How did the author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs respond to the Coronavirus of his time?

John Foxe never liked being called a martyrologist (he regarded his work as church history), but the author of Acts and Monuments of the Christian Church, popularly called Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”, turned to the martyrs as exemplars when in 1563 he wrote a pamphlet to encourage and comfort Londoners caught in the grip of plague:

And thus being armed with the power and strength of Christ, pass through this storm, be it never so rough and sharp to the flesh, having before your eyes so many examples of good men which passed the same way before you: the Prophets, Apostles, and Martyrs of Christ, who in their extremities passed through greater torments, some racked, some torn to pieces, some sawed asunder, some stoned to death, some hanged by one member, some by another, some broiled upon coals, some burned with flaming fire; which they notwithstanding abode with patience. But especially casting up your mind and beholding the death of Christ, learn thereby to die and not to fear death, not to murmur against God. For if he did abide a smarting passion, and that in his middle and best age: think yourself not better than he.

Just as with his “Book of Martyrs” (the first English edition of which was published that same year), Foxe urged Londoners not to fear “bodily death” as the plague bore down on them:

For what is the estate and condition of all men but mere mortality; that is to say, not so soon born to this world as dead to God. And what does it change then when a dead man dies, who is dead already before he begins to die; whether to die sooner or later: as all men be who are born of Adam. For where Christ says in the gospel, let the dead go bury the dead: what does he mean but that we should understand thereby no difference between those who are dead and those who are still alive?

It was hardly abstract theology–Foxe knew of no such thing in any of his writings, and in this case, he wrote not only as a theologian and pastor but also as a parent whose own daughter died in the plague the year he wrote. It makes the conclusion of his pamphlet, entitled “A Prayer to be Said Over Children” in time of plague, all the more personal:

And forasmuch as the pains of the same poor child seem grievous and vehement, we beseech thee to mitigate the vehemency thereof, that by the relieving of it, we also may be comforted, dealing with it according as it shall seem good to thy divine wisdom, whether by death to call it or by life to restore it, so that whether it goes, or tarries, it may be thine, and at last with thine elect be made partaker of that blessed resurrection, when thou shalt appear.

The plagues change, but the God who comforts us in the midst of them does not.

The John Foxe quotes (adapted to modern English by me) come from his 1567 pamphlet entitled A Brief Exhortation, fruitfull and meete to be read in this heavy tyme of Gods visitation in London, to suche as be Sicke, where the Ministers do lacke, or otherwise cannot be present to comfort them, as cited in Warren W. Wooden’s masterful book, John Foxe (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1983), pp. 89-90.

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The Coronavirus shows the world what is in us

The church has always had an interesting history concerning plagues and viruses.

It is not a history of self-preservation.

As I wrote in my book, The Whole Life Offering:

 

Hospitals owe their origin to the plethora of plagues and epidemics that struck the ancient world with alarming regularity and force. Observes author Rob Moll, “When an epidemic struck in the ancient world, pagan city officials offered gifts to the gods but nothing for their suffering citizens. Even in healthy times, those who had no one to care for them, or whose care placed too great a burden on the family, were left out to die.”

The early church responded not only out of compassion, adds Moll citing Christian medical history professor Gary Ferngren, but out of a worshipful recognition that every cast-out body bore the Imagio Dei—the image of God. The church sought to restore that image to vitality through the practice of the Works of Mercy, first in private homes and then, as the tide of desperation and disease swamped the ancient world, in “hospitals” designed for comprehensive care. If restoration proved impossible, Christians provided comfort and burial at the cost of their own health, safety, and finances.

When the plague of Cyprian struck in 250 and lasted for years, this volunteer corps became the only organization in Roman cities that cared for the dying and buried the dead. Ironically, as the church dramatically increased its care, the Roman government began persecuting the church more heavily.

Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria, wrote, according to Ferngren, “that presbyters, deacons, and laymen took charge of the treatment of the sick, ignoring the danger to their own lives.”

