The word, "martyr," comes from the Greek (martus) meaning "a witness." The word has multiple meanings in the New Testament:
- One bearing witness in a court of justice (Matthew 18:16, 26:65; Acts 6:13, 7:58; Hebrews 10:28; 1 Timothy 5:19)
- One bearing testimony to the truth of what he has seen or known (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8,22; Romans 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:5,10; 1 John 1:2)
- One who bears witness of the truth and suffers even to the point of death in the cause of Christ (Acts 22:20, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 17:6)
By the end of the 1st century, the term referred to those who were witnesses to the faithfulness of God and their commitment to Him by choosing to suffer death rather than deny Christ or His work, sacrificing in order to further the Kingdom of God, and enduring great suffering for their Christian witness and/or identity.
John Pobee in his book, Persecution and Martyrdom in the Theology of Paul, notes that a biblical martyr was characterized by three things:
1. Suffering, whether it issues in death or not
2. His suffering is seen as a witness to his zeal for or devotion to God
3. His devotion is rooted in a conviction about the sovereign omnipotence and transcendence of God
Persecution in the Bible ranges from mildly hostile to intensely hostile actions. These actions can include ridicule, restriction, certain kinds of harassment, discrimination, torture, imprisonment, ostracism or death (see Matthew 6:11-12, Luke 6:22; 2 Corinthians 11:23-29; James 1:2 and others).
From a biblical perspective, persecution encompasses actions spanning the full range of hostility and can be violent, physical, psychological or social. We cannot define persecution strictly on the basis of the level of harm it might cause or the level of hostility in which it occurs. To do so would be inconsistent with scripture. The issue that missions like VOM must consider is this: At what point on this spectrum do we see our involvement as necessary?
Persecution need not involve violence, although it may. This is not to say that all persecution should be treated as equally grievous. Nor is all persecution a violation of our basic rights as a human being. To be despised, hated and ridiculed is not a violation of one's rights, as unpleasant and unjust as these things are.
Understanding persecution in a biblical sense helps to include the Western Christian's experience in what it means to follow Jesus. Understanding persecution as only including violent acts often leads us to conclude that Western Christians are never persecuted. Understanding persecution to include a wider spectrum of hostility makes it obvious that even Western Christians can and will experience persecution if they faithfully follow Christ, even if it is of a milder degree. The biblical passages on persecution then can become more meaningful for us, and we can properly apply them to our present situation.
For example, the various biblical texts that speak of rewards to those who were faithful in the face of persecution may seem out of reach to us if we understand persecution primarily as suffering violence for Jesus. With little opportunity to suffer in this way, how are we ever to receive these rewards? Understanding persecution in a broader sense makes these promises more applicable to us and should motivate us to greater faithfulness to God in the midst of our own situation.
CLICK HERE for further research studies on persecution issues.
The Voice of the Martyrs is an interdenominational organization working with Christians around the world being persecuted for their faith in Christ. We have multiple offices around the world with staff members from many different denominations, all working with the common goal of helping the suffering Church.
VOM in Canada is part of a worldwide family of missions that was started through the influence of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. This family of missions is collectively called the International Christian Association (ICA). The missions are bound together by common purposes and cooperate in projects around the world. This does not mean every mission has the same programs and resources. Each mission is independent, self-supporting and self-governing, but we do work closely together in many areas, and our executives meet together annually to share vision and ministry outcomes.
CLICK HERE to read our statement of faith.
VOM completed projects to help persecuted Christians in 33 nations during 2011, including two countries where Christians are rebuilding after Communist oppression.
Pastor Wurmbrand died on February 17, 2001. His wife, Sabina, died on August 11, 2000. VOM continues to carry out the vision of this dynamic couple, and we thank God for the legacy that they have left us.
Oftentimes a particular individual or family mentioned in our monthly newsletter is already receiving or has received assistance from VOM. Your gifts help replenish several special funds that we use to provide this assistance. It's not always safe or possible for us to publicize that we are assisting a particular individual or family. In many persecuted countries, receiving funds from abroad could place our brothers and sisters in the path of greater persecution.
Additionally, not all persecuted Christians need or want our financial help, as money is not the answer to every problem. Receiving funds from abroad may cause division in families, communities and churches. It can also create unhealthy dependency on outside assistance that would hinder their ability to meet their own needs. We listen carefully to what our partners tell us in such cases and follow their direction.
Download a PDF of our Prisoners' List and letter-writing guide "Doing Time for God" or contact our office to receive a copy in the mail. The packet provides names of imprisoned Christians and their prison addresses along with sample letters. CLICK HERE to download.
You can also visit www.prisoneralert.com, a VOM website that focuses on imprisoned Christians. Click on "Write an encouraging letter" and follow the instructions to compose your letter from the prescribed phrases and Scripture verses. The site will translate your letter into the language of the prisoner for you to print out, and then you can mail it to the provided address.
- Write a short, clear message.
- Be polite. Remember you are representing Jesus Christ.
- State your general concern for persecuted believers.
- Cite some specific facts in your letter, such as names, arrest dates or specific prisons.
- Do NOT write about politics or the government.
- Do NOT mention The Voice of the Martyrs.
Here are some examples of the kinds of things some people have written in the past:
Dear Sir: We are thankful that your law in Vietnam allows freedom of religion. However, we heard that a man named __________ was put in the prison at ____________. We are concerned about this and about his welfare. We are praying for this man, and for your country. Please give your attention to this matter. Thank you very much.
To Whom It May Concern: Last month, ____________, a Christian from [city], was arrested and charged with [the charge]. He was given a [length of sentence] prison sentence. This person is not a criminal; he is simply a Christian trying to follow God's word. Please release him immediately. Thank you.
