Read on and I'll tell you.
Last Saturday was the Jesus Fellowship's annual 'Praise Day', a large-scale, stage-presentation style event run by my church each year in the International Hall at Ponds Forge, Sheffield.
Towards the end of the event, we very often have a special item in which we honour the martyrs of Christian history (followed almost always by a hearty singing of the hymn 'For all the saints' - it's the Jesus Army's version of All Saints Day). This year was no exception, and I was given the - somewhat awe-inspiring - task of coordinating the moment.
Inspiration came in the form of ten statues in Westminster Abbey. Standing above the West Gate on ten niches stand ten statues: ten twentieth century martyrs.
Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish friar, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in the Nazi death camp of Auschwitz, during World War II. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, political prisoners and families. Pope John Paul II declared him "The Patron Saint of Our Difficult Century".
Manche Masemola was a South African convert to Christianity. She attended baptism classes against her parents’ wishes. When she came home she would be beaten. Manche said she would be “baptised in her own blood”. After one severe beating, Manche died – without having been baptised. Manche's mother denied murdering her for 40 years – but before her death she became a Christian and was baptised herself.
Janani Luwum was an Anglican Archbishop in Uganda. In 1977, Archbishop Luwum delivered a note of protest against arbitrary killings and unexplained disappearances to dictator, Idi Amin. Shortly afterwards the archbishop was accused of treason. He was murdered in 1977, by either Idi Amin personally or by the dictator’s henchmen.
Elizabeth of Russia was a German princess, granddaughter of Queen Victoria, and sister of the last Russian Empress. She was famous in Russia for her beauty – and for her charitable works. After a revolutionary murdered her husband in 1905, Elizabeth publicly forgave him and campaigned without success for him to be pardoned. She left the Imperial Court and became a nun, dedicated to helping the poor of Moscow. In 1918, she was arrested by the Bolsheviks and buried alive.
Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister and one of the world's most famous civil rights activists. In 1964, King received the Nobel Peace Prize for combating racial inequality through nonviolence. He was assassinated in 1969.
Oscar Romero was a Roman Catholic Archbishop in El Salvador. Following his outspoken criticism of injustice and violence on many occasions, he was assassinated while he was celebrating the Mass in 1980.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor, theologian, and prominent anti-Nazi. He strongly opposed Hitler and was involved in plans to assassinate him. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo, imprisoned in a concentration camp, and executed by hanging in April 1945. It was just 23 days before the German surrender.
Esther John was a Pakistani Christian nurse and evangelist who was murdered by a Muslim fanatic in 1960.
Lucian Tapiede was an Anglican teacher from Papua New Guinea. He was killed during the Japanese invasion in 1941. Eight Anglican clergy, teachers, and medical missionaries killed by the Japanese were together called the "New Guinea Martyrs."
Wang Zhiming was a Chinese pastor and evangelist, killed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution under Chairman Mao. Many Christian leaders were imprisoned, denounced or beaten. One later stated, "I cannot recall how many times I was made to kneel on the rubble and how much blood flowed from my knees due to their sharp edges. When I could not hold out and fell to the ground, merciless beatings followed. Then I was pulled up and forced to salute the portrait of Chairman Mao. My refusal to do so resulted in another round of beating.” Wang Zhiming was executed in a stadium in front of more than 10,000 people on December 29, 1973.
With a huge picture of their statues projected across the backdrop, and signs to represent them and the thousands of others who have given their life as a direct result of their consciencious stand for Christ, their stories were told. A minute's silence was held in their honour. It was an awesome moment. Then we did indeed sing 'For all the saints' - with this rarely sung verse included:
For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, Thee we glorify.