They ate bugs and said things that could get them killed . . . did get them killed. One came soon before, one soon after.
They had average names but did not live average lives. They had embraced a radical Christianity – one that couldn’t care less what the status quo thought of the strange ways they dressed or the convicting words they uttered.
They spoke their mind against the powerful and elite. Their words and promises didn’t change if it was an election year. In fact, they spoke about other sufferers who had the same message as their own: “Was there ever a prophet your ancestors did not persecute?” (Acts 7:52, NIV throughout).
Their message would get them killed, and they knew it. But their eyes were not on this world. They didn’t care if they lived comfortably. They knew what it meant to live sacrificially. Somehow people were drawn to them. Was it because they lived what they said? Was it because they were actually “[Producing] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8)?
You guessed it. Their names were John and Stephen.
In a world with big talk and little action; in a time when anything will be said if it will allow you maintain your job, get you ahead in life, or get you elected to an office; in a time that appears to be the end time, it is uncomfortable to talk in a way — let alone live in a way — that could/will get you killed. Yet John, Stephen, many before and many after them embraced a word that has no equal: martyr.
I looked in a thesaurus for a similar word but found nothing. We understand the meaning of martyr: to die for your faith. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is an exciting read. We love to watch a movie in which the hero dies for his convictions. We even catch ourselves fantasizing about doing something truly amazing with our lives, actually making a change in this world instead of just punching a time clock and going through the motions.
Yet it’s hard for us to share our faith with the man that sits next to us in the office cubicle, let alone do something that could get rocks chucked at us or our head delivered up on a platter. But I believe that many of us, especially men, really desire to live in such a way that could get us killed. My wife likes to joke (we both know she is only halfway kidding) that there can only be one martyr in the family. Someone has to raise the kids if the other dies for his/her faith.
I know a couple of men who have embraced the life of martyrdom (an oxymoron?). One is no more; the other is ready. First is the late Calvince Omondi. Calvince was part of our orphans and widows ministry years ago. In his teenage years we assisted him with finishing high school after his parents died of AIDS. He attended one of our churches in Kenya, under Pastor Abrahams Odongo.
Calvince was a young man with a lot of conviction who carried his values into his construction job. Soon the owner of the construction company noticed he was trustworthy and, within a short time, Calvince was put in charge of the owner’s estate and company. Calvince did the ordering for the construction projects and kept track of the stores (material supplies). Others within the company soon discovered that they could no longer loot “the boss” and that Calvince had interfered with their theft and way of life.
About four months ago, Calvince was put to death with machetes —stabbing and clubbing — and was dismembered. He wasn’t a pastor, preacher, or prophet. He was a common laborer who died for his values — one of the few who can proudly enter everlasting life with an uncommon title: martyr.
At the end of April, I tried my hand at putting my life on the line for a conviction. The opportunity came in Benin, Africa, when I met up with Michael Porter. Michael is a pastor who rescues girls from the evil practice of voodoo. This religion has similarities to the vile practices found in the Old Testament, complete with temple prostitutes and baby sacrifices.
Michael and I went to one of these places of horror: an entire village filled with voodoo adherents, temples with altars of sacrifice, and hundreds of people demonically possessed. I posed as a children’s relief worker from the US and asked many questions about water sources, how far the kids walk to school, and the proximity of the nearest health facility.
After I broke the ice with them, the witch doctor told us anything we wanted to hear, including the fact that he didn’t know how many wives (read: underage sex slaves held against their will) or how many children he had. Michael had already kidnapped one girl from this village, and she now resides with a Christian family. Michael has risked his life over a dozen times to rescue these girls in over a half dozen voodoo villages.
With over a dozen girls rescued over the last four years, Michael pays bribes, carries out raids, and works undercover with honest police and under the radar from corrupt police and judges. Our day scoping out the village was a success, and we left unharmed.
So step right up and join the ranks. We know that in the end times there will be many martyrs who will be beheaded for their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God (Revelation 6:9; 17:6; 20:4). As we live in these end times, the word martyr will become more common in our speech. May we stand for our convictions, be witnesses, and be counted among the elite who are not concerned about outward appearances or offending someone. May we boldly testify of Jesus!