Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy
The women and children clung to each other, sobbing convulsively as they watched in horror. This time it was almost a thousand men. Who knew how many it was the last time. Husbands, fathers, brothers—all sick and weakened from abuse—were now being herded and prodded like cattle into freight cars to take a journey from which they would never return.
What had they done to warrant such treatment? They had committed their lives to their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Soviet Union, that was all it took. Unfortunately, the Soviet Union is not the only country that has tortured and killed men and women for their faith in Jesus during the 20th century. Indeed, the blood of Christians has been spilled across the pages of history around the world in solemn testimony to the total depravity of mankind—even in modern times.
According to the back cover of James and Marti Hefley’s excellent book, By Their Blood (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1996, used by permission), “More Christians have been martyred in our century than during all the other eras of church history combined.”
They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented (of whom the world was not worthy) (Heb. 11:37–38).
Following is but a microscopic glimpse of what the faithful have suffered at the hands of mankind. Truly, they are those “Of whom the world was not worthy.”
In their fanatic devotion to their pagan religions, the Boxers branded Christianity “the religion of the foreign devils” and set out to exterminate it (Ibid., pp. 17–20). In the summer of 1900, they unleashed a torrent of violence that resulted in the brutal murder of 188 foreign missionaries and their children, as well as an untold number of Chinese Christians.
In Tsun-hu, 163 Chinese Methodists were martyred. One Chinese minister was forced into a pagan temple and tied to a pillar, where he preached all night to his friends as they begged him to renounce Christ. When morning came, more than a thousand people stormed the temple and literally ripped out his heart.
Two Chinese women teachers refused to recant. One was killed with a sword after her feet were cut off. The other was wrapped in cotton, soaked in kerosene, and burned alive. As she died, she shouted to her pupils to “keep the faith” (Ibid., p. 15).
When a Chinese pastor in Manchuria refused to deny Christ, men cut off his eyebrows, ears, and lips.
Stewart McKee, with China Inland Mission, tried to reason with about 300 Boxer sympathizers. They hacked him to pieces then set fire to his home, which sheltered his wife and their five children. Little Alice escaped, but in the morning someone found her and hacked her to death.
In Hsinchow district, Chao Hsi Mao and his family sang “He Leadeth Me” as they were driven in an open cart to their beheading. Their deaths followed on the heels of the martyrdom of eight English Baptist missionaries.
In Shouyang district, about 100 Chinese Christians were rounded up, many of them teenagers. Their captors drew a large circle around them with a cross in the center. To live, they merely had to deny Christ by stepping outside the circle. A few stepped out. The rest all died.
No Chinese Christian was safe. When the Boxers caught the highly esteemed Dr. Wang and begged him to recant so they could let him go, he replied, “Do you think I would let my child see his father deny his Savior? Kill me if you must, but I will not betray my Lord” (Ibid., p. 38). They killed him.
Yet the Chinese marveled at such courage. Sometimes, in search of the secret to Christian steadfastness, they cut the hearts from their victims. After examining them and finding nothing unusual, they would remark, “It was the medicine of the foreign devils” (Ibid., p. 39).
When peace and order finally returned, so did the missionaries. In 1931, Southern Presbyterian missionary Jack Vinson was captured and shot. Then someone ran up to him and beheaded him. Moody Bible Institute graduates John and Betty Stam were beheaded. When communism arrived, it unleashed yet another purge. Unfortunately, things are no better today, and the blood of martyrs continues to flow heavily in China.
Thousands upon thousands of German Christians died at the hands of Hitler, among them the brilliant Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran theologian from one of Germany’s finest families. Bonhoeffer deplored Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies, calling them a denial of the explicit teaching and spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Nazis moved to control the Lutheran church, Bonhoeffer formed his opposition, the “Confessing Church.” In 1937, the Nazis abandoned all connections to Christianity by ridiculing the divinity of Christ. Bonhoeffer traveled to England and the United States to warn the world. As concentration camps filled with Jews and dissenters, Bonhoeffer could not understand why the world was not alarmed. From 1936 to 1945, there was not a time when someone from his Confessing Church was not in prison.
Bonhoeffer fought Hitler, calling him the Antichrist, and began helping Jews escape to Switzerland. He was finally arrested in 1943. On Sunday, April 8, 1945, he preached to his fellow prisoners, using for texts Isaiah 53:5—“with his stripes we are healed”—and 1 Peter 1:3, concerning our hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. At 5 o’clock the next morning, he was marched to a place of execution and told to strip. He knelt to pray, and as he arose he was shot to death.
