Remembering the Martyrs

On Sunday, January 8, 1956, Nate Saint’s watch stopped at 3:12 P.M. Five days later, his body was found downstream on the Curaray River in the jungles of South America. Ed McCully’s body was never recovered.

The two young Christians were part of a five-man, American missionary team that had flown to the dense rainforests of Ecuador to minister to the Huaorani Indians. When they disappeared, the United States Army, Air Force, and Navy joined the Ecuadorian Air Force to search for them by plane and helicopter.

Their deaths stunned the world. Electrifying reports transmitted the information that Jim Elliot, 28; Roger Youderian, 31; Nate Saint, 32; Peter Fleming, 27; and Ed McCully, 29, had been slain. The Huaorani, also called the Aucas, were known for violence and hatred of outsiders.

The Americans’ mission was to make contact with the tribe to bring them the gospel and demonstrate the love of Christ. When the Huaorani attacked with spears and machetes, the men refused to use their weapons.

News of their martyrdom quickly swept through newsrooms across the country. LIFE magazine, famous for its photojournalism spreads, ran a major one. Wire services immediately picked up the story, disseminating it to news bureaus throughout America. Soon newspapers everywhere were printing detailed descriptions of the mission and the murders.

A sense of dismay colored the reporting. What took place on the beach of the Curaray River was inconceivable. Being martyred for one’s faith in Christ was considered the stuff of ancient history.

Lingering over the entire episode were the now immortal words of young Jim Elliot: ”He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

Elliot’s words and the courage of those five dedicated missionaries inspired Christians across denominational lines and international borders. Books were written; organizations were founded; and buildings, libraries, and classrooms were named in their honor. Their story was held before the public in sermons and print as a collective declaration that their fellow believers would never forget their sacrifice beside a river in the jungles of Ecuador.

Wholesale Genocide

On October 6, 2014, word reached the world that Boko Haram Islamist terrorists had burned down 185 churches in Nigerian towns they had conquered. They raided the villages; ransacked and destroyed homes; and caused some 190,000 people to be displaced, including 200 Nigerian girls whom Boko Haram captured and carried away into virtual slavery.

According to Morning Star News, 1,631 Christians were martyred in the first six months of 2014 alone. Hundreds more have died since.

As terrible as these numbers are, the slaughter in Nigeria is small compared to the number of people being killed by ISIS terrorists ravishing the Middle East. ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or IS) is at war in a bloodthirsty quest to establish an Islamic caliphate—first in the Middle East, then in Europe, America, and ultimately the entire world.

Their often-stated, overriding objective is the annihilation of Christianity, which their leaders have declared to be enemy number one. Their commitment is on display in the great numbers of Christians they have slaughtered, churches they have destroyed, and artifacts and institutions related to Jesus they have obliterated.

At a recent conference in Jerusalem sponsored by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and the World Jewish Congress, it was reported, “Across the Middle East in the last 10 years, 100,000 Christians have been murdered each year. That means every five minutes a Christian is killed because of his faith.”1

An Inscrutable Mystery
What has changed since Jim Elliot and his friends died for their faith? Their deaths shocked the world. Today massive numbers are being slaughtered, and hardly anyone blinks. It doesn’t make sense.

What in our otherwise advanced culture has seemingly immunized a generation of human beings from evincing a sense of compassion and sympathy for innocent Christians and others who are being slaughtered in genocidal proportions?

Progressive, militant secularists and social revolutionaries probably see a godless world as a preferable option. However, godlessness comes with consequences.

If the God-haters achieve their ultimate objective and destroy Judeo-Christian values, what will underpin the moral fabric of our society? What standards will be installed to regulate survivable governance?

A system based on the passion of the moment, where every person is a law unto himself, is doomed to be quickly dismantled through internal dissipation or conquest by forces with motives far different from those who worship the indulgent entitlements of “the good life.”

Today the aggression of radical Islamists and like-minded tyrants is largely ignored or justified by blaming America and the West as the cause of their angst. Ideologies and terrorists have attained celebrity status in many of our most prestigious institutions of higher learning.

However, there is an irredeemable flaw to this folly: Genocide is not a “manageable” enterprise. And it will come to our shores if the entrepreneurs of global jihad win the day.

Nor is Christianity alone being targeted. The bloodbath in Africa and parts of the Middle East is touching everything outside the parameters of subjugation to Sharia (Islamic law) and radical, religious despotism.

A Martyr’s Crown
For a generation of Christians that largely eschew unpleasantness and dwell on the upbeat, sunny side of life, suffering and decapitations are unpalatable subjects for sermons, living room conversations, or dinner-table banter.

This head-in-sand posture can be partially explained by the fact that our educators, social regulators, self-help specialists, and pop-culture religious personalities have inculcated the masses for decades with a disdain for the “sin stuff.”

Unfortunately, the “sin stuff ” is a very real part of the unavoidable here and now. We have been forewarned. God has provided pathways to the discernment that is so necessary as Bible prophecies spring to life before our eyes. A prime example is 2 Timothy 3:1–4:

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.

The rapidly growing indifference to the sanctity of life, currently magnified by the war against Christ and Christianity, cannot be dismissed as unimportant in pursuit of the good life.

Little is said today of the five crowns to be distributed to different categories of Christians at the judgment seat of Christ. The crown for martyrs is described as follows: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).

The prelude to Christian martyrdom has remained exactly the same for more than 2,000 years. The antagonists’ causes or creeds are of no consequence. The choice they offer is always the same: “Renounce Jesus Christ and live; refuse and die.” The issue isn’t identifying with a particular religious sect. The issue is Jesus Christ and faith in Him.

Dr. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim of Khartoum, Sudan, in Africa had a recent encounter with the process. She was sentenced to death after refusing to renounce her faith in Jesus. The 27-year-old expectant mother was charged with leaving the Islamic faith to become a Christian.

The judge declared, “We gave you three days to recant, but you insist on not returning to Islam. I sentence you to be hanged to death.”

Her reply was emphatic: “I am a Christian, and I never committed apostasy.” Later, at her sentencing hearing, she repeated her affirmation of faith: “I am a Christian, and I will remain a Christian.”

Under extreme pressure from an international campaign for Dr. Ibrahim’s re-lease, the Sudanese government let her go but then rearrested her as she was leaving for the United States.

Facing Up
For believers, two admonitions arise: (1) Be aware of the wholesale martyrdom of Christians outside the West, and (2) fulfill the obligation to respond by practicing what Scripture mandates:

Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also (Heb. 13:3).

Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Surely we did not know this,” does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds? (Prov. 24:11–12).

Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves the penetrating, personal question, “Should the time come when I stand in the same physical jeopardy for my faith in Christ, what will my response be?”

For countless thousands who have gone before us to gain a martyr’s crown, the answer was framed in a conviction: “How can I forsake Him who has never forsaken me?” Those words form an inescapable conclusion for all Christians for all of time.

ENDNOTE
  1. “ISIS Declares Christians No. 1 Enemy,” WND.com, October 14, 2014 <tinyurl.com/WNDcty22>.

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