When Governments Violently Give Us The “Gift of Nothing”: Rejoice!

VOM Founder Rev. Richard Wurmbrand reminds us why we can rejoice even when God gives us the “gift of nothing” through our enemies.

In the last week, the Chinese government has destroyed a church without provocation. Also Christian meetings have been banned in Pakistan, and Bolivian Christians’ freedoms have been threatened. Many Christians around the world have responded with outrage and concern.

But as VOM Founder, the Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, reminds us, while it is easy for us only to see the violent and unjust nature of these actions, the church must also see God’s gift in the destruction, and the continual advance of God’s plan.

Rev. Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured for his faith in Christ for 14 years under Romanian communists. He said, “[Our captors] took everything from us—even our names. We had nothing, we wore nothing. [Our captors] did with us what they liked.”

But Rev. Wurmbrand emphasized that even when governments leave Christians with nothing (as they have done once again this week in China, Pakistan, and Bolivia), Christians can give praise for the God who always brings something out of nothing for his children. Said Wurmbrand,

“[Christian prisoners] all loved this world with its beautiful, multi-colored butterflies and chirping birds and scented flowers and pretty children. But then we remembered, ‘Wait a little bit, out of what did God make this beautiful world? He made it out of nothing! So nothing is a very valuable material! You can make a universe out of nothing! If anyone would try to make all of these things out of gold and diamond, he would not succeed! But out of nothing, God created this world.”

When we hear about the destruction of churches and the denial of religious rights this week, we must say to China, Pakistan, and Bolivia, with the voice of Rev. Wurmbrand and the voice of Joseph in the Old Testament, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” We Christians are to hold governments accountable for more than human rights. We are to hold them accountable to the truth that the plan of God, not the plan of governments, will withstand all attempts to destroy it.

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Our mission: To ensure that the voice of the martyrs never falls silent…

The mission of Voice of the Martyrs Korea is to ensure that the voice of the martyrs never falls silent but is instead carried forward in our own voices and lived out in our own lives.

By “martyr”, we mean the faithful witnesses to God in Christ across all geography and history who “loved not their life even unto death” (Rev. 12:11, ASV). By “voice”, we mean the teachings, sermons, and testimonies of these faithful witnesses. This extends back to the Scripture itself. God did not cause the Bible to suddenly descend from heaven, complete. Instead, he gave us his inerrant, inspired word through faithful witnesses. That word even uses the name “the faithful witness” to describe Christ himself (Rev. 1:5), which shows the centrality of faithful witness to the Christian life. While only the Scripture itself is the inspired, inerrant word of God, Scripture teaches that the testimony of faithful witnesses—the voice of the martyrs—is an essential part of how God equips the church to triumph over the accuser (Revelation 12:11).

In our fallen world, faithful witness to Christ can indeed entail death. But it is important to remember that for Christians, martyrdom is not focused on death. It is focused on faithful witness. The Greek word, martyr, means witness. That is why the mission of Voice of the Martyrs is not to report on acts of violence against Christians, nor simply to pray for survivors. Instead, our mission is to make sure that the voice of the martyrs is never silenced by the violence enacted against their faithful witness.

Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, the global founder of Voice of the Martyrs, was a faithful witness for Christ in Communist Romania. He wrote the story of a fellow inmate in prison. Although a prisoner, this man was preaching. Guards dragged him out of the cell, beat him, and threw him back in the cell. But the man picked himself up, dusted himself off, and said, “Now where was I?”

Sometimes faithful witnesses are not able to return to where they left off because of murder, torture, or imprisonment. Voice of the Martyrs Korea picks up where they leave off: seeking out the words of these martyrs and finding ways to keep their words alive in the places and languages where they were first spoken. We also translate the messages into Korean, English, and Chinese so that those words can find new hearing in our lives as well.

