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Annual Day of the Christian Martyr encourages personal sacrifice for Gospel

IMB Photo

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (BP) — Prayer for the persecuted and faith to boldly proclaim the Gospel are being encouraged on the sixth annual Day of the Christian Martyr June 29, launched in 2019 by Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).

Observed annually on the date church tradition remembers as the anniversary of the beheading of the Apostle Paul in Rome, VOM has successfully drawn attention to those who died for Christianity and hopes to inspire believers to persevere in spreading the Gospel, VOM vice president and spokesperson Todd Nettleton told Baptist Press.

“Since its inception, The Day of the Christian Martyr has raised awareness of stories — some of them unknown before — of Christian brothers and sisters who gave their lives to see the Gospel advance,” Nettleton said, recalling martyrs Rocio Pino, killed by Marxist Guerrillas in Colombia; John Chau, killed in 2018 by an isolated tribe on an Indian Ocean island; and Abdiwelli Ahmed, killed for sharing his faith with fellow Kenyans.

“But the most important goal is one that is hard to measure: inspiration. Only in eternity will we know how many churches, how many families, how many young people have been inspired by these stories to ‘go and do likewise’ to share Christ’s love with those around them and to the ends of the earth, no matter the cost.”

While the Southern Baptist Convention annually remembers persecuted Christians on The Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, observed Nov. 3 on the SBC 2024 calendar of activities, the June 29 date also affords a valuable opportunity, leaders said.

“IMB (International Mission Board) walks alongside of, works with, and ministers to many of the most persecuted Christians on the planet. Our admiration and gratitude for the faithfulness and witness of our brothers and sisters who suffer for Christ makes us advocates, seeking the prayers and support of Southern Baptists,” IMB President Paul Chitwood told Baptist Press. “On the Day of the Christian Martyr, we remember those who have paid the ultimate price, some of them being our own Southern Baptist missionaries.”

Brent Leatherwood, who advocates for religious liberty as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, urged Southern Baptists to observe the day with prayer.

“Whether it is terrorist groups freely operating in countries like Nigeria or state-sponsored persecution as we see from the Chinese Communist Party, Christians the world over routinely endure egregious violations of their religious freedom and many are murdered for following Jesus Christ,” Leatherwood told Baptist Press. “While we must not hesitate to condemn and confront these atrocities, let us never forget to first and foremost pray for our brothers and sisters enduring such attacks.

“Their commitment to continue proclaiming the Good News proves not only that the gates of Hell shall not prevail against the church, but neither will terrorists or tyrants.”

According to church tradition, June 29 marks the anniversary of the Apostle Paul’s beheading in Rome.

While VOM has honored individual martyrs in years past, the ministry is this year spotlighting Christians killed in Northern Iraq and Syria as the Islamic State group spread terror through the area in the summer of 2014.

“The goal of Day of the Christian Martyr is to help us as Christians remember and honor the sacrifice of those who gave their very lives for the cause of Christ,” Nettleton said, “and to be inspired by their example to sacrifice whatever we need to in order to see Christ’s Kingdom advance in our neighborhoods, our cities and ultimately around the world.”

More than 100,000 Christians fled the area in 2014 as the Islamic State group marked their homes with red letters signifying their Christianity, marking them for death unless they fled or converted, VOM said in proclaiming the observance.