Some supporters once asked a mission leader, “What is the most effective strategy in the world today for reaching the unreached?” He answered frankly, “martyrdom.” Briefly stunned, they then asked politely, “What is another effective strategy?” (I've heard this story attributed to two different sources.)
A hard pill to swallow. Or as Jesus might say, a hard cup to drink. I suppose calling it a "strategy" is a bit misleading, since it's not the kind of thing you can really plan or even position yourself for, really. Some have tried; the early church had to be clear that you weren't allowed to turn yourself in, as there was some enthusiasm in those days for getting one's crown in record time. Which of the early church leaders was it who said, "if the lions refuse to eat me, I shall use force on them"?
Yet martyrdom may not be all bad news either. When Jesus said, "You will be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8) this is clearly part of what he was describing.
Consider how very subversive the whole thing is... Opponents of the gospel have often come to the reasonable conclusion that removing the messenger ought to stem the flow the message – or, if that is not effective, how about a genocide?
Over the last 20 centuries 70 million Christians have been killed for their faith. About 60% of all the Christians who have been martyred for their faith were part of the Orthodox tradition – Russian, Syrian, Ukrainian, and Armenian. Another 18% were Catholic. (Just to put this in context, Muslims considered martyrs by their own people = 80 million, and even Baha'i claims 1 million.)
The worst recent case of persecution took place in China between 1966 and 1967, during that country’s Cultural Revolution. “This," say David Barrett and Todd Johnson, "was history’s most systematic attempt ever, by a single nation, to eradicate and destroy Christianity and all religion. In this it failed." (David Barrett & Todd Johnson, World Christian Trends: AD30-AD2200: Interpreting the Annual Christian Megacensus, William Carey Library, 2001, p. 7.)
Today, almost one in ten Chinese people is a Christian. And there, more so than in many places, that probably means they are a follower of Jesus. While persecution and martyrdom have left a huge swath of tragedy behind, the same dynamic is true in other places: amazing fruit.
Martyrdom: Long-term Effect on Evangelization
(Barrett & Johnson, p. 32)
- Countries with lengthy history of martyrs, now fully evangelized: 210
- Countries with many martyrs, massive church growth today: 40
- Countries with few or no martyrs, no church growth today: 30
The trial of their persecutors continues, and one of the things Turkish Christians are asking us to pray for is that this leads to more positive awareness of their existence - that there ARE some Turks who are Christians, that to be a Turk does not automatically mean you are Muslim.