Prison pastor Imprisoned as a threat to the state, Pastor Kashkumbaev had every reason to feel discouraged. But a pointed question from a Christian brother changed his perspective, leading to a powerful work of God in a Kazakhstani prison. “You will serve 10 years of hard time,” the investigator said solemnly. The elderly pastor would be almost 80 by the time he completed his sentence, and part of it, he learned, would be spent in a psychiatric ward. Pastor Bakhytzhan Kashkumbaev knew that prisoners in the psychiatric ward were routinely drugged, causing them to lose the abilities to even think or move. They would drug him to a point of losing his mind. His heart sank. While he was not afraid to die, he didn’t want his seven grandchildren to see him in that condition. Death didn’t scare him, but losing his mind did. The “Crime” In May 2013, Pastor Kashkumbaev was arrested after being accused of harming the health of a church member at Grace Church, a legally registered church in Kazakhstan. Authorities filed five charges against the pastor, including a charge of inciting religious hatred. Although the church member defended the pastor, saying the charges were unfounded, these

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Infidel, Smuggler, Pastor How an encounter with the Bible transformed a militant Iraqi Kurd into a passionate evangelist. Seventeen-year-old Nemrut devoured books. He was always looking for something new to read, but few books in the Kurdish language were available in his dusty Iraqi town. One day he spotted something new in a local bookstore — a Kurdish translation of the Gospel of Luke. He wasn’t sure what it was, but he was intrigued. When he asked about the book, he was disappointed to learn that the bookstore owner wouldn’t part with it because it was his only copy. Determined to read the book, Nemrut made a deal with the owner to pay a lending fee so he could borrow the book and return it when he was done. He read until 4 a.m. the next morning. “This was the beginning of loving Jesus,” he said. Luke’s Gospel had planted a seed, but Nemrut still had much to learn. While he wasn’t particularly committed to Islam, Nemrut had been born into a Muslim family. Like many Kurds, he held that faith lightly, feeling more loyalty to family and tribe than to religion. Zealous for an independent Kurdish homeland, Nemrut joined

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Cubans have borne the weight of communism for more than half a century. In the last years of Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s life, however, the country’s strict communistic and atheistic ideals appeared to be eroding. Then, in 2014, the waning spirit of the communist revolution was suddenly revived, and pressure on Christians rose sharply. Evangelical leaders were regularly interrogated by the Religious Affairs Committee and pressured to stop their Christian work. As the communist spirit continued to grow, Christians experienced a renewed passion to evangelize. Amid this environment, Christian leaders from various denominations jointly launched an evangelistic campaign in Havana called the “Power to Transform.” The campaign’s objective was simple: Church members would go to bars, cafes and parks and share Jesus. When Communist officials heard about the campaign, the church leaders from all denominations were summoned for interrogation. But since the campaign had no central leader and received no foreign support, Cuban authorities had no one to arrest and no way of stopping the campaign. So Christians throughout Havana continued to share their faith with confidence. When a church member was confronted by a man asking who had given him the authority to evangelize in a public park, the

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While growing up in North Korea, “Sang-chul” was taught that the concept of God was a dangerous lie. And the government’s zero-tolerance policy toward any suspicion of Christian behavior reinforced the lesson. As the gospel quietly spread in parts of the country, so did a fear among North Koreans that they might be suspected of Christian faith. “We were really afraid of Christianity because anybody could get executed or killed — even if you were looking at the Bible,” Sang-chul said. But in 2013, Sang-chul witnessed the power of a life devoted sacrificially to Jesus: The commitment of a pastor named Han Chung-Ryeol enabled Sang-chul to let go of his fear. Pastor Han was later martyred, on April 30, 2016, because of his bold Christian work. “I really wanted to know why he helped North Koreans, because it was dangerous for Pastor Han to help North Koreans there,” Sang-chul recalled. “Pastor Han unconditionally loved us and treated us well. I felt his heart. The more I met with Pastor Han, I felt more his heart came from the Lord. Without God, he wouldn’t have helped me. That is why I realized Christianity is a true religion.” Like many North Koreans,

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As Kyung-ja drifted in and out of consciousness, her head bloodied by repeated blows from a club, she heard her guard shouting words she had never heard in her 56 years of life: “Bible,” “God,” “Jesus.” North Korean Guard: an unlikely Evangelist Kyung-ja understood why the female guard had interrogated her about her latest trip to China and about her daughter’s defection to South Korea, but she couldn’t grasp why she kept asking odd questions about something called Christianity. “I first learned about Christianity from my torturer,” Kyung-ja said. The guard’s confusing and persistent questioning piqued Kyung-ja’s curiosity. At the time of her arrest, she had no belief system or concept of God, but now she had to know what made this Christianity so dangerous. Kyung-ja had been detained twice before for illegally crossing into China. This time, however, was worse. Instead of serving only a few months of “re-education” at a labor camp, she endured repeated torture, most likely because of her daughter’s defection. After brutally beating Kyung-ja for two months, the guard realized she did not have any ties to Christians within North Korea. She then sent Kyung-ja, now a fragile 63 pounds, to a labor camp, and

