Ukraine pastors receive training in martyrdom…at Richard Wurmbrand’s old prison

“We are alive. We are fed. We have clothes. We are healthy.”

That was the reply of one pastor in Russia-occupied Ukraine to our question, “What message would you like us to share with Christians in the outside world about your situation?”

Dr Foley and Pastor Tim and I conducted a week-long martyrdom training event in late November in a secret location in Romania, attended by that pastor (who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons) along with eight others from Russia-occupied Ukraine and other parts of the country hit hard by the war.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley teaches Christian-based trauma recovery to church leaders from Occupied Ukraine and the neighboring war zones. 

Two things are true about the pastors who attended.

First, they are facing extremely difficult and dangerous ministry situations.

Second, they are choosing to stay in those situations and to make a faithful witness to Christ and the gospel.

While the location in Romania was selected because of its accessibility to the majority of invitees, four invitees were unable to attend due to border crossing restrictions.

Almost all the attendees had arduous travel, by car, bus, train, and even some other means. Getting visas and making it through passport checks was a constant challenge. One invitee was even turned back on the way, after a long journey. Two invitees became ill and had to cancel. Hearing about the travels of these Christian workers in and out of these war regions reminded us of the Apostle Paul’s recounting of his own travel experiences in 2 Corinthians 11:26, where he wrote, “I have been in danger from rivers and from bandits, in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the sea and among false brothers.” But these nine said they came because they wanted to learn more effective strategies for faithful witness amidst persecution and war.

One day of training was devoted to the theology of martyrdom and persecution, another day to trauma recovery from a Christian perspective, and another to how to preach and teach martyrdom and persecution from each book of the Bible.

But the highlight of the training was taking the attendees on a day-long field trip to several locations from the life of Voice of the Martyrs global founder, Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who spent 14 years imprisoned and tortured by Communists during the Soviet era.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley stands in front of the former Communist Party headquarters in Bucharest, Romania where Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand was once imprisoned in an underground cell. The organization took Ukrainian pastors to the site as part of a recent training event in martyrdom.

First, we watched the movie “Tortured for Christ” together with our Ukrainian training attendees. The movie tells the story of Pastor Wurmbrand’s imprisonment because of his faithful witness to the gospel. Then we took our attendees to Jilava Prison and to the old Communist Party headquarters, the two main locations where Pastor Wurmbrand was imprisoned and tortured. We also took the attendees to the Christian bookstore which was opened with the help of the Wurmbrands when communism fell. We told them how at that time the bookstore needed a place to store its extra books and Bibles, so the post-communist government offered the use of Pastor Wurmbrand’s former prison cell nearby. It was a powerful reminder to them that faithful witness can ultimately topple even the mightiest political and military power.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley guides pastors from Occupied Ukraine through a Christian bookstore in Bucharest established with the help of Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand. The tour was part of a week-long martyrdom training event the organization held in November for Ukrainian church leaders. 

The attendees were deeply moved by the field trip.

One attendee said she felt physically ill inside the prison, thinking of the suffering Pastor Wurmrbrand and other Romanian Christians had endured there for so many years. But one attendee noted, “Although this prison was extremely bad, I have actually seen even worse prisons.” We talked about Christian leaders in Occupied Ukraine who have faced interrogation, imprisonment, and even death. Yet the attendees concluded the week with renewed strength and commitment to return home and be faithful just as Pastor Wurmbrand had been faithful.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and CEO Pastor Eric Foley view a display about Rev. Richard Wurmbrand at Jilava Prison in Romania. The organization recently conducted a week-long martyrdom training event for pastors from Occupied Ukraine. 

The time together provided an opportunity for attendees to consult with each other and with Voice of the Martyrs Korea on ministry strategy.

The situation is different in each area of Ukraine. The attendees agreed that the Luhansk Region is the most restrictive for Christians, with local Christians there hearing rumors that Russia is planning even tighter controls to be implemented from now through 2026.

The other challenge attendees reported facing is the need to separate humanitarian aid distribution from evangelism.

