In much of the world, following Jesus still means being a candidate for martyrdom.
Take this test. True or false: (1) The bloody butchering of Christians stopped with Constantine. (2) Instruments of torture and death—thumbscrews, stakes, hanging ropes—are but relics of medieval intolerance. (3) Persecution of Christians has almost ended (except, perhaps, under Communist regimes).
If you answered true to any of the above, you’re wrong.
Hard figures are not easy to come by, but evidence is mounting that martyrdom is a painfully contemporary reality. In many countries, Christians pay a dear price for believing. Especially during Lent, when we recall Jesus’ prediction that he would “suffer many things … and be killed,” we do well to remember the persecuted. They have something vital to teach us about following Christ.
Consider these facts:
• In this century, an average of 300,000 Christians has been martyred each year, according to David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia. Some claim Barrett’s number includes Christians killed for reasons other than faith, but even allowing for differences in the definition and the difficulties of reporting, the figure is remarkable. When Barrett’s documentation is released over the next couple of years, the impact could be stunning. Martyrdom, Barrett wants to show, is not an “outrageous exception, but a part of a surprisingly regular 2,000-year pattern where persecution and suffering are the normal lot of the body of Christ.”
• Because of increasing terrorism, says Jim Reap-some, editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly, “missionaries are finding themselves in increasingly dangerous conditions.” Many mission organizations have been training missionaries in contingency procedures ...1
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