"Charisma" magazine had an article on martyrs in the 1990s. For many contemporary Christians, the word "martyr" evokes images of ancient saints being torn apart by lions in a Roman coliseum. Yet martyrdom did not end with the fall of the Roman Empire, or with the collapse of Soviet Communism.
The rate of martyrdom is much the same today as it has been throughout the past 2,000 years. About l500 Christians were martyred in the year 100. By the mid-1990s there were some 156,000 Christian martyrs. Since the crucifixion of Christ, some 40 million Christians have been martyred.
Martyrdom has been a standard accompaniment of Christian mission because Christians inevitably arouse hostilities, and they pay the price. One-third of all martyrs are female. That means some 52,000 women were killed last year because of their faith.
One in every 200 Christians can expect to be martyred in his lifetime. We in the comfortable West know only the tip of the iceberg about martyrdom. Most modern martyrs die in relative anonymity, outside the presence of TV cameras. Their names and faces may never be known outside the confines of their tiny villages.
Quechuan Indian church leader Romulo Saune was shot to death on Sept. 5, 1992, by left-wing Shining Path rebels in Peru. In 1992 he told a friend: "My family and I have talked about the danger from the Shining Path, and we never talk in terms of, ’What if I’m taken?’ It’s a case of "When.’" But he added that his life was in God’s hands.
“Jesus told his disciples…they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1 NIV).
Today the hot spots for martyrdom are often countries experiencing social unrest or civil war.
Franklin Graham is the head of Samaritan’s Purse, which provides emergency relief in crisis situations. He recalled an instance from the conflict in Bosnia.
Enemy soldiers had gang-raped a nine-year-old girl, then killed her father after he refused to rape her. They killed her brother after he agreed to rape her, hoping to save both their lives.
Then they sawed off her legs and let her bleed to death. The soldiers laughed as a video camera recorded the entire atrocity. Similar tales could be told from Iraq, Indonesia, North Korea, Sudan – pick a country. There is a lot to pray about in our world.
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