The attendees reported how they all were receiving large quantities of humanitarian aid from outside groups and how they had been trying to use it to “prepare the soil” for evangelism via distribution to non-Christians. But through their experiences they had all come to the realization that fallen, sinful human beings know how to take advantage of any system where material benefit is available to them. They said all the aid has produced many so-called “bread Christians”. So, our training attendees concluded that there really is no substitute for a direct, clear proclamation of the gospel totally separate from humanitarian aid. Both humanitarian aid and evangelism are important ministries for Christians, but faith can only come by hearing the word of God, and God neither uses nor requires any “preparation of the soil” when he gives the gift of faith to those who hear the word.

A particular highlight of the training for us was the opportunity to provide funds to attendees to enable them to continue their ministries of faithful witness.

Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley and CEO Pastor Eric Foley lead a group of Ukrainian pastors into Jilava Prison in Romania. During the Soviet era the prison housed Voice of the Martyrs founder Richard Wurmbrand and other Christians who were detained and tortured for their faith. 

Their needs are so varied. One attendee just needed snow tires for his car so he can return to his church now that it is winter. Another attendee needed help to cover the living expenses of his church deacons. Across the whole Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine, about half the Christians have left since 2014, including many pastors. One of the attendees now oversees a network of five churches with the help of deacons. But the deacons must remain out of public sight at all times because if they are caught, they will be automatically conscripted into the Russian military. So they are risking their safety to stay, but they are unable to earn money to support their families through outside jobs.

While other organizations are concentrating on providing humanitarian aid, Voice of the Martyrs Korea continues to focus on providing funds enabling churches to continue to make a faithful witness through direct evangelism, and to care for family members when that faithful witness leads to the death or imprisonment of church leaders.

Humanitarian aid is important, but as Jesus told us, man cannot live on bread alone. As our attendees have learned, combining humanitarian aid with evangelism usually yields ineffective and even counterproductive evangelism. Now in Eastern Ukraine, half the church has fled and no amount of bread can bring it back. Unless bold witnesses risk their lives proclaiming the gospel there, there can be no hearing of faith. Voice of the Martyrs Korea is honored to providing training and support to the church leaders who are doing just that.

Those who are interested in making a donation to Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s Ukraine Emergency Fund can do so at or via electronic transfer to:

국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303

예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리

Please include the word “Ukraine” with the donation.

Posted in Russia, Ukraine, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christian radio broadcast to Maldives penetrates “Canopy of fear”

Announcing that the project had achieved all goals set for it in the eight months since first signing on the air, Voice of the Martyrs Korea today announced that it has renewed its annual broadcast signal lease and will continue its daily Christian shortwave radio broadcast into the Maldives Islands in 2023.

“Should the Lord permit, it is our intention to continue to broadcast the gospel message into the Maldives until Christ returns,” says Voice of the Martys Korea Representative Dr Hyun Sook Foley, whose organization also operates 5 daily radio broadcasts into North Korea and 2 into China, aimed at supporting local Christians in those countries.

Representative Foley notes that while North Korea and China are better known for their extensive restrictions on Christian activity, the Maldives consistently ranks near the top in independent rankings of Christian persecution by religious watchdog agencies and governmental bodies.

“Neither mission work nor Christian literature has ever been allowed in the Maldives,” says Representative Foley. She notes that the Maldives’ constitution requires all citizens to be Muslim. “Conversion from Islam means that someone can be stripped of their citizenship and punished under Shariah law,” she says. “Even foreign workers who are Christians are closely watched, which makes church life extremely difficult and practically nonexistent. Churches are outlawed, and openly carrying the Bible is illegal. The country is so tightly controlled by Islamic law that there is not even a Bible fully translated into the native language of most citizens of the Maldives.”

Originally, Maldivians were Buddhists, but in the twelfth century Islam was proclaimed the national religion. Today, more than 97% of the 300,000 citizens of the Maldives report affiliation with Sunni Islam.

Representative Foley say a host of laws are designed to ensure that only Islamic principles are taught within the country.

“In order to deliver a sermon or a religious talk, one must obtain a license from the Ministry of Islamic Affairs (MIA),” says Representative Foley. “Only a Sunni Muslim with a degree in religious studies from a government recognized university may apply for a license.”

She notes that criticism of Islam is against the law, with punishments up to a year in jail.

“The definition of ‘criticism of Islam’ is very broad, with even the distribution of materials promoting another religion considered as criticism of Islam, even if the literature makes no mention of Islam at all,” she says.

According to Representative Foley, separate laws prohibit the distribution of Christian literature. Violations may result in a prison sentence of 2 to 5 years.

