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Not for nothing and not forgotten

"When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." Matthew 2.16

The first Christian martyrs gave their lives unwittingly and almost before Jesus was born. But we may be sure that they are enjoying their eternal reward. Their innocent sacrifice raised the bar for the tragic yet fertile and ultimately triumphant personal sacrifice which has characterised faith in Jesus ever since. Like the infants of Bethlehem, the identities of so many of these martyrs are lost to history, though remembered by God and alive in his Kingdom. Occasionally a name emerges and their legacy lives on.

Around the fringes of the Roman and Persian empires of late antiquity slave trading added a grim economic imperative to the political goals of conquest and re-conquest. Arabs, Goths, Huns - they were all at it. Among the victims of their cruel trade were many Christians, some of whom capitulated to their barbarian usurpers, others maintained their integrity - often at a significant cost. Yet the fruit of their witness is revealed in the impressive record of conversions and missionary movements, which this otherwise grim era spawned. Sometimes whole countries came to faith, including Armenia and neighbouring Georgia.

American historian, Andrea Sterk, offers three explanations for the impact of these pioneers of mission: their devotion to prayer and worship, the quality of their work in whatever happened to be their profession or area of expertise, and their personal integrity which was often compellingly attractive to their captors. From the available sources, I would add a fourth: signs and wonders. Whether these accounts are more hagiography than history, there must have been something extra-ordinary about our spiritual ancestors...



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