We think of martyrs who lived a very long time ago, who may have been skinned alive or marched off to be beheaded.
Not too long ago, there were two young girls who went to the same high school. It was a very typical April day.
Later, they were each confronted by the teen gunman. He pointed the gun to one of the girl's heads and shot her point blank and had asked if she believed in God. But he probably knew she did. Many of the students there did believe in God. He went to the other girl and asked her if she believed in God, when she said, "Yes". He shot her, but she lived, and he later died.
- Columbine High school 1999
We can never forget those who have lost their lives so courageously.
Nor can we ever forget the twenty one Coptic Christian farmers who were marched out the day of their execution. There were twenty and one Ghanian, but he later converted to Christianity and said, "Their God, is my God".
All twenty one were lined up side by side kneeling in their orange jumpsuits. Each Christian had his own executioner standing directly behind him. The ISIS executioners were clad in black with their heads completely covered. They stood ready to execute holding their dull butcher knives ready to execute with the deadliest pain possible. Each humble Christian man whispered just before his death, "Lord, Jesus Christ". And it is said, Christ looked compassionately into each humble man's eyes just before their death. - Libya Massacre 2015
We will witness the brave and very heroic souls who died for Christ; Christ, our first martyr, who died for us.
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
- Martin Luther King, Jr.
American Clergyman and Civil Rights Activist
(1929 [assassinated] 1968)
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (German: [ˈdiːtʁɪç ˈboːnhœfɐ]; 4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, anti-Nazidissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic.
Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp.
After being accused of being associated with the July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood taking up your cross to follow Jesus (Matthew 10:38). In his book The Cost of Discipleship, he stated, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” The Lutheran pastor and author understood and lived that surrendered life. He died at age 39 for living it in Nazi Germany.
REFUSING TO SERVE TWO MASTERS
When Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, he began taking charge of all institutions, including the church. He believed pastors, like the rest of Germany, wanted strong leadership that would restore their country’s fortunes. Hitler expected pastors to rally as his political allies. He didn’t expect a back-lash.
The problem: Hitler wanted his ideas, not God’s, to guide the church. Some Lutheran pastors who were true to church doctrine formed The Confessing Church, pledging reliance on historic confessions of faith. The dissenting pastors, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, drew up their statement of purpose —The Barman Declaration— in May of 1934.
Bonhoeffer was condemned to death on 8 April 1945 by SS judge Otto Thorbeck at a drumhead court-martial without witnesses, records of proceedings or a defense in Flossenbürg concentration camp. He was executed there by hanging at dawn on 9 April 1945, just two weeks before soldiers from the United States 90th and 97th Infantry Divisions liberated the camp, three weeks before the Soviet capture of Berlin and a month before the surrender of Nazi Germany.
Bonhoeffer was stripped of his clothing and led naked into the execution yard where he was hanged.
Eberhard Bethge, a student and friend of Bonhoeffer's, writes of a man who saw the execution: "I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer... kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds.
In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God."
Dusty Miller (martyr)
"Dusty" Miller was a British P.O.W. in Thailand on the Burma Railway during Second World War. His life and death is attested to in Ernest Gordon's autobiographical work Through the Valley of the Kwai (also published under the titles To End All Wars and Miracle on the River Kwai).
He became known to Ernest Gordon during a period early on in their three and a half year incarceration under the Japanese. Gordon was dying and was daily attended to by Miller, and "Dinty" Moore, a Roman Catholic P.O.W. In their care Gordon, very unexpectedly, recovered.
Through the examples of Miller and Moore, the recovery of Gordon, and the self-sacrificing examples of numerous others, both faith and hope were restored to many soldiers in the death camps.
At the war's end Gordon was the sole survivor of the three. Upon liberation as he sought news of his friends he found that two weeks before the war's end Miller had been crucified as a result of his faith by a Japanese guard.
Paul Schneider (Pastor)
Paul Robert Schneider (August 29, 1897 – July 18, 1939) was an Evangelical Church of the old-Prussian Union pastor who was the first Protestant minister to be martyred by the Nazis. He was murdered with a strophanthin injection at Buchenwald.
Early in 1934, Schneider and his family moved to Dickenschied, where he became pastor to the Dickenschied and Womrath congregations. That same year, Pastor Schneider became a member of the Confessing Church, a Protestant organization that opposed Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. On one occasion at the funeral of a Hitler youth boy a Nazi official said in his speech that the deceased would now be member of the heavenly storm of Horst Wessel. Pastor Schneider responded that he would not know if a heavenly storm of Horst Wessel existed but the Lord would bless the boy and take him into his realm. After this, the Nazi leader came forward and repeated his words. Pastor Schneider then responded sharply that he would not allow God's word to be adulterated during a Christian ceremony. As a result he was arrested for one week in June 1934.
