A young believer in Eastern Europe, had been arrested and imprisoned for being a Christian. Returning to his cell after the court hearing to determine his sentence, other prisoners asked him what happen. Jon answered, “It was just like the day the angel visited Mary, the mother of Jesus. Here she was, a godly young women sitting alone in meditation, when a radiant angel of God told her the incredible news. She would carry the Son of God in her womb.” Wondering how Jon’s words would relate to his court appearance, the prisoners listened closely. Jon continued to tell the story of Jesus and to clearly present the gospel. He concluded by saying, “Mary knew once she was in heaven, she would be with Jesus again and experience eternal joy.” Puzzled the prisoners reminded him they asked him what had happened in court. Jon, his face shining, replied, “I was given the death penalty, isn’t that beautiful news?”
Somalia might be the most dangerous place in the world. Decades of conflict have gutted the country’s infrastructure. Somalia’s economy ranks dead last among all nations, and it isn’t a matter of if you will experience a terrorist attack but when.
Billy was born into a religious family in Mogadishu. His father was a tribal and religious leader who had memorized the entire Koran. Out of curiosity, Billy started studying an English Bible alongside his Koran. After three years of study, he converted to Christianity. He learned a lot from Christian radio broadcasts from the Seychelles and Kenya, and it was on the radio that he first heard the voice of another Somali who was a Christian.
Billy’s family threatened him when he confessed his new faith. That was when he first began to understand the words of Paul in 2 Timothy 3:12: “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Six years after his conversion, Billy met his first Christian Somali. Together, as underground Christians, they gathered fourteen believers and started an underground church. A year later, Muslims discovered the growing Christian community and started persecution in earnest.
One of their church members, Liibaan, now a famed Somali martyr, was the first to be murdered. Then a doctor who attended the church was shot to death. An educator was kidnapped and executed. A Christian man and his Muslim wife were executed together in their bedroom. Another church member was taken off a bus and executed in broad daylight.
Twelve in all were murdered. None of the murderers were ever prosecuted.
Today, just two members have survived out of the original church of fourteen—Billy and one other. Billy escaped many attempts on his life before moving to another country. From that base, he travels in and out of Somalia, planting and nurturing underground house churches. No longer are there only fourteen Christians in Mogadishu. The church is quietly growing, partly because of the testimony of those twelve who died for Christ.
What we know of Catherine of Alexandria comes handed down through centuries of church tradition. A Roman governor’s daughter, she is believed to have lived from 287-305 AD.
You’re standing in the thriving Egyptian metropolis of Alexandria, just outside the city governor’s house. The door opens; all around you, bystanders’ heads turn to see a girl of about 18 march into the streets.
“Who is she?” you ask a nearby merchant paused in his tracks.
“Catherine, of course,” he whispers. “Who doesn’t know of the governor’s daughter? Beware of her, traveler. She may be beautiful as a Nile lily, but her words have persuaded hundreds to join the Christian cult. Besides, why she, a girl, should study philosophy, science, languages, and medicine no one can say. And why she refuses to marry—”
But you can’t catch the rest of his sentence—not when you need to follow Catherine. Tracking her determined steps, you eventually find her seeking audience before Emperor Maxentius himself!
“It isn’t right to kill them,” she challenges the emperor, “you must stop these persecutions against Christians.”
Clearly, this girl’s got guts!
The emperor’s eyes narrow. He summons 50 pagan philosophers, his wisest orators, to silence this fiendish female’s pro-Christian arguments. Not only does she win the ensuing debate, but her irrefutable logic also compels several listeners to themselves become Christians! These converts taste the consequences of their treason immediately, but the execution is too light a sentence for Catherine. No, she must be thoroughly scourged. Imprisoned. Condemned to death by the breaking wheel.
While she awaits her fate, 200 visitors seek her in prison—and not one remains unconverted. Finally, the executioners lead Catherine to the wheel. But instead of the wheel breaking her, she breaks it upon contact. A quick blow by sword ushers Catherine into eternity.
Nikolai Khamra was once a former thief who gave his life to the Lord Jesus Christ in prison. After his release he joined the underground church in Russia. One day his pastor was arrested by the Communists, who tortured him to get him to reveal how the Christians printed and distributed gospel tracks. But the pastor did not crack. Finally, the interrogator said “Enough. We have a better way.” And he brought in Nikolai Khamara, who had also been arrested. “If you do not tell all the secrets, we will torture one of your members in front of you.” “Oh, no. Nikolai, what should I do?” wailed Nikolai’s pastor. “Don’t worry,” said Nikolai. “Just be faithful to Christ and do not betray him. I am happy to suffer for the name of Christ.” But when the Communists prepared to gouge out Nikolai’s eyes, the pastor withered until Nikolai said, “When my eyes are taken away, I will see more beauty than I see with these eyes. I will see the Saviour. You just remain faithful to Christ to the end.” When they moved to cut out his tongue, Nikolai calmed his frantic pastor by shouting, “Praise the Lord Jesus Christ! There, I have said the highest words anyone can say. What does it matter now if they cut out my tongue?” In this way, the communists martyred Nikolai for the sake of Christ, even while he encouraged his pastor not betray the church.