Earlier this year, 15-year-old Roy Pontoh was attending a Bible camp with other teenagers in Indonesia, when an angry Muslim mob broke up the meeting and, forcing the young man to stand before the crowd, threatened him if he did not renounce Christ. At his refusal, one of the attackers sliced him open with a sword and the mob threw his body in a ditch. This is Roy Pontoh's story. During China's Red Guard Era (1966-69) two Christian girls, Chiu-Chin-Hsiu and Ho-Hsiu-Tzu, were shot to death for refusing to change their faith. Their executioner was their own pastor, who was promised release from prison for killing the girls; in turn he was himself betrayed by his Communist captors and shot. This is their story. In England in 1555, Dr. Rowland Taylor, pastor of Hadley, was imprisoned and then burned at the stake for Protestant heresy. This is his story. In 1964 the Adventist pastor Boian of Ploiesti was released from a three-year prison sentence for preaching the Christian message. After being caught renewing his work, he was sentenced to another eight years in prison. This is his story. In Antioch, around 285 AD, Romanus was scourged with whips, cut with knives, and made to watch the beating and beheading of a Christian child. Still he would not renounce his faith in Christ. His tormentor, the Roman prefect Asclepiades, returned to torturing Romanus and then brought him back to prison and had him strangled. This is his story, too.
You will not likely find a more intense book on Christian martyrs than this. Cutting a wide swath through history and through geography, this is a compilation of new and old stories of real persons who suffered, were tortured, maimed, or killed, for their faith in Jesus Christ. You will also not find anything quite like this book on the market today. This is a book you may want to put downbecause it presents painful stories, some anguishing to readbut in the end you will pick it up again and again.
The whole presentation is most unusual. The binding is made to look old, worn, and arcane. The stories, all of them, are retold talessome from secondary historical sources, some from witnesses, and some from living survivors themselvesbut all are well written and all speak of a single theme: martyrdom. We tend to think that all the martyrs were ancient, but this book will go far in reminding us that we have witnesses standing firm for the Christian faith all over the world today. Although not overly graphic in detail, the stories are nonetheless gritty and disturbing. You will not like what our brothers and sisters of faith must endure.
At the forefront of the battle for the persecuted church is an organization called "The Voice of the Martyrs." This interdenominational nonprofit group was founded 30 years ago by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned in Communist Romania for 14 years for his Christian faith; its current US director, Tom Wait, is himself a survivor who spent 17 months in a Cuban jail for distributing Bibles on Castro's island nation. From another angle is the contemporary Christian rock band, dc Talk, whose albums (including the 1995 "Jesus Freak") provide a musical side of the intensity of belief that strengthens the Christian martyr during trials and torments. Using historical sources and the oral and written testimonies of living friends and martyrs, these two groups, as the book's authors, have created a compelling, haunting treasury of Christian commitment in the face of enormous suffering. All told there are over 100 such stories, from Stephen's stoning death in 34 AD to several events that took place only months ago.
The book is not perfect, however, and many martyrs do not have their stories told here. Most glaring is the absence of Quaker witnessesnotably George Fox, who was insulted, beaten, whipped, imprisoned, and tormented throughout a good part of his life for his Christian message. But this should not prevent readers from reading this important book.
And it should be read. We need to know where and how we can assist those under trial, and toward this end the authors have assembled an action list and a summary of 42 countries where the persecuted church needs our aid. Indeed, even purchasing the book will help.
This book tells stories we need to hear. We need to be reminded that the Christian cause is vital and pertinent for this fallen world. After reading the book, even Scripture can take on a new relevance. Ephesians 6:12, for example, suddenly seems written for our century: "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." But then Paul was himself a "Jesus Freak" and his story, too, is told here.
Quaker Books: "Jesus Freaks" | newquaker.com
Copyright © 1999 by Merle Harton, Jr. All rights reserved