“The martyrs’ stories involve suffering and death, but their secret message is all about life–the real life that every follower of Christ desperately thirsts for.”
–The Last Words of the Martyrs
As several Christian denominations in the West struggle with steep membership decline, it’s essential to understand why the Church is steadily growing in some of the most oppressive places in the world.
In The Last Words of the Martyrs: Life-Changing Lessons from Persecuted Believers Who Paid the Ultimate Price, Jeff King, the president of International Christian Concern, provides some explanations for the links between suffering and destruction and hope and spiritual growth. Persecution for loving Jesus Christ, King writes, is actually a great gift to Church, because “[Satan] forgets that human beings are spiritually combustible. Blowing out the flame of one believer merely spreads his sparks to the tinder around him.”
Suffering Christians isn’t exactly a page-turner of a subject. This weighty topic, however, offers good news, as King lets personal accounts of courage, self-sacrifice, and a greater love unfold across the pages.
In each chapter, readers are introduced to Christian martyrs from all backgrounds. We meet husbands, wives, expectant mothers, small children, missionaries, pastors, politicians, prisoners, brick workers, and innocent churchgoers–including a ten-year-old boy–who paid the ultimate price for following Jesus.
Admittedly, I found myself needing to take breaks after reading stories, particularly those involving the suffering of young children. Even so, I returned to the book, knowing that the stories did not end with evil acts. The Good News shines through the darkness. Every story of a martyr included in The Last Words of the Martyrs ends with some glimmer of hope, such as:
A family member’s display of forgiveness as Christ forgives us.
Strengthened regional ministry.
Greater closeness to God amid the pain.
Conversion of persecutors.
Every story in the book demonstrates how God will use the pain and suffering of Christian martyrdom for good in this broken world.
I won’t pretend that I fully understand why such horrific atrocities affect our Christian brothers and sisters abroad. This book does remind me, though, that “the pain of the persecuted needs to be [my] pain.” While we attempt to advocate and care for the Persecuted Church, as pastor and author Francis Chan writes in the book’s forward, we must also share in their suffering. Because, if we simply seek to problem solve, then we will miss “something incredibly special about suffering with Jesus.”
What do we do when people around us don’t want to hear these stories? We tell them anyway. American Christianity prefers easily-digestible, bulleted lessons centered around improving ourselves. We have to stop protecting ourselves from the reality of the persecuted, as King continually reminds us throughout his book.
American Christians are tempted by comfort, self-sufficiency, and self-dependence. I fall prey to self-reliance myself, at times. I appreciate that King spends his concluding chapters addressing Christianity’s greatest foes in the West. The Persecuted Church rattles our comfortable American Christianity. That’s why this book is key.
King writes that he decided to stop “protecting the Western Church from the pain of the persecuted” after he saw a video of a mob of Hindus beat several Christians to death, including a thirteen-year-old boy. “The press doesn’t usually show the persecution of Christians. I felt burdened to wake the sleeping sheltered Western church to the suffering of the body of Christ,” he writes.
King is especially perceptive about the specific spiritual and physical needs of the Persecuted Church, having spent three decades working in global missions and persecution ministry. Before ICC, King served with CRU (Campus Crusade for Christ), where he worked to spread the Gospel into closed countries.
You will not find, in this book, a handy bulleted list or ten-step program to resolving Christian persecution. What you will find in The Last Words of the Martyrs are the imminent struggles of the Global Church and examples of unbreakable Christian witnesses. Stories of Christian men, women, and children, who live in regions where, at times, a line is drawn in the sand. You either denounce Jesus, or you die. They choose to die for Christ.
Some of the martyrs’ stories are difficult to process emotionally. Their stories entail violence, torture, rape, enslavement, and death. Read this book so that you can share their stories with others. We can’t guess how the Lord might use their pain to give life.