VOM Korea’s CEO Pastor Eric Foley records a daily radio broadcast to the Maldives.

On July 6th, 2021, Maldivian authorities announced that an investigation had determined that Christian literature in the Dhivehi language, the native language of the islands, was being mailed to both individuals and companies in the Maldives. Some of the literature is believed to have been confiscated, but the government was unable to verify the origin of the literature and closed the investigation.

Other unconfirmed reports indicate that the Maldives may station government agents in nearby countries like Sri Lanka to monitor or stop Christian outreach to the Maldives from originating there.

According to Representative Foley, Maldivian Christians must keep their faith secret. “If they are discovered, they may lose their citizenship,” she says. “Even owning a Bible can result in imprisonment.”

Most Christians in the Maldives are expatriates, and most prefer not to organize meetings out of fear of repercussions. Representative Foley says that while the law does permit “non-Muslim” foreigners to live in the Maldives, they are forbidden from expressing their religious beliefs in public. Sharing the gospel with Muslims is illegal and can result in deportation.

According to Representative Foley, these factors combine to create a “canopy of fear” when doing any kind of Christian activity in or near the Maldives.

“Many Christian groups that normally work in ‘closed countries’ have not been able to do any kind of work in the Maldives,” says Representative Foley. “That’s why radio broadcasting is so important: It replaces the ‘canopy of fear’ with a ‘gospel canopy’—daily presentation of the gospel in ways that local Christians as well as mission agencies can rely on and build upon in their evangelism and discipleship efforts.”

But according to Representative Foley, the “canopy of fear” nearly smothered her organization’s efforts to launch the daily radio broadcast earlier this year. “One of our possible partners for the project was unable to secure radio airtime due to the relationship of the Maldivian government with their own government. And several potential announcers were ultimately too scared to have their voices heard over the radio, even though we planned to alter the voices digitally to make detection difficult.”

Nevertheless, she says, Voice of the Martyrs Korea decided to press ahead on its own, and it launched its daily shortwave radio broadcast to the Maldives April 1, 2022.

Representative Foley says that while the use of shortwave radio for the broadcast may sound old fashioned, it is actually a cutting-edge effort. “Recently the Maldivian government has increased its efforts to block Christian content on the internet and on medium-wave radio,” she says. Blocking shortwave is much harder. “A shortwave radio signal can also effectively reach the full 90,000 square kilometers and 1,000+ islands of the Maldivian archipelago, and it is much more difficult for the government to block on a regular basis.”

Representative Foley notes that as much as 25% of the Maldivian population has regularly listened to popular shortwave broadcasts in recent years.

For the security of listeners, Voice of the Martyrs Korea does not release information regarding local listenership. But according to Representative Foley, the program has not experienced any jamming by the Maldivian government.

“We have received many reception reports from all around the world – India, Philippines, Morocco, Japan, China, Germany, Australia, Austria, and the United States – confirming that our broadcast is being received,” she says. “Our engineers remain at full alert and are daily monitoring our Maldivian broadcast in order to counteract any jamming efforts that may arise in the future.”

Representative Foley says that the Voice of the Martyrs Korea daily broadcasts utilize a combination of Dhivehi language content and English language content. “We use several books of the Bible that have been translated and recorded in Dhivehi, as well as other Christian content that has been recorded in Dhivehi. We supplement this with English language content that we record in our radio studio. English is used in the Maldivian school system and is gaining popularity across the islands.”

Representative Foley raises two prayer requests as the daily radio broadcast to the Maldives begins its second year. “First, please pray for a continued strong and clear signal for the VOMK broadcast to the Maldives. Second, since it is too dangerous for Maldivian Christians to gather for worship in small groups, please pray that our broadcast can encourage Christians who feel alone.”

Those interested in donating to support Voice of the Martyrs’ daily radio broadcast to the Maldives can do so at

Posted in Maldives, radio | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

VOMK Releases New John Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke

Voice of the Martyrs Korea announced the official release of its new John Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke at a press conference at its Jongneung office this week. Reporters were treated to a celebratory lunch of North Korean noodles prepared by some of Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korean defector students.

2022 marks the 140-year anniversary of the release of the first portion of scripture ever translated into the Korean language: Missionary John Ross’ Gospel of Luke, first published in 1882 and smuggled into Korea from Moukden, China (today’s Shenyang).

