Above image from page 409 of “Foxe’s Christian martyrs of the world; the story of the advance of Christianity from Bible times to latest periods of persecution ..” (1907)
June 2020 – “We die only once. It might as well be for Christ,” Werner Groenewald boldly proclaimed as he concluded a conference at which he spoke about “Counting the Cost for Christ.” Though he was prepared and willing to die for Christ when he made those comments in October 2014, it’s likely that neither he nor his family anticipated it might happen in a matter of days.
Following the Lord’s call in 2003, Werner, his wife Hannelie, and their two children, Jean-Pierre, then 5, and Rode, then 3, left their comfortable lives in South Africa to be salt and light to the Afghan people in Kabul, Afghanistan.
They served the Lord faithfully there for 11 years until that fateful day, November 29, 2014. While heading home from work, Hannelie’s driver received a phone call, and she could tell from his tone and his expressions that something terrible had happened. He relayed the message to her that there had been a Taliban attack on the building where her family lived.
When Hannelie arrived on the scene, because the threat had not yet been eliminated, she wasn’t allowed to enter her home to check on her family. The three Taliban fighters had begun the attack at around 3:30 p.m. At 5:45, one of the terrorists detonated a bomb, killing himself. But it wasn’t until 7:30 that police were able to kill the other two.
Roughly 20 minutes later, after hours of mental and emotional torment, wondering about her family, two co-workers broke the tragic news that her husband and both teenage children had been killed in the attack.
Paying the price
Despite losing so much, Hannelie Groenewald is not angry at God. “We had a clear calling,” she reflected. “We had a mandate with this; we counted the cost. We knew something like this could happen. God allowed that for a reason.”
“It is easy for us as Christians to worship the Lord on Sundays in church and praise Him,” she observed, “but it is difficult to have a heartfelt obedience to the Lord and go when He calls you.
“I believe there is a price tag attached to being a real born-again believer. Jesus Christ was persecuted Himself. He was crucified and we, His students, are nothing better than He is or He was. It will happen to us as well if you really live a lifestyle that is like that of a born-again believer following the Lord in obedience. There will be a price to pay.”
Though persecution is something Christians living in free America know little of, the dangers of physical harm and even death are a constant reality for many faithful believers serving the Lord in other parts of the world.
According to Open Doors USA, “… More than 260 million Christians live in places where they experience high levels of persecution, just for following Jesus. That’s one in eight believers, worldwide.”
Open Doors gives the reminder that those are not mere numbers, that behind those staggering statistics, there were human lives. And their stories need to be told. Their service and dedication should be honored, especially for those who gave their lives for the cause of Christ.
Remembering the dead
Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), founded in 1967, is a Christian missions organization dedicated to serving the persecuted body of Christ. VOM helps Christians fulfill the Great Commission in lands where they are persecuted for sharing the gospel and provides relief and support to families of martyrs.
Sensing a need to inform the world of not only those persecuted for Christ, but especially those who gave their lives for Him, VOM has designated June 29 as Day of the Christian Martyr.
Q&A: Day of the Christian Martyr
To better understand the hope behind and purpose of the special day, AFA Journal spoke with Todd Nettleton, Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) chief of media relations and host of VOM Radio (vomradio.net), a weekly program aired on more than 1,000 stations, including American Family Radio.
AFA Journal: What is the Day of the Christian Martyr and why June 29?
Todd Nettleton: The Day of the Christian Martyr is a day when Christians around the world take time to honor the legacy of those who sacrificed their lives for the advancement of the gospel. It’s a day for Christians in the free world to be inspired by the example of heroes of the faith.
It’s a day for Christians to contemplate the ultimate value of the gospel and hopefully to ask the question, “What would I be willing to sacrifice for the sake of Christ and His kingdom?”
According to church tradition, June 29 marks the martyrdom of the apostle Paul in Rome.
AFAJ: Is it a new observance and whose idea was it?
TN: The Day of the Christian Martyr was first observed in 2019. The idea really grew out of a need VOM’s leaders saw to make more complete the understanding of Christians in the free world about persecution and suffering for the sake of the gospel. Many Christians mark the first Sunday in November to pray for our brothers and sisters who are currently undergoing persecution – the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (IDOP).
Day of the Christian Martyr is different – it’s not about the parts of the church currently facing persecution, but rather about the inspiring example of “the great cloud of witnesses” who have already run their race and were willing to endure death rather than deny Christ.
AFAJ: What do you hope to accomplish with this special day?
TN: I think the best word is inspiration. We want to hold up the exemplary faith of those who gave up their lives for Christ as a mirror for each one of us to look in to evaluate our hearts and
As we tell these stories, we hope to inspire current-day Christians to live out their own stories of bold, sacrificial faith to reach those around them for Christ in whatever circumstance God has placed them.
AFAJ: How should Christians observe the day?
TN: There is great power in stories! Jesus Himself used them to convey spiritual truth.
Day of the Christian Martyr is a celebration of the faith of the martyrs. We hope every American Christian will honor these faith heroes by telling their stories.
VOM offers resources, including a video that serves as a great tool for discussion to help every family or church group honor the legacy of these martyrs by telling their stories. I think another key part of observing the day is a time for personal, prayerful reflection about the example of the martyrs. I think as we contemplate their sacrifice, each of us is driven to prayerfully ask, “What would I do in that situation?”
Be informed, inspired
Learn more about the persecuted church:
▶ Open Doors – opendoorsusa.org or 949. 752.6442.
▶ VOM – persecution.com or 918.337.8015.
Ahead of June 29, VOM will use all of its resources to call on Christians to honor the sacrifice of Christian martyrs on that day. To encourage involvement, VOM will provide multiple resources to help every Christian participate, share stories of sacrifice, and inspire the faith of others.