Yesterday, I posted a story from the latest edition of the Australian Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter. Here is another great testimony that I thought you might be blessed by. Again, if you live in Australia, make sure to subscribe to their tremendous monthly newsletter.
In a Vietnamese prison, a Christian brother passed away and went to be with his Lord. Stephen, a lay preacher and evangelist imprisoned for his faith, had approval from the sympathetic warden to conduct a funeral service for their brother. Stephen was taken to the hospital mortuary, where over 30 officials were present. Full of courage, Stephen preached the Gospel, speaking of Jesus' death and resurrection! Eventually the police who had escorted him to the mortuary said, 'That's enough!' Stephen was overjoyed – 30 officials had heard the truth!
Stephen was arrested in 2002 when he was 32. He was placed in solitary confinement and brutally beaten for three months – his recent medical records verify the abuse he sustained. The authorities who beat him said, 'We want you to tell the truth but according to what we tell you!' Stephen replied, 'You can beat me for as long as you like, you can imprison me for ten years if you like, but I know Who I believe in!' After each beating, the guards threw Stephen back into his cell where he would always kneel down and begin praising and singing hymns to God. Stephen's trust was in God and despite the constant beatings his joy never left him. Many times the bruises from his beatings would miraculously disappear overnight. The testimony of his unwavering faith shocked the guards and they would constantly ask him, 'After all these beatings how can you still praise your God?'
Stephen never denied his Saviour. After three months of interrogation, he was called for an interview. Stephen said, 'I give thanks to God for giving me the opportunity to come here to preach the Gospel to you because you don't believe in God yet. Every day you interrogate me, I see it as an opportunity to explain God's Word to you. It doesn't matter what you want to do with me. Keep me in prison as long as you like. I want to preach the Gospel here in prison because nobody else is here to do it.' The authorities said, 'Because you are so pig-headed, we will transfer you to a prison in the North.' 'Praise the Lord!' exclaimed Stephen. 'You have answered our prayers. We've been praying about how we can bring the Gospel to the North and now God has made a way.' The authorities threw their hands in the air. 'Argue your case with the judge.'
As Stephen awaited his court hearing, he believed that whatever happened was part of God's plan for his life. He was aware and thankful for the support and prayers of many Christians. For two hours the judge and prosecutor argued with Stephen. Finally they announced, 'We sentence you to ten years imprisonment.' Stephen's response was, 'Praise God.'
On 3 March 2004 he was transported to a prison in North Vietnam. His new prison cell held 56 inmates. Although many had been Christians, they had abandoned their faith. Stephen asked, 'Who will kneel with me and pray to God?' They replied, 'We're in prison, why should we pray?' Only three prisoners joined Stephen in prayer. They decided they would fast on the 14th day of the month. Before long, six more believers joined their prayer meetings. The men began to see Stephen as a leader sent by God and under his pastoral care many stopped smoking and gambling and committed themselves to follow Jesus once again.
In Vietnamese prisons, Bibles are banned because the communists regard God's Word as poisonous propaganda. This didn't stop Stephen and his brothers in Christ. They developed an ingenious plan. Stephen told his brothers, 'Whoever remembers a Bible verse, write it down then give it to me. Together we can build our own Bible from the verses we remember.' As an example, Stephen wrote one of his favourite verses, 'Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.' Philippians 4:6-7
The believers read the special handwritten 'prison Bible' and shared it with the other prisoners. Some believers had backslidden, but the power of God's Word compelled them to confess their sins and repent before the Lord. Knowing that the authorities did not permit prisoners to hold prayer meetings, some believers were afraid they would receive further punishment if they agreed to join with Stephen. However, Stephen counselled them and said, 'If the guards or authorities inquire about the meetings, tell them it is not political. Tell them we meet to thank and praise our God. If there are any problems, I alone will be responsible for this.'
When the prison authorities found out about the meetings, they shouted at Stephen, reminding him of the crime he was committing. 'You are charged with illegally preaching the Gospel in this prison!' Stephen replied, 'That is impossible as everyone here is a believer! We are simply learning the Word of God. You lock us down at 5.30pm each day and then it is our own time and we can pray freely.'
In December 2004, Stephen asked the prison warden, 'As you know, we are Christians and 25 December is a special day for us. May we have permission to buy food and have a meal together to celebrate this special time?' The prison warden agreed and a special Christmas lunch was arranged. Stephen, in charge of the 'main course', served the Christmas story from Luke 2:11 'Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.' Prisoners and guards alike were present, so Stephen fearlessly challenged them to repent and men were saved.
Voice of the Martyrs is supporting Stephen in his bold evangelistic ministry, supplying him with Bibles and other Christian resources. Through our VOMedical fund, we are also providing Stephen with medical treatment for injuries sustained while in prison. Please pray for Stephen, and for Vietnamese Christians who are being persecuted in prison for their faith in Christ.
Order our new video “Enemies of the State.” Witness the resilient faith of Christians in the two communist nations of Vietnam and Laos where believers face imprisonment without trial and torture simply for following Christ. Gain a unique insight into the challenges they face. Discover how the harder the authorities clamp down on Christianity, the more it spreads. (DVD, 25 minutes, 2009). In Canada you can order it here. In Australia, you can order it here. In the UK, you can order it here.