Twentieth-Century Martyrs

Anne Crumpler

More Christians have died for their faith in the twentieth century than at any other time in the last two thousand years. At Westminster Abbey, in London, are statues of ten martyrs who boldly stood up for God and died for their faith.

Maximilian Kolbe (1894–1941), a Polish priest, was taken prisoner at Auschwitz during World War II. When one of the prisoners in his cell block escaped and another was condemned to death for this act, Kolbe offered to die in his place.

Manche Masemola (1913–1928) lived in Transvaal, a province of South Africa. At a mission church, she worshiped and attended classes about the Christian faith. Her parents, afraid that she would leave them or refuse to marry within the family’s faith tradition, prohibited her continued practice of Christianity. She defied them. Her parents beat her and finally killed her.

Janani Luwum (1922–1977) was an archbishop in Uganda under the violent rule of Idi Amin. Luwum preached against the atrocities, pleaded for Amin’s victims, and represented an ecumenical group (Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Muslim) in officially protesting the violence. He was put to death.

Grand Duchess Elizabeth (1864–1918) of Russia gave away her possessions and joined the Sisters of Love and Mercy. When the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia, they persecuted the church and imprisoned or killed many who were religious. Elizabeth was among those killed.

Martin Luther King, Jr., (1929–1968) was a Baptist minister in the United States. He believed that in God’s eyes all people are equal and encouraged nonviolent protest against segregation and racial discrimination. Throughout his ministry, King was threatened. He stood firm in his faith and was killed for his convictions.

Oscar Romero (1917–1980) was archbishop of San Salvador. When a radical priest was killed and his death was not investigated, Romero realized that the government of El Salvador was corrupt and violent. Committed to the poor and the persecuted, he preached God’s judgment. His church documented the government’s abuse of human rights. Romero was killed as he celebrated mass in a hospital chapel.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a pastor and theologian in Nazi Germany. He believed that Christian discipleship required resistance against political oppression. He was arrested for participating in an attempt to overthrow Hitler’s regime and was executed just days before the end of World War II.

Esther John (1929–1960), born Qamar Zia, converted to Christianity and ran away from home in order to pursue her faith. Eventually she became a teacher and a traveling evangelist, teaching women to read and working in the cotton fields in Pakistan. She was murdered suddenly and mysteriously.

Lucian Tapiedi (1921–1942) was an evangelist and teacher at the Sangara Mission in Papua, New Guinea. When the Japanese invaded the island in 1942, Tapiedi stood his ground, determined not to abandon the missionaries. More than three hundred Christians, including Tapiedi, died in the occupation of New Guinea.

Wang Zhiming (1907–1973) was a pastor during the Cultural Revolution in China. The Red Guard closed churches, and Christians were forced to meet in secret. Zhiming openly criticized the Red Guard. Between 1969 and 1973, Christian and Muslim leaders were imprisoned and killed, among them Wang Zhiming.



Martyrs Westminster Abbey image FtrRead Matthew 5:13. Then reflect on this statement:

“There are in every generation those who shrink from the ultimate sacrifice, but there are in every generation those who make it with joy and laughter and these are the salt of the generations.” —Patrick Henry Pearse

How is God calling you to be bold in faith?


Anne Crumpler is a writer and editor in Nashville, Tennessee.

—from devozine (March/April 2005). Copyright © 2005 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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