“The Ross Bible is how the voice of Christ first came to ordinary Korean people,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley. “Ordinary Korean people deserve to hear that voice again today. The Ross Bible was completed before the Korean language was standardized, so in its original form it is not readable by modern Koreans. The new John Ross Bible ‘Reader’s Edition’ Gospel of Luke updates the text direction, word order, letters, grammar, and spelling so that modern readers can read it easily and understand it fully. It retains the full original wording and adds simple notes to briefly and clearly explain unfamiliar vocabulary.”

The Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke is printed in the same size and shape as the original version, in a convenient and durable paperback format. “This reader’s edition is designed for easy, frequent reading and for tossing in your backpack to read on the subway, not for being displayed in a museum,” says Representative Foley. The Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke is available for 10,000 KRW at or by phone at 02-2065-0703.

The Ross Bible Reader’s Edition Gospel of Luke is the first of three Ross Bible versions Voice of the Martyrs Korea will be releasing over the next two years. The organization is currently working on a Luke/John/Acts trilogy edition for publication in mid-2023 and a full Ross New Testament “Contemporary Reader’s Edition” for publication in 2024.

Voice of the Martyrs CEO Pastor Eric Foley says the goal of the publication of the Ross Bible is for Koreans both north and south to be able to experience the spiritual power of the original Korean Bible translation.

“Today, Korean Christians are able to read the Bible in a large number and variety of translations. Sadly, the one Bible that has not been available for them to read is the Bible that has been called the foundation of the Korean Church,” says Pastor Foley. “The Ross Bible was for the first two decades of Korean Christianity the only Hangul New Testament available to Koreans. It was the Bible of the Korean church during its formative period, and it left a permanent imprint on the Korean church in the form of a church that is Bible-centered and lay-driven. God used the Ross Bible powerfully to impart the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to the first generation of Korean Christians even before missionaries arrived in Korea.”

According to Pastor Foley, previous republications of the Ross Bible have focused on use in commemorative displays or study by trained scholars, not ordinary Bible readers. “Our project is designed to more closely mirror the original one,” says Pastor Foley. “Then and now, the Ross Bible has always been the work of ordinary North Koreans, assisted by missionaries, to put the New Testament in an inexpensive paperback book format that ordinary Koreans can read. Though the work is meticulously done and documented, in the Reader’s Edition itself there are no complicated footnotes, no scholarly comments, no fancy printing or binding. Just the words of life, expressed in ordinary Korean words through the work of ordinary North Korean people who are learning to follow Christ.”

Respect for the Ross translation has continued to grow over the years. Richard Rutt of the British and Foreign Bible Society wrote, “The best piece of [Bible] translation work so far done in Korean was Ross’s.”

Pastor Foley said that his organization’s work in creating a “contemporary reader’s version” of the Ross Bible has given the participants in the project a deep appreciation for how sophisticated Ross’ translation process was. “Missionary Ross and his team may not have been professional Bible translators,” says Pastor Foley, “But when you read the detailed documentation of the steps they went through to ensure both the accuracy and the understandability of the translation, it’s clear that they had a professional process. And when you look at how the Ross translation fundamentally shaped the character of the Korean church, it’s clear that the process was guided by the Holy Spirit.”

Pastor Foley says that his own motivation for participating in the project comes from a desire to see that spirit return to the Korean church. “Missionary Ross had absolute trust in the sufficiency of scripture to reveal Christ fully. There’s a great story about Yi Song Ha, one of the earliest colporteurs, when he was trying to smuggle Bibles into Korea. He was staying at an inn on the border, and the innkeeper reported to the authorities that he had these books. So Yi had to quickly burn some of the books and then throw the rest in the Yalu River. He was sad and embarrassed to tell this to Missionary Ross. But Missionary Ross responded, ‘Whoever then drinks the waters of the Yalu or lives in the houses on which fall the ashes of burning Bibles will believe in Christ!’ And Ross was right: Christianity spread up and down the banks of the Yalu. Now, with Korean Christianity in decline, we need to recover Missionary Ross’ trust in the word of God. We hope the publication of the ‘Contemporary Reader’s Edition’ can accomplish that goal.”

