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FIRST-PERSON: Truth worth dying for


FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The task of honoring the lives of those who have been killed by radical Islamists while sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through their deeds and by word of mouth has become strangely familiar.

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a reflection on the murder of three Christian hospital workers in Jibla, Yemen. Six months earlier, I had written about the death of the missionary pilot and kidnap victim Martin Burnham in the Philippines.

On both occasions I wondered how to walk the fine line of cultural sensitivity while maintaining a clear, precise presentation of the differences between the Christian faith and all other religious systems.

Explaining the motivation of the Christian workers that breathed life, even in their deaths, into their surroundings was easy enough. They had traversed the globe to follow the call of God to love, give, heal, pray and share their Good News with the spiritually destitute, those bound by the chains of Islam.

Addressing the exclusive claims of Christianity, those that I know to be unshakeable truths, was a more perilous, but necessary process. Comparing the loving, righteous, merciful and just God of Christianity with the distant, unapproachable god of Islam challenged deeply held traditions and earned a fair number of sternly worded accusations of ignorance and bigotry and cries of intolerance.

So be it. Christians are not concerned with popularity contests. In fact, Christians frequently declare their faith knowing that it will make them unpopular or even targets of violence to be known as a disciple of the Rabbi from Galilee.

Jesus, however, was much more than a rabbi. He was the very Son of God. His power was displayed in His life, death and resurrection, but it was also evident in the lives of four more Christian workers assassinated in Mosul, Iraq, March 15.

I do not know if Larry and Jean Elliot, David and Carrie McDonnell and Karen Watson were targeted solely because of their Christian faith. I do, however, believe that the foreign fighters and rebels who ply their trade of terror and murder in Iraq see all westerners as “Christian infidels.”

Because of the service and sacrifice of the Christian workers and their attackers’ hatred for all things non-Muslim, what occurred in the city of Mosul that day as a rocket-propelled grenade and automatic weapons fire ripped through their car was the martyrdom of four believers. Only Carrie McDonnall survived.

Here, I’ve used the term martyr as it was long intended to be used. A martyr is one who “witnesses” for the truth unto death. He or she testifies to the truth that faith in and love for Jesus Christ results in salvation and eternal life.

Those who are “martyrs” in the Muslim religion do not die for truth. They commit acts of hatred for hatred’s sake and hope that, while innocents are maimed and killed, they will be snatched away to a paradise of 72 virgins where rivers flow with wine and honey.

If there was ever any doubt that this is the case, that doubt was absolved days ago as a young, mentally challenged Palestinian boy stood at an Israeli checkpoint with an explosive vest strapped to his body. Men who did not have the fortitude to commit the act had sent Hussam Abdo to his death themselves. In the end, the boy relented and did not detonate the vest.

I wonder if the leadership of the Al Aqsa “Martyrs'” Brigade that sent the boy would have grieved over the death of another young Palestinian. Or did they think that he was the coward because he didn’t incinerate himself and others?

“When the soldiers stopped me, I didn’t press the switch. I changed my mind. I didn’t want to die anymore,” Abdo said, even though he said he knew that he must die taking life in order to be a “martyr” and enter “paradise.”

The Christian workers who were murdered in Iraq knew that they had already died to themselves. They were supremely concerned with giving the life that they knew in Christ to the people of Iraq. Christians do not seek martyrdom. Martyrdom confronts them. They accept it as a possibility because the message that they share is the most valuable treasure that can be given, though many hate it.

Each of the workers carried with them a message from their King. That message has been told repeatedly to the dispossessed, hurting and spiritually hungry for 2,000 years. The message is that the sinfulness of one’s life can be exchanged for righteousness in the eyes of God for all who believe what we preach and what Scripture declares.

Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through me.” And this is His promise: that those who believe in Him will never die.

It is my hope that the testimony of these four workers, even in death, will prompt those in foreign lands and in our own country to question the yoke of oppression that hangs about their necks. The yoke of sin leads only into the valley of the shadow of death.

Having written what I have written, I assume some will pen the usual objections that I have classified all Muslims as terrorists, and that I and other Christians are an intolerant brood. Neither is true.

But just as it was love that motivated four slain workers, and a fifth wounded worker, love compels me to declare that salvation is found in no other way than through faith in Christ. Those who died took on the character of Christ in life. They loved supremely. They sacrificed. They did what they saw Him do.

Now only Carrie McDonnall remains as the sole survivor of the attack. Rest assured that she would tell you the same thing about the love of Christ.
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Gregory Tomlin is director of communications at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

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