Christians in the free world are being given the opportunity to write a letter of encouragement to those who are in prison around the globe for their faith – in their own language, according to Voice of the Martyrs.

The group’s program on its ministry website, called “Write to a Christian in Prison,” features profiles of Christian pastors, missionaries and others who are being imprisoned, many times for no more than being a Christian.

One man profiled recently was Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, who was arrested in January during a raid on his Full Gospel Church in Andijan, Uzbekistan. He’s been accused by Uzbekistan’s Religious Affairs Committee of not being an “authorized leader” of an “officially-recognized” religious group, even though the evangelical pastor is affiliated with the registered Full Gospel Church.

Government authorities allege he is an “imposter” leading an underground group, and have sentenced him to four years in a labor camp.

“We invite you to write a letter of encouragement to Pastor Shestakov,” VOM said. “You can make a difference for this pastor, even as he is in prison.”

The Voice of the Martyrs program allows Christians to select from various phrases and Scripture verses, which then are translated into the appropriate language. “We also encourage you to write a few simple lines in English. The prisoner or one of his or her cellmates may be able to understand it.”

The program, which already has generated nearly 76,000 letters to imprisoned Christians, has a few words of guidance for those writing letters.

“Please do not state anything negative about their government,” VOM instructs, although the letters can be personalized with family pictures or cards.

VOM said Christian prisoners generally are not allowed to respond to letters, and it is possible letters with a return address could end up in the hands of family members or others.

Sometimes the result is a request for financial assistance, but VOM said no funds should be sent directly, because its Families of Martyrs Fund provides assistance in an appropriate manner.

Also, writers should “never mention the name of the source of your information or the name of any organization such as Voice of the Martyrs or Prisoner Alert.” There’s little danger in a prisoner getting a letter, but if organizations are named, the inmate may be accused of being linked to “foreign organizations,” VOM said.

But the effort is well worth it, VOM said.

“Your involvement testifies of the love and unity found among followers of Jesus Christ throughout the world. It is a witness to both your imprisoned family and to the authorities you write to or who may censor letters intended for the prisoner,” VOM said “Your involvement can result in better treatment for a prisoner.”

More than 70 million Christians have been martyred for their faith since 33 A.D., according to the ministry that serves persecuted Christians worldwide. “This year an estimated 160,000 believers will die at the hands of their oppressors and over 200 million will be persecuted, arrested, tortured, beaten or jailed. In many nations it is illegal to own a Bible, share your faith, change your faith or allow children under 18 to attend a religious service,” VOM said.

Among the nations where persecution is documented are Syria, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, Nepal, Nigeria, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tibet, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Voice of the Martyrs
is a non-profit, interdenominational ministry working worldwide to help Christians who are persecuted for their faith, and to educate the world about that persecution. Its headquarters are in Bartlesville, Okla., and it has 30 affiliated international offices.

It was launched by the late Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, who started smuggling Russian Gospels into Russia in 1947, just months before Richard was abducted and imprisoned in Romania where he was tortured for his refusal to recant Christianity.

He eventually was released in 1964 and the next year he testified about the persecution of Christians before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, stripping to the waist to show the deep torture wound scars on his body.

The group that later was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs was organized in 1967, when his book, “Tortured for Christ,” was released.

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