Nicholas Kristof's column in the New York Times opens in a remote region of China, where police are interrogating a woman named Ma Yuqin. Their efforts are unsuccessful. As Kristof relates, "She never broke when she was tortured with beatings and electrical shocks. Even when she was close to death, she refused to disclose the names of members of her congregation or sign a statement renouncing her Christian faith."
The physical torture almost killed her. But the mental torture was even worse. Throughout her ordeal, Ma Yuquin could hear the sounds of her son being tortured in the next room. Each could hear the screams of the other—additional incentives to betray their friends and their faith. Recalling this, Ma Yuquin began to sob. "They wanted me to hear [my son's] cries," she said. "It broke my heart."
As Kristof relates, this kind of treatment is common in China. Citizens whose only crime is worshipping God are burned by cigarettes and beaten with clubs.
These brave, faithful Christians offer a lesson to those of us—their brothers and sisters—who live in safety far away. It's all well and good to hold national days of prayer for the persecuted Church. But this brings it all home. It puts faces and names on those who suffer in such terrible ways and whose faith grows as a result.
But we should pray and thank God for those who suffer. Look what's happening in China as a result of their faithfulness: Tens of millions of Chinese now embrace Christ as the Church spreads by the blood of the martyrs. Martyr means witness, and, by suffering, martyrs bear witness that the Gospel is true. We can, and sometimes do, ignore this fact in good times. But when our faith is threatened, when we're forced to make the choice, the truth becomes clear and powerful. It empowers the ordinary and the innocent to suffer and die with confidence.
People these days are skeptical about religious zealots who died for their faith. We think of Islamic terrorists or Palestinian kids strapping bombs around their waists. But there's a big difference between those who die for Christ and those who die for Islam. Islam promises paradise to those who die killing infidels—an act of violence, dying to kill others. Christians, on the other hand, die in service to the Prince of Peace—through witnessing to salvation through His sacrifice. These are the true martyrs—those who die, not to kill others, but so that others may be saved.
Our faithful Chinese brethren live out the words of Jesus, who told us not to fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.
As we prepare to celebrate the birth of the One who died to save us, we should pray especially for these faithful Chinese brethren. Their sufferings rival those of Christians who died in Rome under Nero, in Germany under Hitler, in Russia under Stalin.
This year, why not send a Christmas card to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., where today Christians are protesting. Tell China's leaders: "We know about the torture. We're outraged. We want it to stop."
As Ma Yuqin notes, China's leaders fear foreign pressure. True. But what they fear more than anything is Christianity itself—a faith so powerful that people will suffer torture and death rather than betray their Lord.
By Charles Colson