How much could we endure for the sake of Christ? Can we even begin to imagine years separated from our families, beatings where inhuman torture nearly crushed both mind and body, despair-inducing isolation in dark, dank cells, or the sheer hatred that evil can produce? As I flipped through the pages of Richard Wurmbrand's Tortured for Christ and Harlan Popov's Tortured for His Faith, books I had read years ago and nearly forgotten, images of unbelievable suffering came back into clear view. Even though people of my generation came of age in the era of the Iron Curtain and the Cold War, the memories have faded, except for reminders in old films. Yet men like Richard and Harlan, and countless others both in Russsia and the other satellite states of Eastern Europe, endured unspeakable atrocities in the name of their Savior at a time when the USSR became the grand experiment of the perfect atheistic state. Of course these sufferings still exist and many attempt to keep them before our eyes lest we lose sight of their sacrifice. As we pack stadiums and mega-churches with thousands, counting success in the church by size and wealth, and wring our hands when some slight opposition to the faith arises, we should stand humbled in the presence of these suffering saints who found greater honor and glory in the cross than in earthly comfort. This Thursday we observe the feast day of St. Mathaias, the apostle chosen to replace Judas. Since outside of the Acts of the Apostles no scriptural evidence exists of his life and work, we are left with secondary sources, many of which differ. On my calendar, however, the color is red, indicating that the church believes him to have ended his life as a martyr. The Eastern Church celebrates his feast day on August 14, and now the Catholics, it seems, have since moved it to May 14, so we lack consensus even on the day of his remembrance. Nevertheless, Matthias is believed to be a saint who gave his life in service to his Lord, suffering well beyond what many of us may ever be called to do. May his feast day remind us of the suffering church, the church called to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel, the church willing to endure injustice and loss that it might serve the world by giving it life in Christ.
For more information on current persecution of the Christian Church, go to International Christian Concern or Voice of the Martyrs, as two places to begin. BTW, you can get a copy of Wurmbrand's book at the VOM site. For a map of the restricted nations, places that actively oppose and persecute the church, go here.