At a breakfast meeting recently we were discussing world events and someone pointed across the room to an individual and said, “That’s Jim Korver. You should write a column about his experiences — he just returned from China.”
After my presentation, I made a beeline to introduce myself before he left the building and we made arrangements to have coffee the following week and visit. I found out that before Jim retired, he was superintendent over 10 Christian schools scattered all over the world. He and his family lived in Austria, Korea, China and many other countries in his administrative duties. He now serves as a VOM-VOICE for “Voice of the Martyrs” ministries. Immediately I could tell that our interview was going to be a fascinating time together.
Jim, for the benefit of our readers, tell me what Voice of the Martyrs is and who started it.
VOM is a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian missions organization dedicated to serving our persecuted family worldwide through practical and spiritual assistance. It was founded in 1967 by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for 14 years in Communist Romania for his faith in Christ. His wife, Sabina, was imprisoned for three years. He was ransomed out of Romania in 1965 and soon thereafter established this global network. The organization strives to give practical and spiritual assistance to the persecuted church.
Give us a picture of persecution today. Often times we think this only happened centuries ago.
Christians remain one of the most recently declared most-persecuted of all religious groups in the world, with persecution being defined as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who face double jeopardy because of faith and gender.
More Christians have died this last century than all of the other centuries combined! Every month, on average 345 Christians are killed for faith-related reasons. On average, 105 churches and Christian buildings are burned or attacked and 219 Christians are detained without trial, arrested, sentenced and imprisoned.
Jim, you just returned from China. It seems like the Christian church in China is huge. What is the current situation?
The situation in China under the dictatorial regime of Xi has grown progressively worse and the 75 million Chinese Christians have seen the crackdown and government control become almost unbearable. Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom said he believes the Chinese government “is at war with faith.” Churches are being destroyed and the monitoring with facial recognition cameras and “social credit scores” is increasing. Bob Fu, a Chinese-American pastor, recently warned Congress that “Religious freedom in China has reached the worst level that has not been seen since the beginning of the Cultural Revolution by Chairman Mao in the 1960s.”
Jim, why do dictatorial regimes fear Christianity so much and try to destroy the church?
That is a great question, because we see this reaction in countries like North Korea and the Islamic political systems in the Middle East. Let me try to answer that briefly. Christianity is a different source of authority — even though Christians are good citizens, their ultimate allegiance is to God. It is also an organization that rises against injustice. Look at the solidarity movement in Poland, the civil rights movement in our own country and there are many other examples. The last reason I will give is that it is a different value system. It is a value system that puts others first and rejects selfishness but it also recognizes that our rights come from God, not the state. All these factors place Christians on a collision course with dictatorships across the world.
How many countries does VOM work with where there is persecution?
There are 67 countries on our list and that number has grown by 15 over the last decade. For example, in Mexico it used to be the southernmost state of Chiapas but now it’s four more states. We have seen the horrific stories out of countries like Nigeria where churches are bombed, burned and destroyed. In Iraq before 2003 there were 1.5 million Christians and now there are fewer than 120,000. But there is always a silver lining and the Lord is doing work all around the world and we are seeing the gospel going out.
There are millions that can’t obtain a Bible and one of the positive aspects of technology is that we can provide that support with the internet, flash drives, satellite TV programs and other means to get the word to believers. One of the most closed countries is Iran and yet we have 300,000 new believers in that country alone in the last 20 years. The largest church in the world is in South Korea with more than 800,000 and there is a church in India that has 250,000 attendees.
Jim, we have only been able to get a snapshot of what is going on around the world relative to the church and persecution. If people want more information, where can they go?
They can go to https://www.persecution.com/ which is the website for Voice of the Martyrs and subscribe to their magazine. I also speak to churches, schools and groups and if anyone is interested. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.