of the world, and that includes the sin of Christian persecutors. Now we are called to live out this good news amidst those who seek to abolish it, and I pray that we will each day be successful in doing so.
Advocacy Officer and Regional Manager of Southeast Asia