These feelings conflict with the sense of deep admiration for the strength of conviction and the boldness of faith. It is a conviction that clearly comes from the realization of the incomprehensible value of faith in Christ. Such stories have also served saint for the millennia, to encourage them to understand the value of Christ, and to be bold in the gospel. They cause us to ask the vital and implicit question; “If I were in that situation, would I remain faithful to Christ?” The martyrdom of the faithful has long been a force in the church that causes it to return to valuing a fervent passion for Christ.
This is true of stories in the past, but what about in today? What do martyrs mean for us today as Christians in the United States of America? It is no coincidence that the subject comes to mind to me know after having heard of the targeting of Christians in the most recent murderous rampage in Oregon. Unfortunately, this is not all that uncommon, and it generally is just a headline to us. In fact, church shootings are so routine in this nation that we actually have a national church shooting database that tracks them. Granted, while we do have targeting of Christians in this country, that is different than persecution. The fact remains that martyrs are all around us. They are in our nation today, and they are around the world. More people are dying for their faith in Christ today and in this century than any in the past two millennia. While this is a fact, the truth is that for most Christians in the United States these tragedies are headlines instead of stories of martyrs who are suffering for their faith. The deaths of modern martyrs don’t affect us. They don’t illicit the same sense of feeling, loss, conviction, and meaning.
So what is the reason that we have lost this connection with the martyrs of today? Part of this is because we are desensitized to feeling anything for modern suffering. We hear so many terrible things going on in the world that we stop letting any of them phase us. We begin to look at them as statistics or news stories and fail to see people who are dying for their innocence. This is not easily remedied, because it is a way of thinking that we have adopted subtly. It takes a different way of thinking to reverse it. I have found the most effective way of reversing this mind set is to be a praying news consumer. In other words, this means taking these stories that we hear of the suffering in our nation and the suffering of Christians around the world and praying for the people behind the stories. This is why I have such great appreciation for Voice of the Martyrs. They add faces and stories to what would normally be numbers in headlines. We must search out and recognize the need for prayer that the believers in the world have and that we can meet. In this, we change our mode of thinking to recognize and being invested through prayer in the struggles of brothers and sisters in Christ and be challenged, moved, and encouraged by them.
The second reason that we have lost a connection to the modern martyr is that we often feel powerless to do anything about the situations we face. This feeling is an illusion, and it is misguided. It is an illusion, because it is untrue. There are things that we can do to support and help these martyrs. An example of this might be the 1990 lobbying by Christians on behalf of Sudanese Christians which affected the outcome of the Sudanese conflict. This is minor though, in comparison to the tools of both prayer and encouragement. It is misguided because we believe as Christians in the United States, it is always up to us to “do something” about the situations of modern martyrs. Modern martyrs will always exist. It is not a problem that we can solve. Jesus Himself said that martyrs will die for their faith until the divinely appointed time of judgement on their oppressors comes (Rev 6:9-11). There is nothing we can do to end martyrdom as a whole, but we are to remember the martyrs today because they encourage us to live with the same conviction with which they die. The ministry of the martyr is to the living believer. They are an encouragement for their surviving brothers and sisters in Christ to live with faith, passion, boldness and conviction. We are to suffer with them, and realize the death of the measure of faith and its value.
The last reason that we fail to relate or be interested in the modern martyr is simply complacency. The nonsuffering Christian is always prone to complacency. We simply don’t care because it doesn’t affect us. This is the same attitude of complacency that Jesus condemns in Revelations 2:14-22 when speaking to the church at Laodicea. Complacency is the greatest of the dangers of the seven churches Jesus mentions, because it is a sign that our faith has become meaningless to us.
The modern martyrs are important to us. They are meant to encourage and embolden us as believers. We are equipped to encourage, pray for, and sympathize with the believers around the world who are suffering for the faith that we share with them. We should never allow ourselves to become desensitized, unsupportive, or indifferent in the plight of modern martyrs. If we do, we fail in the opportunity to minister to them, and we will not benefit from their ministry to us. May God grant our comfort to our suffering brothers and sisters and their passion to us.