When Jordanian Khalid Saad abandoned Islam and became a Christian, his family set out to kill him. But he escaped repeated attempts on his life, held up in prayer by thousands of Christians around the world who learned of his needs through the newsletter of Voice of the Martyrs.
In Saad’s situation, those prayers carried him through an assassination attempt that left 12 bullet holes in his car, several hit-and-run attacks, and an assault by a taxi driver who drove into him, knocked him down, and ran over his arm.
As the battle over the persecution of Christians worldwide rages – estimates are that 200 million Christians around the globe are subject at any time to punishments up to and including death simply for believing – so does the need for information for those who are not yet on the more violent front lines,
That’s where the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter, available through an online signup process, becomes important.
“Because we are so free and so comfortable, a lot of us don’t ask about how it is for Christians in the rest of the world. We’ve never been reminded, don’t think about it, and sad to say in some cases, we don’t care,”
Unlike the popular contemporary concept that the persecution of Christians happened in biblical times and then ended, he said, such attacks now are escalating in dozens of nations around the world.
But before supporters can get involved in the battles over steadfastness in the faith, they have to understand what is developing, Nettleton said.
“One of our purposes is to be a wake-up call to the American church, and say, ‘Here’s what reality is for our spiritual brothers and sisters in restricted nations,'” he said of the newsletter.
The Christian ministry mails out monthly updates, but its instant information channel is through the e-mail notifications, where Christians can learn about the situations that have developed, and then learn what they can do to help.
In America, the persecution often is in the derogatory descriptions used by those who oppose Christianity – “Bible-thumpers,” “right-wingers,” etc. But Nettleton said, that in other nations, Christians simply cannot make the assumption they’ll go to church on Sunday and not worry.
“They aren’t 100 percent certain their pastor will be out of jail on Sunday to preach the sermon,” Nettleton said. “One of the important things that VOM does is call the American church to be aware and to be involved. We can pray for them, and in some cases write a letter to someone in prison. What we want to tell the American church, No. 1, is that this is going on.”
Secondly, he said, involvement is important. “If you don’t know, there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “Then there are two responses. Once you do know, you can say, ‘I don’t like that, that’s awful. I don’t want to hear anymore.'”
“On the other side, when they understand what’s going on, that this is our spiritual family, this is happening to our spiritual brothers and sisters, the overwhelming responses is, ‘What can I do?'” he said.
The ministry has multiple opportunities for involvement. Prayer is the first component, but in actual hands-on categories there are programs to collect coats and ship them to needy people in Russia, special blanket-and-basics “action packs” that are going to Sudan and Pakistan, a program to write letters to Christians in prison, and the organization’s Bibles Unbound program, through which American Christians can send individual copies of the Bible into restricted nations.
It ends up being a circle, he said. Prayer is followed by awareness, which is followed by action, and then a return to prayer.
“When people feel that connection, the result is that you don’t have to be reminded to pray; it comes naturally,” he said.
The newsletter gives the information, he said, that first challenges a person to consider their own beliefs. “Your faith is going to be challenged when you read the stories and see the pictures, and understand what people in restricted nations are going through,” he said. “The natural response is to look inward in your own life, and say, ‘Wow, is my faith strong enough to go through that?'”
“There’s definitely a need for education [about persecution] within the American church, what it means, what it involves, how people are overcoming it,” Nettleton said.
“It is a little hard to grasp for us here in America. We can all understand if someone is killed. We know what that means. But when kids are not allowed to go to school [because they are Christian,] that’s a little more subtle.”
The newsletter also provides information that allows Christians to be educated about the different levels of persecution. In Pakistan, for example, one of the VOM projects involves job training for Christians, because Muslims there often won’t consider employing a Christian.
But he said there are blessings, too, from persecution, and readers also share in that joy. For example, it has happened that a church is raided and closed down, and the congregation breaks up into smaller groups. Many times there will end up being more people attending than when the group met in a building.
“God can use [persecution] to help to grow the church,” Nettleton said. “That’s the layer beneath the surface.”
Voice of the Martyrs is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.
It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.
He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.
The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.