Bishop James Hannington the First Martyr in Uganda

This is the day that Bishop James Hannington was martyred. It was 1885 and the place was Uganda, Africa.

Of all the nations in Africa, Uganda was the most responsive to the gospel in the early missionary days. In the 1870’s mission work began in Uganda with the favour of King Mutesa, who died in 1884. Mutesa’s son and successor, King Mwanga, opposed all foreign presence, including the missions. He was suspicious of the Germans who were grabbing territory.

Hannington was to become the first martyr in Uganda. Adventurous from his youth, young James blew off his thumb while experimenting with black powder. In time he became an Anglican clergyman and was successful in his parish work.

He had already been ordained to the Anglican clergy when he read Grace and Truth. And it was this, he tells us, that caused him to “spring out of bed and leap about the room rejoicing that Jesus died for me!” (Crusaders for Christ, by A. Borland, page 46).

In 1882 he left England to carry the Gospel to Uganda. He failed to reach the African nation, due to fevers which left him unable to walk. When he walked, he tied his hands around his neck to relieve the agony in his arms. Yet he made humorous sketches of his plight and recounted the story of his adventures for his young relatives.

Recounting his own misadventures and the deaths of other missionaries claimed by illness Hannington told his readers, “What your uncle under went is only what many out there are going through, and must continue to go through, before a native ministry can be raised up to carry on the grand work of evangelising Africa.” He did not know then just how much he would have to undergo.

Following his recuperation in England Hannington made a second attempt to reach Uganda. En route he is credited with starting the first mission station in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro. “First mission station in the area [of current Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro] opened at Moshi, on the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, by Bishop James Hannington, just a few weeks before he was martyred by the Kabaka of Buganda.”

Hannington decided to approach Uganda from the north, but was suspected of being in league with the land hungry Germans. A huge war party of 1,000 Ugandan soldiers was sent to intercept him. They took him prisoner on October 21, but showed some leniency. They allowed him to view the Nile.

During the next week Hannington kept a diary of his tortuous ordeal. He was cruelly treated, bound, dragged along the ground, starved and shut up in a native hut without ventilation.

“In spite of all, and feeling I was being dragged away to be murdered at a distance, I sang ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus’ and laughed at the very agony of my situation.”

Eight days later “a gunshot was heard and Bishop Hannington fell, his body speared by the two natives who stood at his side …” He was 38 years of age.

We know most of this tragic detail because one of the Ugandans kept Hannington’s journal and sold it to a later expedition.

Hannington was not the only one killed, as others in his travelling party suffered the same fate. Hannington’s last words are recorded as: “Go tell your master that I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood.”

But Hannington’s blood was not the last to flow in Uganda. The first native martyr was the Roman Catholic Joseph Mkasa Balikuddembe, beheaded for rebuking the king for his debauchery and for Bishop Hannington’s murder. Then in 1886 32 men and boys were burned at the stake, including many from King Mwanga’s household.

In recent history, the tyrant Idi Amin killed Christians in Uganda. In 1977 the Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum and many other Christians suffered death for their faith under Idi Amin’s rule.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

John and Betty Stam Martyred in China

This is the day that John and Betty Stam married, in 1933.

John Stam was born in 1907 in Paterson, NJ, and Betty (Scott) Stam was born in 1906 in Albion, MI. They met during their years at Moody Bible Institute where both felt a call to China. Both decided to go under the auspices of the China Inland Mission.

Betty had graduated a year earlier than John and sailed for that distant land in the autumn of 1931. The following year John completed his studies and sailed for China, but was stationed in a different region to Betty.

They met again … and were united in marriage just over a year later.

Baby Helen Priscilla was born in a Methodist hospital in Wuhu in September 1934 at a time when the civil war between government forces and the communist Red Army had already begun.

In November the Stams returned to the remote brick-walled village of Tsingteh, in South Anhwei, where they had set up a small shopfront house as their preaching chapel. Tsingteh was accessible to the outside world only by stone paths cut through the mountains.

John proved to be an able linguist, not only learning the language but being able to reproach conference messages he had heard, in Chinese.

In early December rumours ran rife that communist rebels were in the area. The village leaders hastily fled, fearing for their lives. The Stams were unsure what to do or even if the rumours were true.

The bandits entered the village through the unguarded East Gate and then beat down the door to the Stam’s home. John urged the invaders to sit at the table while he served them tea.

The couple were ordered to leave and then paraded down the street in their underwear, with Betty holding baby Helen. They journeyed for 12 miles and were then locked in a mud hut overnight. A ransom of $20,000 was demanded – to no avail.

Overnight John wrote a letter to the CIM leaders. “My wife, baby and myself are today in the hands of communist bandits. Whether we will be released or not noone knows. May God be magnified in our bodies, whether by life or by death. Philippians 1:20″

Betty fed and wrapped her baby, putting money and food into her blanket, then hid the child in a pile of heavy winter bedding. On 6 (or 8?) December, 1934, they were beheaded.

A courageous Christian, Mr Lo, followed the trail, once he thought it was safe to do so, and found the Stam’s bodies. He did not know what had become of the baby but found her quite by accident. The baby had slept without a cry for 27 hours, saving it from death.

All that remained of this heroic couple was laid to rest by faithful Chinese believers, who also cared for baby Helen Priscilla until she could be returned to the United States.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.

George Blaurock Initiates Re-Baptism

This is the day that … George Blaurock was burned to death, in 1529.

