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Southern Baptists engage in global event advocating for imprisoned Christians

VOM's Todd Nettleton (left) talks with Dan Baumann (center) and Andrew Brunson about time they spent in prison for their faith -- Baumann in Iran and Brunson in Turkey. VOM photo

BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (BP) – Taken from his cell in Iran’s harsh Evin prison for a trial that to him was impromptu, evangelist Dan Baumann was asked to state his case against false charges that carried two death sentences. Immediately, he remembered God’s promise in Matthew 10:19.

“Do not be afraid when you are called before the authorities for at that time I will give you the words to say,” Baumann recalled the Scripture. “I looked at the man and I said, ‘Sir, I came here to tell you about Jesus Christ.’ … I said it a second time, and a third time and I ended up preaching over half an hour.”

Baumann, a Youth With a Mission trainer, was among three formerly imprisoned Christians who shared their experiences in the virtual “Imprisoned For Christ” Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) broadcast March 5. Pastor Andrew Brunson told of his two-year ordeal in a Turkish prison, and VOM Africa ministry leader Petr Jasek told of 445 days of imprisonment in Sudan.

The event was designed to engage Christians in prayer and advocacy for the thousands of such men and women imprisoned for their faith globally, said event host Todd Nettleton, VOM chief of media relations and message integration.

“It is also a way to celebrate and proclaim God’s faithfulness – faithfulness that reaches even into a prison cell in Sudan, Turkey or Iran,” Nettleton told Baptist Press. “Inevitably there will be byproducts of those outcomes. American Christians will commit to faithfully pray – and pray more knowledgeably – for Christian brothers and sisters currently in prison for their faith, such as Pastor Wang Yi in China or Pastor Haile Nayzgi in Eritrea. Christians in free nations will also be challenged to think about their own faith, and to live more boldly for Christ in their environment.”

The event drew viewers from more than 50 countries, and more than 1,200 churches of various denominations hosted watch parties, according to VOM.

Zion Hill Baptist Church in Andalusia, Ala., and Evergreen Baptist Church in Bixby, Okla., are among Southern Baptist churches that hosted watch parties and encouraged members to also view from their homes.

About 25 people attended the watch party at Zion Hill Baptist Church, a small congregation that draws fewer than 50 to Sunday worship, said senior pastor John McMath.

“I think sometimes in the American church we forget that Christianity doesn’t necessarily look like the way that it does in America, that there’s people around the world, in other countries, that it actually costs them something to be followers of Christ,” McMath said. A VOM supporter, he wanted the church to “see what other Christians around the world in other situations go through for the sake of the Gospel.”

Zion Members found the event eye-opening, said McMath, who will add VOM prayer concerns to the church’s weekly Wednesday prayer meetings.

Evergreen Baptist Church has long supported persecuted believers, said Scott Meeks, an executive pastor of the congregation that draws about 750 to Sunday worship.

“It’s important for believers to be informed about the challenges and persecutions our brothers and sisters face every day as they live out their faith,” Meeks told Baptist Press. “We are called to pray for them and share in their suffering as best we can. We must always remember and appreciate the freedom we currently enjoy in our country while preparing our hearts for the potential for that to change.”

About 35 Evergreen members attended the watch party, and about 20 households were expected to view from home.

“We regularly encourage our members to pray for the persecuted church. We have, when possible, made trips to countries in which Christians are persecuted and otherwise limited in their religious freedom,” Meeks said. “We seek to encourage, train and equip them for growth and evangelism.”

The three-hour VOM event included detailed testimonies from Baumann, Brunson and Jasek, offered books the three have authored, and included segments of focused prayer and worship music by Christian artist Natalie Grant.

Baumann, who fashioned a contraption to commit suicide by drowning during his nine-week imprisonment in 1997, struggled to find the courage to complete the task. On his fourth attempt, he had a vision that changed his trajectory.

“I remember lying down on the ground in that moment. All of a sudden the room filled with this glorious light. I turn around to see what’s going on and there is Jesus. It was at that lowest point that He met me,” Baumann said during the VOM event.

Nettleton said the experience gave Baumann “hope and ability to keep going and strength to forgive and even befriend the guard who regularly beat him. It also gave him the courage to boldly proclaim his faith in front of his accusers and an Iranian judge.”

Brunson, arrested while leading a small church in Izmir in 2016, discovered benefits of his imprisonment, despite the cruelty he endured.

“But what really turned things around in a way was that I began to see that God had a purpose in my imprisonment, that He was using me to be a magnet for prayer to turn millions of eyes to Turkey and to that region,” Brunson said. “I believe that I had an assignment to prepare for harvest and I came to realize that my time in prison was part of that assignment, that millions of people began to pray for that area.”

Jasek, who was overseeing nearly 300 different projects in 27 African countries when he was arrested in December 2015, saw God’s providence in allowing him to share the Gospel with numerous prisoners during his confinement. He lost 55 pounds during the first three months in prison, suffering anemia, malnutrition and internal bleeding from numerous beatings.

“I went to Sudan for just literally four days, but the Lord has turned these four days into 445 days,” Jasek said. “In one sense it might seem like a disaster for someone, but just think about the Lord’s wisdom. He allowed me to preach the Gospel in places where no one else could probably preach the Gospel. This is exactly in accordance with Isaiah 55:8-10. The Lord says, ‘My ways are not like your human ways. My thoughts are not like your human thoughts. As heaven is higher than the earth; so much higher are my ways and thoughts with you than yours.'”

Each man has written a book recounting his ordeal – “Imprisoned with ISIS” by Jasek, “God’s Hostage” by Brunson and “Cell 58” by Baumann.

The broadcast is available on demand here.

VOM, founded in 1967 by Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, is a nonprofit, interdenominational missions organization serving persecuted Christians globally. Free resources are available at persecution.com.