This work also takes us across history. Sometimes the voice of the martyrs is simply forgotten with the passage of time, or neglected as the church struggles to remember what it once knew. That is especially true in the case of the early Korean Christian martyrs, who, though still honored by Korean Christians, are rarely heard as important voices in church gatherings or everyday life. Through preaching their words in our Covenant Renewal services and radio broadcasts, and through sharing their teachings in our Underground University and discipleship training programs and resources, we foster the renewal of the martyrs’ spirit in the church in Korea. Through partaking of the Lord’s Supper whenever we gather, we remember that we are one body in Christ with these early Korean Christians and with all those who faithfully died in Christ before us.

There are three reasons why we undertake this mission:

First, we can never be the true church unless we are one body with all believers across all of geography and history, speaking in one voice and one witness with them. Think of martyrdom as a cross. The horizontal bar of the cross represents the martyrs around the world today. The vertical bar of the cross represents martyrs throughout history. The witness of the church across geography and history is our treasure and responsibility, and we are held accountable by God for its stewardship and transmission.

Second, we grow to fullness in Christ as we make the voice of the martyrs our own voice. All who follow Christ are called to martyrdom. Whether or not we ever face physical persecution and death is in the Lord’s hands, but is certain that when we commit to follow him, we covenant to die to ourselves and the world and be alive only to him. Thus, martyrs are produced not by acts of violence but by the waters of baptism. How do we learn to live the life of the faithful witness? By carrying forward as our own personal witness the witness that Christ has entrusted to the church across all geography and history.

Third, it is God who keeps the voice of the martyrs alive. When we join him in that work, we are privileged to serve as his instruments. Scripture says that God never forgets a faithful witness. Psalm 116:15, says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” Even though the world seems to be able to silence faithful witnesses to Christ, God ensures that their voices will reverberate throughout the world until the end of time. As 1 John 2:17 says: “The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” God does not call on us to idolize the martyrs or memorialize their lives in museums. Rather, he calls on us to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3, NKJV). Even when their bodies die, we are “chained” together with the martyrs and their message in the one body of Christ. Through these “chains”, we are honored to be able to be a means by which God keeps the voice of the martyrs alive: first, in our own lives; second, in our homes; third, among the believers with whom we fellowship; fourth, among the Christians in our nation and around the world; and fifth, as faithful witnesses to those who do not yet know Christ, but for whom he died.

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Why Does God Not Fulfill Some Promises?

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Acts 16

Imagine for a moment that you are Timothy.

You’ve given up everything to follow Paul as he follows the Lord. After being circumcised and saying farewell to your parents, you take to the road with Paul and Silas. Along your journey, you visit groups of believers from around the world and share with them instructions from apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

At first, the experience is exhilarating.  Every step of the way, you are being instructed by Paul, Silas, and the global Christian community. You watch in awe as your mentors direct their steps according to the guiding hand of the Holy Spirit. Although you are still a student and several things about Christianity remain elusive, your faith has never seemed so alive! Like Peter, John, and James on the mount of transfiguration, you want to stay awash in Christ’s glory forever.

But then Paul has a vision.

When Paul first tells you and Silas about the vision, you are all excited. Recently on your journey, Paul and Silas were barred from visiting Asia or Bithynia by the Holy Spirit. For a while, you had no idea where you were headed. Now, however, Paul has been given a destination.

In the dead of night, Paul saw a vision of a Macedonian man begging him for help. So the three of you set course for Macedonia right away.

The three of you arrive in Philippi, the largest city in Macedonia, with great hope. Through Paul’s vision, God led you to Macedonia, so you figure that God must have great plans for this city. After everything that you’ve seen on your travels with Paul and Silas, you can’t wait to see what he has in store!

Within a matter of days, however, Paul and Silas have been dragged from the marketplace, stripped, beaten, and humiliated in the stocks. Now that evening has fallen, Paul and Silas have been taken off to prison and you, Timothy, are left behind to contemplate these recent events.

If God had led Paul to Macedonia and Paul had faithfully followed his instructions, why had Paul and Silas been arrested?

Why had God’s promises turned sour?

This is a question that both North Koreans and Eritreans are all too familiar with. These brothers and sisters find that sometimes the only reward for faithfully serving the Lord has been prison or persecution. Scripture has told them that their God is the God of miracles, the God of healing, and the God that is bigger and more powerful than any government. Yet these brothers and sisters often find themselves in situations where all of the promises of scripture seem false.