Even in times of plague and virus, our bodies remain our main tool for ministry. Sending things like masks and donations to Coronavirus-infected areas in China is good. Regarding Chinese people, wherever we may encounter them, as bearers of the image of God rather than possible bearers of the Coronavirus, is better.

We ought never to be careless in any kind of ministry. But knowingly giving up our comfort and safety in the service of the Lord should never be regarded as synonymous with carelessness. Real ministry is by definition always lethal to our own self-preservation; we find our lives only through losing them. Whether entering quarantined areas or extending friendship and basic care to individuals outcasted by suspicion of disease, Christians have a history of paying the ultimate personal cost to serve the other in love. This is what has prompted others for two millennia to ask, “What love is this?”

In the end, no mask can mask what is in our hearts. When the Lord Jesus is in our hearts, we will always unmask ourselves in ways the world can’t fathom. I wear a mask when I travel, but I must always be careful not to pull it up over my eyes. To do so would be to court a far greater infection that ends in a far worse death.

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Trapped between government troops and rebels, Cameroon pastors receive trauma care

Dr. Foley and I traveled to Cameroon in December to conduct an emergency Christian trauma recovery training event for pastors from the western region of the country.

Persecution caught these pastors by surprise.

There is a civil war happening now in Western Cameroon between a secessionist rebel group and the regular army. The pastors there are determined to stay out of politics; to simply preach the gospel and care for their churches and families. But that has caused the rebels and the government troops to be suspicious of the pastors. Both sides treat them as spies. As a result, life has become extremely difficult for the pastors. As villages are burned down, pastors’ churches and homes are destroyed. The pastors move their families to the capital city, but they themselves stay in the war zone, without the support of their denominations. They live in tents in the jungle without a salary and minister to the people on both sides of the conflict. Gunfire is a daily occurrence. They are frequently interrogated by both sides. Sometimes they are kidnapped. This has gone on for almost two years. The result is an unimaginably high level of trauma for the pastors of Western Cameroon.

We received an urgent summons from a VOM sister mission late last year for Dr. Foley to come and teach Christian trauma recovery to the pastors. Trauma recovery for persecuted Christians is an extremely rare specialty. Our sister VOM knew that Dr. Foley had taught trauma recovery in similar circumstances to persecuted Christians from North Korea, China, Eritrea, and Sri Lanka.

It was a huge help to the 15 pastors in attendance, and it will be a huge help to the hundreds of church members these pastors will now be able to help.

“You saw us weeping,” wrote the pastors in a statement of appreciation presented to Dr Foley at the completion of the four-day intensive training, “but by the promises in God’s Word through your ministration has brought us hope to continue with the Word of God.”

Dr. Foley received her master’s degree in clinical counseling with a specialization in trauma care from Colorado Christian University in the United States. The program was started by Dr. Larry Crabb with an emphasis on biblical counseling but was further developed to meet the requirements for clinical licensing. In addition to teaching trauma recovery directly to persecuted Christians, Dr Foley has also trained individuals to counsel persecuted Christians at international events in Belgium and Thailand.

Dr. Foley says that both biblical counseling and clinical counseling are needed to meet the needs of persecuted Christians like the pastors of Western Cameroon. “These pastors are unarmed materially, emotionally, and spiritually. We must help them (and their families) recover in each of these areas of their life. and We must also train them to be able to help the families in their churches to recover.”

Dr Foley and I believe that the global church must treat trauma recovery as a foundational mission to countries where Christians are persecuted. Until pastors and church members in these countries recover from trauma, they cannot effectively use the humanitarian aid or church building assistance that is usually provided by the global church to places like this.

We are scheduled to travel to Africa again later this month to lead a trauma recovery session for Eritrean Christians, widely regarded as among the world’s most persecuted. Dr Foley will then lead a similar session at an undisclosed location in March for traumatized Chinese Christians.

If you’re interested in making a donation to VOMK’s trauma recovery ministry for persecuted Christians can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation (select “Families of Martyrs and Prisoners” from the donation option menu) or via electronic transfer to
국민은행 463501-01-243303
예금주: (사)순교자의소리
Please include the phrase “FOM” (for “Families of Martyrs”) on the transfer.

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