Blaurock was born Jörg vom Hause Jakob, in 1492 in Bonaduz, a village in Grisons, Switzerland.

An ex-Roman Catholic priest, he had been converted to Protestantism when he was about 34 years of age.

That same year Conrad Grebel debated Ulrich Zwingli on the issue of infant baptism. Both were Protestant, but Grebel had become convinced that baptism was for believers only. Zwingli held to the belief that children of Christians were to be baptised as infants, on the same basis that the Old Testament required circumcision. Nothing was resolved by the debate.

Blaurock (so named because of a blue coat he wore on one occasion) went to Zurich to consult with Zwingli, but was disappointed in him. He then met with Grebel and Felix Manz and resonated with their commitment to Biblical truth.

Blaurock was already married at this time, so it appears that he had already abandoned the non-biblical practices of the Catholic church.

In a meeting in which the small group discoursed on their commitment to Biblical practice, rather than church tradition, they were deeply moved by this new conviction and Blaurock asked to be baptised as a believer, as the New Testament recorded. Once George was baptised the others asked him to baptize them.

Thus George Blaurock not only became an associate of Grebel but instigated the practice of re-baptism, becoming a vigorous preacher in the newly formed Anabaptist movement. At the time this rebaptism was performed by pouring, rather than total immersion.

There followed “tireless evangelism” around Switzerland, and clashes with the followers of Zwingli. Eventually Blaurock was arrested (on 8 October, 1525), escaped (on 21 March, 1526), re-arrested (in December, 1526) and sentenced to death (on 5 January, 1527). This sentence was, however, altered to a public flogging and exile from Zurich.

He maintained most of his ministry by dodging those who opposed him, preaching in a variety of places and using remote locations. His itinerant preaching ministry continued until he was arrested again in August, 1529. Death came at the age of 38.

A German historian identified Blaurock’s ideals as “freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, (and) the equality of all citizens before the law”. He also composed hymns which have endured in German worship to this day.

Georg Blaurock was one of the noblest martyrs of the Christian Church. For the brotherhood he helped to found he cheerfully sacrificed everything, honor and respect, freedom and comfort, property and goods, wife and child, body and life for the sake of his Lord and Saviour. Under the sign of adult baptism he gave the brotherhood its actual reason for existence in the world.

It was Blaurock’s falling away from the Catholic priesthood and from the Catholic Church, with his repudiation of the Mass, the confessional, and the adoration of Mary that marked him as a criminal worthy of death.

His biographer writes: “George Blaurock was a pioneer evangelist. His methods were sometimes crude and his remarks impolite. But he was sincere, untiring and courageous in spreading the gospel as he understood it. He was the apostle of the Anabaptists to the common people.”

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.

The Martyrs of Islam and Christianity

A religion can be evaluated by various measures. Here I suggest that the martyrs of Islam and Christianity provide a significant insight into both religions.

Martyrs are not new, but neither are they a thing of the past. When John Foxe (1516-1587) wrote his famous book, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, in the sixteenth century, he thought that martyrdom was a thing of the past. However, there have been more Christian martyrs in modern times than all those of antiquity. Gospelweb claims that, on average, 465 Christian martyrs are killed around the globe every day.

At the same time Islam has its martyrs. In modern times we know them best as suicide bombers. These are people who have been taught that the killing of infidels (non Muslims) will gain them personal benefits in Paradise.

So, let’s take a moment to review some of the superficial differences between these two groups of martyrs, the Muslim and the Christian. And in so doing, let’s see what those who are willing to die for their faith reveal about the very faith for which they die.

Islam’s martyrs die in holy war (jihad). They are commonly seen today as suicide bombers. Their actions are essentially selfish – in order to gain personal benefit, such as promotion to paradise, with a bevy of beautiful virgins at their behest. In death these martyrs aim to kill as many others as they can. They kill and main innocent people, in the name of their religious zeal.

Islam’s martyrs die for personal gain and maximum carnage on others.

Christianity’s martyrs die as victims, not as warriors. They most commonly die because they have attempted to take their faith to others, or because they refuse to deny their faith in the face of threat. They do not inflict pain or damage to others in their death. They are passive in their martyrdom.

That’s quite a startling contrast.

Muslim martyrs die with self-interest in mind. Christian martyrs die to win others or to remain true to their faith.

Muslim martyrs necessarily engage in the slaughter of others. Christian martyrs bring no harm to others in their death.

Muslim martyrs engender fear in the community. Christian martyrs are no threat to anyone.

The word ‘martyr’ comes from the New Testament Greek word ‘martoos’, which means ‘witness’. So let’s see what these martyrs give testimony to about their religion.

In reflecting the example of Islamic martyrs we are presented with a religion of self-interest, at the expense of others. We are also presented with a religion of violence, carnage and destruction. We are presented with a religion at war. There is no evidence of something that elevates the human soul. The indulgent image of sexual gratification as the reward for martyrdom is itself a base idea, even if it is only pedalled by the fanatic fringe.

Christian martyrs testify to a religion of self-sacrificing devotion. We see a level of self-less commitment to preaching the gospel to others, even at the risk of death. We see love in action.

Martyrs are not the only reflection of a religion. But surely those people who are sufficiently committed to their faith to die for it must have some credibility in illustrating the character of what they are dying for.

On balance, then, the martyrs of Islam and Christianity bear witness to completely different and contrasting religions. There is no evidence in the testimony of the martyrs that the Moslem God and the Christian God have anything in common.