An interview with Colonel Jim Dau and Mr. Todd Nettleton of The Voice of the Martyrs
Around the world, many who profess their faith in Jesus Christ are met with hostility or even violence. The Voice of the Martyrs is a nonprofit missions organization working to fight Christian persecution taking place in over 60 different nations today. Editor-in-Chief Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee spoke to Colonel Jim Dau and Mr. Tom Nettleton of The Voice of the Martyrs about the kinds of persecution Christians face each day and what their brothers and sisters in Christ can do to help.
War Cry: How would you define Christian persecution?
Nettleton: Christian persecution takes a lot of forms, but the definition is someone who suffers or sacrifices because of their faith in Christ. In some places, discrimination might mean not being able to get a job or having your kids barred from going to school. In other places, Christians are laying down their lives because of their faith in Christ. Any sacrifice because of Christian faith is a form of persecution, but within that there is a range of suffering involved.
WC: Where are today’s Christians enduring the most persecution?
Nettleton: Africa, Iraq, Syria and North Africa right now. There is tremendous persecution of Christians in North Korea, but we get little information.The Middle East and North Africa down into Sudan and Nigeria where Boko Haram is working in north Nigeria have the greatest amounts of persecution at this moment.
WC: Where are conditions deteriorating for believers?
Dau: There are some countries that we are keeping an eye on that 10 years ago never had any reports of persecution. Now we get one or two reports a year. One is Tanzania. There are other countries in Africa as well where there’s a rise of radical Islam.
WC: Is there a place where persecution is actually decreasing?
Nettleton: In Cuba it’s decreasing. Christians still have difficulty there, but not to the extent that they’re going to prison for their faith. Cuba is one that the U.S. government would point to. Vietnam is another; at one point, the State Department identified it as a country of particular concern on the issue of religious freedom—not so today. The gains that have primarily been made in the Vietnamese church are among ethnic minority tribal groups. Other Christians are still heavily persecuted, but it certainly is better in Vietnam than it was 10 or 15 years ago.
WC: What do you wish people understood about the oppression of Christians?
Dau: Where persecution has increased, believers have increased. Churches begin to grow. You would think it would make people run away, but true believers are being strengthened. The church in Iran is on fire. Where there is persecution, people still stand boldly for the Lord, and they will continue to stand at any cost. We’re seeing this in some refugee camps in Iraq where some very successful and wealthy Christians were living. Because of their faith, they had to choose to either commit to Islam or stand strong for the Lord. They stood strong for the Lord. Some lost their lives. Others are now in refugee camps, living on very little. Those are the people we want to come alongside, to help stand strong for the Lord.
Nettleton: There’s a tendency even within the Church to view this as a human rights issue and that if we protest enough or if we could arm the Christians we would put a stop to this. The reality is this is exactly what Jesus said was going to happen. He said, the world hates Me and if you follow Me the world will hate you too. It’s not a human rights issue—it’s a spiritual issue. We would like to see the Church understand that and respond.
When I first traveled for Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), I had this idea that I was going to meet depressed, downtrodden people. I thought, “Isn’t it great that I can come from America and help cheer them up.” But when you get there, you find some of the most joyful people you will ever encounter. They have smiles on their faces. They are very excited about what God is doing. The New Testament talks about suffering for Christ being an honor. They see it that way, that God has honored them to allow them to suffer for Him. That completely blows the mind of American Christians, but it’s New Testament Christianity being lived out today.
WC: How does VOM stand by persecuted Christians?
Dau: The international department consists of four regional directors with a vice president. We have frontline workers who go into a country, not to tell them how to do things, but to hear about their needs and to serve them. We find the people who are standing boldly for the Lord and see how we can help strengthen them as they ask.
WC: What are some examples of the means that you use?
Nettleton: For instance, in the Middle East, where so many Christians have been displaced by ISIS, we are providing humanitarian aid, food, shelter and educational opportunities for kids. In most of the countries where we work, we provide Bibles—over 1.2 million Bibles last year. In Bangladesh, one of the things that happens at the village level is that if you’re a Christian, you can’t use the water supply anymore. So VOM is able to help people dig a well, allowing them access to water. The number of projects is around 1,600 a year. The work is different in every situation, different in every country. We ask, “What are you doing? How can we help you? What do you need from us?” Rather than saying “Here’s the ten things that VOM does. Which one do you want?” We ask what they need and then we try to fulfill that.
WC: How can I, as an individual Christian, do something to make a difference for those being persecuted?
Dau: The one request that everyone has when you go overseas is prayer. Pray for them. They very rarely ask anything for themselves. They say, “Please go back and ask the Church in the West to pray for us.” They say, “We’re praying for you.” Individual Christians could come alongside organizations like ours or other organizations that work against persecution and help financially. Perhaps to provide motorcycles to our evangelists or help us bring boats to those in Colombia in the jungle so they can move around. But the biggest request is prayer.
WC: Is there anything else?
Nettleton: You’re timing this in November to coincide with the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. We certainly want to encourage every American church to do something—if not the first Sunday of November, then a different Sunday. At some point in November, we want believers to understand that our brothers and sisters are being persecuted. They’re suffering for doing the same thing we’re doing when we gather together to worship.
For more information about the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church and free downloadable resources, please go to the 2016 IDOP Web page.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee, Editor-in-Chief