Dear Sir: Last year, __________ was arrested for __________. The story of this case has been circulated around the world and thousands of Christians know about it. We are praying for him. Please release him immediately, and drop charges. We are praying for you as a leading spokesman for your country.
For further instruction, CLICK HERE to download a PDF of our Prisoners' List and letter-writing guide "Doing Time for God," or contact our office to receive a copy in the mail.
Petitions, emails, letters and telegrams show officials that there are people who know and care about what happens to persecuted Christians inside their countries. Some conditions may be improved as a result. In some cases, we have seen prisoners released early after their case received international attention. If the authorities think no one cares, the Christians receive more harassment. Do not underestimate the power of your letter.
Because of the nature of our work, people served by VOM cannot always be contacted by people in other nations. In some nations, Christians don't even have mailboxes. In some closed countries, it is often dangerous for people to receive mail from Christians in another country. They may be persecuted when officials screen the letters. In nations where Christians are often very poor, it can take two days' work in the fields to earn enough money to buy one postage stamp. Consider, instead, sending a letter to a prisoner to encourage him/her in their faith or writing to government officials on their behalf.
It is impossible to know with absolute certainty the exact number of Christians killed for their faith each year. However, according to the World Evangelical Alliance, more than 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.
Much of today's persecution still takes place in remote areas of countries often cut off from or with restricted access to modern communications. Most martyrs suffer and die anonymously—unknown and forgotten—their deaths unrecorded except in heaven. What is reported often occurs weeks, months and even years after the fact. Persecution is often such a part of life that it hardly dawns on the afflicted to tell the world. Even then, many are nervous about sharing what they know for fear of retribution.
While various organizations have attempted to quantify the number of Christians killed, VOM instead focuses on the people involved, sharing faces and stories, not figures.
There are a number of reasons why Western Christians remain silent about the persecution of Christians worldwide. One reason is a strict adherence to Paul's words in Romans 13 about obeying authority without considering the situations of persecution found in the Book of Acts and the mandate of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. Another reason is related to a church's focus, be it on outreach to its local community or something else.
One common reason why many churches rarely or never talk about persecution is because no one has ever told them. You can be a part of changing this. Consider being a VOM Church Representative or a VOM Ambassador. By becoming a VOM volunteer, you become part of our missions team, receiving training and support in order to become am effective voice for the persecuted Church. Through our newsletter, website, the Persecution & Prayer Alert, conferences and special speakers, you can introduce your church to the reality of Christian persecution in today's world and invite them to fellowship with this important part of Christ's Body. CLICK HERE to find out more about becoming a volunteer.
VOM does not send out missionaries (short-term or long-term) from Canada to restricted nations. We work primarily with the indigenous church that is already actively witnessing for Christ in its own nation.
There are many ways you can be involved in your church and community. Here are some ideas:
- Sign up to receive The Voice of the Martyrs' FREE monthly newsletter so that you can be more informed and pray more effectively for persecuted Christians. CLICK HERE to sign up.
- Host a periodic prayer meeting on behalf of the persecuted Church.
- Write to imprisoned Christians. You can do this on your own or with a group. Download a PDF of our Prisoners' List and letter-writing guide "Doing Time for God." CLICK HERE to download.
- Distribute VOM newsletters to members of your church.
- Tell your Christian friends about the free VOM newsletter and encourage them to sign up.
- Maintain an ongoing VOM display in your church to encourage others to pray for and fellowship with persecuted Christians.
- Show a VOM DVD to your congregation, Sunday school class or Bible study. CLICK HERE to see our resource catalogue.
- Invite a VOM speaker to your church. CLICK HERE to request a speaker.
- Use VOM material for a vacation Bible school.
- Watch a video at www.persecution.tv about persecuted believers living in restricted nations. Share the link with your family and friends via email, Facebook or Twitter.
- Consider being a volunteer spokesperson for VOM in your area. CLICK HERE for more information.
We always need volunteers who are willing to come to Mississauga for a day or two, a week, a year or anything in between. Please call 1-888-298-6423 or email the volunteer coordinator to explore volunteer opportunities.
To receive a weekly e-mail with specific prayer requests, CLICK HERE to register your name and email address. Each week you will receive a Persecution & Prayer Alert with specific situations to pray for. To view prayer requests for a specific country, click the "Restricted Nations" tab, and select the country of your choice.
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VOM has several special funds that provide aid and resources to persecuted Christians worldwide. Click the "Give" tab at the top of this page to explore the different areas to which you can give. You may give online, by mail or by calling our office at 1-888-298-6423. You may also give regular contributions via your checking account, credit card or debit card. If you are interested, please contact us by phone at 1-888-298-6423.
Needs around the world are constantly changing. Please read our newsletter and updates on www.persecution.net to keep up with the needs. The greatest need is for prayer. It is prayer that changes things and moves the heart of God, and it is prayer that our persecuted brothers and sisters ask for before they ask for anything else.
Chinese church life is best represented in two forms: (1) registered churches that are recognized by the government, generally belonging to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and (2) house churches that do not submit to government regulations and restrictions.
Registering a congregation in China is not the same as registering in Canada in order to issue tax receipts. Registering in China means asking the Chinese government for the right to exist—a right that no human institution possesses.
Registered churches in China generally must accept the following restrictions:
- They can only meet at designated times, in designated places, with designated leadership.
- The teaching of children and youth under the age of 18 in the church is generally prohibited.
- It is illegal to evangelize outside the walls of the church.
- It is illegal to use or possess Christian literature not published in China and approved by the Chinese government.
- The Chinese government has a say in who is selected to serve as pastors and leaders.
Many Christians in China refuse to submit to these restrictions. VOM supports them in this conviction.