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Hassan’s appearance at a pastor’s conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was his response to what he believed was God’s call for him to focus on persecution. In fact, just months earlier, he had turned down a second term as Secretary-General of the Sudan Church of Christ so he could help prepare churches for persecution at a more grassroots level. During the November 2015 conference in Ethiopia, he told pastors about the increasing persecution his eight congregations were facing in Sudan. Among those in the audience during Hassan’s presentation was Petr Jasek, a Czech national who served as VOM’s Regional Director for Africa at the time. Petr was especially moved by a photograph Hassan showed of a young Christian man who had been injured during a demonstration. Weeks later, Petr traveled to Khartoum to meet the injured man and arrange to help cover his medical expenses. After a four-day visit, Petr prepared to leave the country. That’s when Hassan experienced what he considers one of the greatest blessings of his life. “Petr was arrested at the airport,” Hassan said, “and then, through investigations, they discovered that he had visited me and other people. That is why they arrested me.” The Price

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After several years of ministry work in Colombia, “Santiago” and his wife, “Mariana,” are used to fear. They have planted churches throughout Colombia’s “red zones,” where villagers are dominated by various guerrilla and paramilitary groups that target Christians as a threat to their existence. Followers of Christ refuse to join their violent cause, and when group members become Christians, they invariably leave the group. As Santiago and Mariana travel from village to village encouraging and supporting believers, they hear stories of rebels extorting money from families and raping women in the jungle. And some of the groups’ crimes occur closer to home, like the time guerrilla fighters slit the throats of eight people about 60 yards from their own house. Despite the danger and their own fear, they continue sharing God’s Word and shepherding their churches. This sometimes means working after midnight, six hours past the curfew enforced by the guerrillas and paramilitaries. “What helps me continue is the desire in my heart,” said Mariana, who’s had relatives killed by paramilitaries. “I don’t care about threats; I don’t care about violence. What fills me [with] the most joy is when I take people who are intimidated a Bible.” Although the

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When Poonam quietly left Hinduism in 2012, the Bible she obtained instantly became her most prized possession. The young Indian wife and mother of three secretly read God’s Word in her home each day, growing in her understanding of God’s love for her. But she feared that her husband would find out about her new faith, and he soon did. After overhearing her praying a Christian prayer one day, he found her Bible and angrily tore it to pieces. “From today on you stop reading the Bible, and as long as you live in this house you better not pray!” he scolded. Poonam’s husband then beat her, eventually kicking her out of the house and refusing to let her see their young sons and daughter. Her Christian faith cost her everything. In India, where a rise in persecution of Christians has paralleled the rise in Hindu nationalism, Bibles are a precious resource that help new believers continue to grow in faith amid persecution. After losing her Bible and her family, Poonam stayed with relatives and prayed for the return of everything she had lost. A pastor and another believer who lived near her relatives visited Poonam regularly to pray with

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Many Christians are afraid. They are afraid as they watch American culture and society continually turn away from the biblical teachings and Christian values they hold dear. They are afraid that the persecution our brothers and sisters face in nations like China, Nigeria, North Korea and Libya may soon be much more than something we read about. It may be the path that we — Christians in the “land of the free” — are called to walk. The problem with this attitude is that the Bible tells us not to be afraid. When communist authorities in Romania forced VOM’s founder, Richard Wurmbrand, into a van as he walked to church on Feb. 29, 1948, he had good reason to be afraid. Here’s how he recalls his thoughts that morning in his book In God’s Underground: I knew that I faced questioning, ill-treatment, possibly years of imprisonment and death, and I wondered if my faith was strong enough. I remembered then that in the Bible it is written 366 times — once for every day of the year — “Don’t be afraid!” 366 times, not merely 365, to account for leap year. And this was February 29 — a coincidence that

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Asim and Zarah followed separate paths to faith in Christ, but when their paths converged in Cairo, Egypt, they became one in service to the Lord. The science lectures Asim was hearing at university didn’t seem to agree with his family’s Muslim faith. Doubtful and disillusioned, he began hanging out in cafes with atheistic friends, mocking the Quran. Although he had no interest in religion, Asim agreed to join a Coptic Christian friend at her church’s Christmas Eve service one year. After leaving the service, he couldn’t get the words of one song out of his mind: “You died for me, and You took my burdens for me.” Curious to learn more about the mysterious words, he returned to the church and soon began studying the Bible with a man he met there. *             *             * Zarah was zealous for Islam, beginning study under an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim cleric, even joining him as an anti-Christian Muslim missionary. She would stand outside the Bible Society office in Cairo, passing out leaflets and berating anyone who walked out with a Bible. But as she continued to study Islam and search for ways to attack Christians, the flaws in her own religion grew

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