The Trail of Blood
And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; 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); they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth (Heb. 11:36–38).
Hidden somewhere deep in the recesses of our memories is the record of those who, in biblical times or since, have forfeited their lives for their faith in Christ. This generation, saturated by its affluence, has forgotten the price our forefathers paid for the religious freedom we now take for granted. While we acknowledge, in some vague sort of way, that ancients have died for their faith in Christ, we seem quite unwilling to face the fact that our brothers and sisters are facing like circumstances today. Thus, we dignify the silence.
For many generations, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was a standard text for all Christians. Its prominence was acknowledged as second only to the Bible itself. James Miller Dodds wrote:
After the Bible itself, no book so profoundly influenced early Protestant sentiment as the Book of Martyrs. Even in our own time it is still a living force. It is more than a record of persecution. It is an arsenal of controversy, a storehouse of romance, as well as a source of edification.
Since Dodds wrote, however, Foxe’s book, along with the biblical chronicle, has been laid aside. For this generation, it seems that “bread and circus” is more in style than “blood in the arena.” However, a sequel is being written in our time. Sadly, as in the case of the eminent Mr. Foxe, the record is largely being ignored. The question is, why? We can well understand it if the view is only from the vantage point of some politicians and corporations more interested in oil than in the blood of saints. This is true because the most radical persecutors of Christian believers are to be found among the Muslim militants, who sit on the major oil reserves of the world. We also understand, of course, that the overriding issue with too many of the world leaders is money. That is really all that seems to matter. Morals, principles, and, yes, the suffering of innocent people are incidental to the monetary interests of the international community.
Suffering in the Sudan
No more obvious point can be made than the anguish of our brothers and sisters in the Sudan. The drive to Islamicize the Sudanese has been well documented. Numerous groups, including the United States State Department, have gone on record with the facts of the slaughter of Christians—according to reliable reports, as many as one and a half to two million.
The latest figures tell us that unless something is done immediately, as many as 700,000 people are now in immediate danger of starvation. But, while these figures are made public, it seems that few are listening, and there is no international outcry, as there has been in the case of much less traumatized people outside the ring of oil influence.
But there are faces on these people that dollar signs will not erase. Such is the story of Akuac, a girl from the Sudanese village of Rumalong.
Her mother reports:
“I was running with Akuac through the trees when a horseman grabbed her. I was afraid that if I chased the horseman, he would kill me.
“Akuac and her older brother were tied to horsebacks and taken north with more than a dozen others from the village…the women and older children had to carry the booty of the captors.
“In Kordofan, Akuac was sold to an Arab who made her wash clothes, haul water, gather firewood, and help with cooking. She survived on table scraps and slept in the kitchen.
“Her master also tried to make her a Muslim—taking her to the mosque and giving her the Arabic name of Fatima. But Akuac retained her Christian faith, praying and singing hymns in secret and never forgetting her true name.
“She does bear the scars—in the local Muslim tradition, she was forcibly circumcised with her master’s daughters when she was eleven. ‘It was very brutal. It is strange to our culture,’ she said. ‘The master told me, “If I don’t circumcise you, I will have to kill you because you will still hold the ideas of your people, and you will try to escape.”’
“Her heart was scarred, too. Her older brother, Makoi, was killed at the age of thirteen while trying to escape.”
Torture, mutilation, and murder—it does sound like something out of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Persecutions endured by believers in the early days of the Christian era were barbaric in the extreme. An example is found during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antonius as emperor of Rome (162 A.D.).
“The cruelties used in this persecution were such that many of the spectators shuddered with horror at the sight…Some of the martyrs were obliged to pass, with their already wounded feet, over thorns, nails, sharp shells, etc…others were scourged until their sinews and veins lay bare, and after suffering the most excruciating tortures that could be devised, they were destroyed by the most terrible deaths” (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pp. 8–9).
These gruesome practices, and, if possible, even worse indignities were carried out shortly after the birth of this millennium. It is striking to observe that as we end the millennium, atrocities of equal severity are increasingly common. But there is a difference. The Romans and their contemporaries were pagans who were attempting to crush a new religion—a religion that was an offense to their cherished decadent lifestyles. In spite of this, Christianity continued to flourish. The noble attributes and Christian dignity demonstrated by those going through the agonies of martyrdom brought many of their persecutors to faith in the God they were quite willing to die for.
“Germanicus, a young man, but a true Christian, being delivered to the wild beasts on account of his faith, behaved with such astonishing courage that several pagans became converts to the faith which inspired such fortitude” (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, p. 9).
Christians False and True
As astonishing as was the courage of people like the young Germanicus is the fact that, as the millennium progressed, some who professed faith in Christ busied themselves with mutilating, torturing, and killing other Christians. It is a dismal reality that some of the darkest days of the millennium were times when so-called “church fathers” were slaying true children of God, which, quite naturally raises a question: Were these “church fathers” and their co-conspirators true children of God? The answer is obvious: No. Rampaging religious zealots who killed in the name of Christ were not one step above their pagan forebears who did the same in the name of pagan deities.
Christianity is not the faith of marauding barbarians. The words of Christ and patience in suffering of the disciples and early followers of Jesus bear witness to the quality of saving faith. It was Jesus who said:
“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Mt. 5:44).
Stephen, while under a withering fusillade of stones, uttered his final assessment of his adversaries.
“And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60).
In the Name of God
Foremost among those persecuting Christian believers today are radical Islamic elements who claim that they are acting in the name of their god. The trail of Christian blood left by their emissaries is staining the pages of contemporary history. They are not, however, alone.
In a recent report aired on CBN News, reporter Chris Mitchell said, “The majority of these persecuted Christians live either under remaining Communist regimes, like China, Vietnam, and Cuba, or the increasingly radical Islamist nations…Christians are increasingly the targets of brutality under these systems.”
Think of living in a country where someone could be beheaded in a public square for converting to Christianity, or imprisoned for having a Bible study in their home. What if, in your community, it was against the law to carry a Bible in public or distribute Christian literature. Suppose you were ordered to convert to another religion or face the loss of your food, freedom, and the ability to provide for yourself or your family. Think of going to church every Sunday with the fear that at any moment you could be shot or see your house of worship burned to the ground. Could you bear to witness the crucifixion of your pastor and the leaders of your church? How would you feel if your brothers and sisters, father or mother were sold into slavery before your eyes?
While we may not want to think about any of these horrible prospects, they are a reality in the world in which we live today. What will tomorrow bring? Only the Lord knows. We do know that it is well beyond the time when we, as Christians, should be speaking out, reaching out to aid our suffering brethren where we can and, above all, interceding before the throne of grace.
Sixty years ago, a group of Christian businessmen saw what was happening to European Jewry under Hitler’s tyranny and shuddered at what was taking place. But they were men who were willing to do more than wring their hands and complain to one another. They took action, and, as a result, this ministry—The Friends of Israel—was born. None of us can afford to do less when we view what is happening to our extended Christian family in this decade. Let us remember that we are not immune; it can happen here—yes, even in America. Beyond everything else, we must account for the fact that one day we will face the Lord and be expected to answer for our faithfulness in serving Him and our brethren—that will include saints who are suffering at this moment.