In March 1935, Nazi officials took Pastor Schneider into “protective custody” (Schutzhaft), a Nazi euphemism for “arrest” without any judicial warrant. They held him for a few days because he insisted on reading from the pulpit the synodal criticism of the government’s policy toward the Church.
Local Nazi officials summoned Schneider for interrogations twelve times during the winter of 1935/1936. He continued to speak his mind and follow the dictates of his conscience. Some of his friends pleaded with him to avoid confrontation with the Nazis. He responded that he did not seek martyrdom, but that he had to follow his Lord. His primary responsibility was to prepare his family for eternal life – not to ensure their material well-being.
Arrest and imprisonment
In spring 1937, with the support of members of his presbytery, Pastor Schneider began the process of excommunicating parishioners who, because of their allegiance to the Nazi Party, engaged in conduct which violated congregational discipline. Complaints to Nazi officials by the censured led to the arrest of Pastor Schneider. Following two months in the Koblenz prison, officials released him with the warning not to return to the Rhineland, where his home and parish were located. Pastor Schneider knew that, if he returned to his flock, it would mean imprisonment in a concentration camp.
Yet, the night before his release, he read in his Bible the story concerning the crisis confronted by Deborah. When Deborah summoned the twelve tribes together to confront the common enemy, only Naphtali and Zebulun responded. Pastor Schneider saw in this Old Testament story [Judges 5:18] a parallel to the crisis which the Church confronted in Nazi Germany, and he concluded that even if his was a minority voice, he must act in harmony with his conscience, and protest.
Following his release from prison, Pastor Schneider spent two months with his wife and a few family members and friends in Baden-Baden and in Eschbach. He and Margarete returned home for Harvest Thanksgiving (German: Erntedankfest) on October 3, 1937. Pastor Schneider was able to celebrate this occasion with his Dickenschied congregation, but local police arrested him as he journeyed to Womrath for an evening worship service.
Schneider was incarcerated in Buchenwald, near Weimar, on November 27, 1937, just a few months after the camp opened. In the labor commandos, Pastor Schneider watched out for his fellow inmates. After being sentenced to solitary confinement, he preached the good news of the Gospel from the window of his prison cell. He was moved to the cell when he refused to remove his beret in honour of Hitler on the Führer's birthday, April 20, 1938 and to salute the swastika flag. He explained his behaviour by saying "I cannot salute this criminal symbol". He also refused, as he had done earlier, the Hitler salute, saying that "you can only receive salvation (Heil) from the Lord and not from a human being". From his cell, Schneider accused his captors and encouraged his fellow inmates. On one occasion on Easter Sunday, when thousands of prisoners were assembled for mustering, despite being severely handicapped by previous torture he climbed to the cell window and shouted: "Comrades, listen to me. This is Pastor Schneider. People are tortured and murdered here. So the Lord says, 'I am the resurrection and the life!'" His speech was interrupted by his tormentors. As others had pleaded years earlier, the man who mopped the floors in the solitary confinement building begged Schneider, "Please stop provoking the SS against you... They will beat you to death if you continue preaching from your cell window".
After June 1938 the only reason for Schneider's imprisonment in Buchenwald was his refusal to accept the order to permanently leave his congregations in Dickenschied and Womrath. He could have been released from the KZ at any time, if he had agreed to accept this order. However, even under severe torture, he refused to do so.
On July 18, 1939, Schneider was murdered with a lethal injection of strophanthin in the camp infirmary. Camp officials notified Margarete Schneider of her husband’s death and she made the long journey from Dickenschied to retrieve his body in a sealed coffin. Despite Gestapo surveillance, hundreds of people and around two hundred fellow pastors attended Pastor Schneider’s funeral, including many members of the Confessing Church. One of the pastors preached at the grave side, “May God grant that the witness of your shepherd, our brother, remain with you and continue to impact on future generations and that it remain vital and bear fruit in the entire Christian Church”.
Lucian Tapiedi (c. 1921 – 1942) was a Papuan Anglican teacher who was one of the "New Guinea Martyrs." The Martyrs were eight Anglican clergy, teachers, and medical missionaries killed by the Japanese in 1942 (a total of 333 church workers of all denominations were killed during the invasion).
On 4 January 1942 the Japanese initiated the invasion of Papua New Guinea with the Battle of Rabaul. The Anglican Bishop of New Guinea (then a diocese of the ecclesiastical Province of Queensland), Philip Strong, instructed Anglican missionaries to remain at their posts.
Tapiedi and 10 others, evading the Japanese, came to a village inhabited by the Orokaiva people, and found themselves escorted away by men of that tribe.
A man named Hivijapa killed Tapiedi with an axe near a stream by Kurumbo village. The remainder of the group perished soon after; six of them were beheaded by the Japanese on Buna beach. Another source says Tapiedi was "axed to death by the natives after he had returned to retrieve the station records box and some money."