If God is who the scriptures say he is, why do his children find themselves in situations like this?

Standing before a crowd of our North Korean Underground University and Underground Technology students, Pastor Temesgen, an Eritrean pastor who has suffered much for his faith, said this: “Even if we are in a bad situation, we must give praise to God.”

Pastor Temesgen was not speaking empty words. Although Eritrea is not as infamous as North Korea, it is a country that takes pride in being called the “North Korea of Africa.” It is a small country, but it is one of the biggest offenders of human rights worldwide—especially when it comes to Christianity.

Eritrea and North Korea are very similar—namely, because the Eritrea government purposely tries to emulate North Korea. There has never been an election in Eritrea, as the country only allows for one political party: People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ). This party is vehemently opposed to the West, and has a history of befriending countries with equally nefarious human rights records (North Korea, Communist Russia, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, etc.).

Since Eritrea has repeatedly postponed the creation of constitutional clauses pertaining to individual freedom, the people of Eritrea can be arrested and imprisoned at any time and for any reason. There is a forced and indefinite conscription into the army. Citizens are denied any form of independent media, which limits their source of information to the government’s official channels.

Just as North Korean defectors are constantly trickling into China, Eritrean defectors find ways to cross the border into Ethiopia. Crossing the border in both cases is incredibly dangerous, and so potential defectors often seek help from brokers and smugglers. Unlike North Korean defectors, however, Eritrean defectors do not receive a stipend from the government upon arriving at their destination. Eritrean defectors are tossed into a shanty town, where they are forced to build houses from mud and straw. Conditions are squalid and, despite the government’s best efforts, the defectors are often underfed.

Suffering is an old and familiar friend to Pastor Temesgen. But—just like Paul, Silas, and Timothy—Pastor Temesgen tells us that we must give thanks to God in the midst of our suffering.

“Even though Christians who defect from Eritrea have no food, they still give thanks to God because their faith is strong,” Pastor Temesgen told our North Korean students.

Although Paul and Silas may not have expected to wind up in prison, scripture tells us that they worshipped while all the other prisoners were sleeping. Just as Paul and Silas were ignorant of their imprisonment when they followed God into Macedonia, they were now ignorant that God would soon release them. Yet, they worshipped.

“We need to remember that at five in the morning, the world is always very dark, but one hour later, the sun lights up the world,” Pastor Temesgen reminded the students. “So when you are in a dark time, give thanks to God. He will bring the sun again.”

How do we know that the sun is coming? Because we know God’s character. We have learned about God’s character from Paul and Silas’ experience in Macedonia. But we have also learned about God’s character from the experiences of our brothers and sisters from around the world.

“It is true that many Christians in Eritrea are sent to prison,” Pastor Temesgen explained. “But it is also true that God has used these Christians to transform prisons into churches.”

When Christians are imprisoned and they remember to faithfully give thanks even in the darkest of circumstances, others notice. Eritrean prisoners are always drawn to Christian prisoners because of their unconditional joy. Even prison guards are drawn in by the Christian prisoners. Pastor Temesgen has seen both prisoner and guard alike becoming missionaries and pastors—all because Christians were sent to jail.

This was Paul and Silas’ experience as well. Because of their witness, they were not only able to impress their fellow prisoners, but were also able to impress the same guard who had so emotionlessly put them in the stocks.

“Governments can bind a body into prison, but they can never bind the gospel,” Pastor Temesgen said.

When Pastor Temesgen speaks of God’s work in Eritrea, it is easy to see God moving. However, what about North Korea?

“Compared to North Korea, Eritrea is more open. That is why you hear more stories about God moving in Eritrea than in North Korea. However, when North Korea opens, I know we will hear many stories about how God was moving in North Korea, too,” Pastor Temesgen promised the students.

Whether we are Christians imprisoned at the time of Acts, underground North Korean believers, or Christians in the free world, we must remember to give thanks to God in every circumstance. When we do this, we remind the world—and ourselves—that God is moving in every place, in everyone, and in every time.

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