What is it like to live in danger every day because of your Christian faith? What can be learned from these faith-filled brothers and sisters around the world? How can we pray for persecuted Christians? How can we help them? And what do their remarkable stories teach us about a God whose light shines in a dark world?
Bible Gateway interviewed Cole Richards, executive vice president of The Voice of the Martyrs (@VOM_USA) and Jason Peters, associate vice president of connection for VOM, about the book, I Am N: Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists (David C. Cook, 2016).
[See our Blog post, International Day(s) of Prayer for the Persecuted Church]
[Browse resources about the persecuted church in the Bible Gateway Store]
Explain the work of The Voice of the Martyrs.
Cole Richards: The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) was founded in 1967 by Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was imprisoned for 14 years in a Communist prison because of his active faith and witness. He wrote the international bestseller Tortured for Christ and later spoke widely as a voice for the persecuted, even removing his shirt during testimony before the US Senate to reveal scars caused by severe torture. Today, VOM provides spiritual and practical support to persecuted believers in 68 hostile and restricted nations. VOM also inspires fellowship between Christians in the US and their persecuted family members.
What does “I Am N” mean and how did it originate?
Jason Peters: When militants from the self-proclaimed Islamic State (ISIS) moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses. Families would find the Arabic letter “N” (ن) painted on their buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Quran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
After being tagged in this way, our Christian brothers and sisters were given the choice of converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In the Iraqi city of Mosul (Nineveh in the time of the Old Testament), more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted, or killed in less than one week. That happened more than a year ago and none of the displaced believers have been able to return to their homes.
We’ve had the privilege of meeting with and hearing the incredible stories of many of these sisters and brothers during recent visits to Iraq and neighboring countries.
How do you want “I Am N” to become a movement?
Cole Richards: VOM is inviting American Christians to serve alongside their brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. The joy they have in Christ is something the extremists cannot take away from them. These Christians are our family members—part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Having seen firsthand the way these followers of Jesus live out their faith, we organized the I Am N book around six themes that capture the essence of their faith and inspire us to stand strong for Christ no matter where we live. The book explores the themes of sacrifice, courage, perseverance, faithfulness, and two other themes that many find surprising—forgiveness and joy. These last two are characteristics that we’ve witnessed repeatedly in hundreds of interviews with persecuted Christians. All of the themes are both universal and biblical.
The book I Am N tells the stories of 50 Christians who face persecution. Who are they and how did you find them?
Jason Peters: The subtitle of the book is “Inspiring Stories of Christians Facing Islamic Extremists.” VOM actively supports and serves alongside followers of Jesus in nine hotspots of Islamic extremism around the world, and VOM field workers have met these Christians face to face. We’ve prayed with them, wept with them, and listened to their incredible stories.
What will readers of the book gain from it?
Cole Richards: In a word: fellowship. Readers will get to know their brothers and sisters as they read this book and, more specifically, will learn how they can serve alongside them. Our prayer is that the book will inspire American Christians to stand with their persecuted family members. We also pray that this movement will help each of us develop more of an eternal perspective. Right now—today—we personally have close friends, our brothers and sisters, who are being imprisoned, tortured, and oppressed because of their faith. But they are never alone! Genesis 39:20–21 (ESV) reminds us that “Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” God is present with our persecuted family members, and we pray that we can also stand with them and their families during these incredibly difficult experiences.
Share an example of a story from the book.
Jason Peters: It’s difficult to select just one story to share, but one of our favorites is the story of Habila, from a chapter titled “Point Blank Forgiveness.” Habila was shot in the face by Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and left for dead. The extremists first gave him the choice of converting to Islam, but when Habila refused to deny Christ they shot him with an AK-47 in front of his wife and young son. When Habila told us his story, we were stunned by the supernatural ability that God has given him to forgive his attackers. Today, he says that if he met his attacker he would embrace him and tell this terrorist that he chooses to forgive him. It is a strong testimony of God’s grace in Habila’s life and a reflection of Christ’s words on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 [ESV]).
Describe the state of Christian persecution, in general, worldwide.
Cole Richards: The rise of Islamic extremism has led to increased, severe persecution of Christians around the world. Followers of Jesus are persecuted by many other groups as well. We should not be surprised by this. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20a [ESV]). VOM is busy helping victims of persecution in 68 hostile and restricted nations around the world, and we expect persecution to continue to increase as believers faithfully follow Christ.
Is it still difficult for persecuted Christians to access the Bible, even though it’s widely available on the Internet?
Jason Peters: Yes, many persecuted believers are unable to access God’s Word via the Internet or in any other way. On recent trips to places like Sudan, Cuba, and Nepal, we’ve witnessed firsthand how difficult it is to get Internet access. Additionally, in some countries access to the Bible is restricted by governmental controls. And, of course, if you’re a refugee you aren’t likely to have an Internet connection in your tent. Many of the people we serve have lived in these types of conditions for a long time. Last year, VOM distributed 1.5 million Bibles in some of the most difficult places on earth. In fact, we’ve provided more than 80,000 Bibles to ISIS victims alone; quite possibly more than ISIS has destroyed in their attempts to eradicate Christianity.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Cole Richards: In order to help, we all need to get to know our brothers and sisters. VOM offers a free monthly newsletter that tells the stories of persecuted Christians. Part of our mission is to be their voice in the US. Another part of our mission is to provide spiritual and practical support to those who are suffering. One example of the way we help is through something we call Family Med Packs.
Jason Peters: Believers in the US fill the packs with health and hygiene items (or sponsor packs that we fill for them), and VOM distributes them to displaced believers as a source of encouragement and practical aid. This is just one example of the many types or practical support we provide in these hostile places. We say, “We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.” Every Christian benefits from hearing these stories and experiencing the perspective and eternal hope that they offer. People can make their commitment and find out how best to help at i-am-n.com.
Bio: Cole Richards is executive vice president of The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). In this role, he leads VOM’s global ministry work, which includes significant outreach both in the US and abroad. VOM ministers internationally by serving, and serving with, Christians who are severely persecuted for their faith. This is accomplished through a multinational team of 51 missions leaders from 22 nationalities, based in 23 countries. VOM accomplishes more than 1,600 projects annually in 68 hostile and restricted nations by responding to persecution and advancing God’s eternal kingdom on the world’s most difficult missions frontiers.
Dr. Jason Peters is associate vice president of connection for VOM and executive editor of I Am N. Dr. Peters travels frequently to meet face-to-face with persecuted believers around the world and equips VOM to tell their stories. He leads VOM’s outreach initiatives, including media development, special events, public relations, and oversees hundreds of speakers and representatives.