Pastor Foley says that he has had the goal of publishing a reader’s edition since starting Voice of the Martyrs Korea twenty years ago, but that he and his wife and ministry co-founder Dr. Hyun Sook Foley found that it was a project that professional translators and publishers were reluctant to undertake. “Some told us there would be little popular interest in the book. Others told us that it might be too controversial to publish it. But to me, when I see Korean Christians reading the Message Bible or the Living Bible or some of the other popular new translations, how can it be that the only place to see a Ross Bible is in a museum and the only people who can read it are scholars of early Korean writings? The Ross Bible is how the voice of Christ first came to ordinary Korean people. Ordinary Korean people deserve to hear that voice again today, exactly as it first sounded—or as close to how it first sounded as possible.”

According to Pastor Foley, undertaking the project has required assembling a team and process similar to Ross’. “We have foreign missionaries and bilingual staff who are able to read Ross and McIntyre’s English language notes in order to help track down why certain words or phrases were used. We have people who can look at the Chinese versions that Ross’ team used, which is necessary for solving certain translation puzzles.”

But Pastor Foley says that the core members of the team are Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s North Korean students and constituents. “Since the Ross translation was originally done by Koreans from the north and west parts of the country, ordinary North Koreans of today actually can better understand some of the dialect and vocabulary than professional South Korean translators can.”

Pastor Foley says that the Ross Bible project has become the entire curriculum of both of Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s schools for North Korean defectors this year, just as it was for the North Koreans who came to Ross and McIntyre. “Now that we’ve been doing the project for a while, it’s easy to see why Missionary Ross discipled North Koreans by having them translate. Many of our North Korean students get completely absorbed in the work of updating the translation,” says Pastor Foley. “They will work intensely all day and into the evening without taking a break. It’s been the most effective form of ministry we’ve ever done with North Koreans. Missionary McIntyre wrote that during the translation process, his role was mainly to sit back and listen. That’s been our experience, too.”

Pastor Foley added, “I believe God has given North Koreans a particular anointing or gift or connection related to the Ross Bible. One of our North Korean students attends a North Korean defector congregation at a South Korean church. Some of the church members were skeptical about the project. So she stood up in front of the leaders and passionately shared with them how she encountered God in translating the Bible, and how important the project is to both North Koreans and South Koreans. There were South Koreans there who heard her, and they clapped enthusiastically. One said, ‘I have never heard any testimonies like this one before.’”

Pastor Foley emphasized that creating a “Contemporary Reader’s Version” of the Ross Bible is hard work. “It’s difficult to explain how long it takes, and how challenging it is for the participants,” says Pastor Foley. “The Ross Bible was done before the standardization of the Korean language, so the text represents every word phonetically. You have to sound out the word, figure out what it is, write it out, figure out how it is written today, figure out what the whole sentence is, figure out what words are obsolete, research those—literally every sentence is a challenge. But it drives all of us further into the text, and like our North Korean student said, that’s where you meet God.”

Voice of the Marytrs Korea offered samples of the Ross Bible Gospel of Luke compared to the Korean Revised Version.

Luke 5:5

(KRV/개역개정) ”시몬이 대답하여 이르되 선생님 우리들이 밤이 새도록 수고하였으되 잡은 것이 없지마는 말씀에 의지하여 내가 그물을 내리리이다 하고”

(Ross Contemporary Readers Version) ”시몬이 가로되 영감 우리 종야를 입부(수고)고 얻은 바 없으나 영감의 말로써 그물을 치리라 하고”

Luke 22:7

(KRV/개역개정) “유월절 양을 잡을 무교절날이 이른지라”

(Ross Contemporary Readers Version) “누륵금하는 날이 오니 넘는절 양 잡는 때라”

In addition to distribution in South Korea through the VOMK website and phone orders, Pastor Foley says Voice of the Martyrs Korea is already at work distributing the new Ross Bible Gospel of Luke in North Korea and wherever North Koreans are found.  “For the security of our colporteurs and our intended recipients, we are not able to specify the routes, the means, or the quantities, but we have made sure that North Koreans, the original readers of the Ross Bible, were the first to receive this new Reader’s Edition.”

The Ross Bible “Reader’s Edition” Gospel of Luke is available for 10,000 KRW at  or by phone at 02-2065-0703.

Posted in Bible, John Ross | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment