In the wake of Christian martyrs in the news (90 more Christians kidnapped by ISIS in Syria earlier this week), I am sharing a few martyr stories from church history. Sadly, there have been seasons in Christian history where Christians persecuted and martyred other Christians of a different stripe. Our history is hardly pure.
In 16th century Holland, the Mennonites were outlawed and, when caught, often executed. One of them, Dirk Willems, was being chased across a frozen lake when his pursuer broke through the ice and fell in. In response to his cries for help, Willems returned and saved him from the frigid waters. The pursuer was grateful and astonished that he would do such a thing but thinking it his duty nevertheless arrested him. A few days later in the town of Asperen, Willems was burned at the stake till he died.
When Christ is deep in a person’s life, he is going to value others ahead of himself. He is going to love his enemies and pray for those who persecute him (Mt. 5:44). When Christ is deep in a person’s life she is going to be faithful no matter what the cost. Don’t you think it’s important that all of us who know Christ seek to cultivate that depth of faith before the persecuting time comes?
Obviously, Willems didn’t just talk his faith, he lived it in the faith that as Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25). I wonder if Willems had second thoughts about his decision to fish his pursuer from the icy waters, especially as he was tied to the stake and as the flames began to lick at his body. Who knows? But we do know this: when Willems entered Paradise and the blessing of his Savior any second thoughts were vanquished. “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).
Cited by Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1998), 213.