The Soviet Union
The communist government did not tolerate Christianity and deployed an arsenal of tortures perhaps unequaled since the time of Nero. Stalin in particular brutalized his people. As the Hefleys wrote, “Only eternity will reveal the depth and extent of suffering among evangelicals imprisoned by the Stalinist regime because they chose to obey God in matters of faith rather than men” (Ibid., p. 240).
Millions died. In village after village, people were rounded up and asked, “Are you with the godless [Marxists] or the believers?” The faithful were herded into cattle cars and shipped to Siberia, where they froze to death.
Peter Yakovlevich Vins, a minister of the gospel during the 1930s, was the first of three generations of his family to be imprisoned for Christ’s sake. His two-year-old son Georgi watched as his mother cut a gospel into pieces and sewed it into her husband’s clothes. Peter died in prison.
In 1966, Georgi followed in his father’s footsteps. He also went to prison and then to a “special regime” camp. In 1970, his mother Lydia went to prison for three years. In 1977, Georgi’s son Peter, named after Georgi’s martyred father, was arrested and severely beaten. “My way,” he told his tormentors, “is a special one. It is that of my grandfather, my father, my grandmother and my mother” (Ibid., p. 256).
Torture and persecution were common weapons in the Marxist war against Christianity. For example, during the 1960s a drunkard named Nikolai Khmara was gloriously saved. Eventually he was imprisoned. When his dead body was returned to his wife, she discovered that he had been stabbed in the stomach, severely beaten, and his tongue had been cut out.
In the 1970s, the coffin of Ivan (Vanya) Vasilevich arrived at his parents’ home welded shut. They were told that their son had drowned. After prying the coffin open with a crowbar, they saw their son, bruised and blackened from face to feet. Vanya had been stabbed, burned, beaten, and tortured to death because he had prayed and witnessed for Christ. The parents learned later that he had been forced to stand in the Russian cold for five days without food. When he still refused to be quiet about his faith, he was forced to stand for 12 straight nights in sub-zero weather. When he amazingly survived, he was beaten mercilessly. He could not be broken. “I have one higher allegiance,” he said, “and that is to Jesus Christ. He has given me certain orders and these I cannot disobey.” From there he was remanded to the KGB, which administered a “treatment” that ended his life (Ibid., p. 254). In 1981, Soviet psychiatrists began medical experiments on Christians to force them to deny their faith.
Between 1917 and 1953, 66 million people were imprisoned, of whom as many as half could have been Christian believers. In 1979, after eight years in prison, Georgi Vins was released and brought to the United States in a prisoners-for-spies exchange under President Jimmy Carter. In America, Georgi began publishing Prisoner Bulletin, to make known the plight of Christians in the Soviet Union. By 1988, after untold torture and death, all Christian prisoners were reported to be free. Georgi has since changed the name of his publication to The Russian Gospel Messenger.
Armenians have suffered unspeakable torture and death at the hands of their Turkish Muslim rulers. Although it is impossible to know how many were Christians, we do know that God used Protestant evangelical missionaries in the 19th century to spur a revival and scores of Muslim conversions to Christianity. Then came the persecution.
In 1915, the Muslim government decided to kill every Armenian within Turkish borders, regardless of stature or education. It killed many by placing their heads in vises and squeezing until the heads caved in.
April 24 was the most infamous day of that year. It was the day the Muslims had appointed for the total extermination of the Armenians. An estimated 600,000 died that day, evangelicals included.
“Thousands of children were pushed alive into ditches and covered with dirt and sand. Many more Armenians were stoned or hacked to death. Some had their jaws ripped apart. Women and girls, some as young as twelve, were stripped naked and raped before being slaughtered. Some persons were branded on the chest with red-hot iron crosses” (Ibid., p. 343).
An 18-year-old girl, who escaped into Russian territory and made it into an American relief camp, told this story: “The Turks stood me up and asked, ‘Muhammed or Christ?’ I said, ‘Christ, always Christ.’ For seven days they asked me this same question, and each day when I said ‘Christ,’ a part of this cross was burned into my shoulder. On the seventh day they said, ‘Tomorrow if you say “Muhammed” you live. If not, you die.’ Then we heard that Americans were near, and some of us escaped. That is how I learned the meaning of the cross” (Ibid.).
To those who understand the gospel, the cross represents the greatest love of all time—the love of the Savior who gave His life to set people free. Millions have died rather than deny that love. Millions more probably will. Truly, they are those “Of whom the world was not worthy.”