As a college student, Johnnie Moore witnessed a graduation ceremony that changed his life.
It wasn't his own graduation from Liberty University. He was on a two-week mission trip to India where he watched in amazement as some 2,000 students graduating from a Bible college recited in unison a "martyr's oath," pledging their willingness to die for Jesus as they set out to proclaim the Gospel.
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Now a member of President Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board – he was among the leaders photographed laying hands on the president in prayer at the Oval Office – the 33-year-old Moore has made the oath taken by those students the theme of a new book released Tuesday that presents the word-for word testimonies of Christians around the world who have suffered for their faith.
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Moore, who has traveled the globe to hear and record the testimonies, told the story behind "The Martyr's Oath: Living for the Jesus They're Willing to Die For," published by Tyndale House, in an interview with WND.
"This is personal. I believe that if one member suffers, we all suffer," he said. "I have this conviction in my heart."
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Moore said it's become "an obsessive focus" for him "to raise awareness for the persecuted church, be a voice for them and to get them as much help as possible."
He opens the book with the scene of the students carrying out their final requirement to graduate from a Bible school led by the late renowned evangelical leader M.A. Thomas.
"They had to pledge that they were willing to die for Jesus. Then they would get their diploma," he told WND.
Moore noted it was not like Muslim "martyrs," who die to earn their way to paradise.
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"Christian martyrs are the polar opposite," he told WND. "We've received our gift of heaven, but we're willing to serve to the point of death, and we surely will not deny Jesus."
He said he remembers, as he watched the ceremony, a sense that he was witnessing a "raw, first-century Christianity that I'd been shielded from in the United States."
"It's like the New Testament came alive to me," said Moore.
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It launched a journey that hasn't ended, through dozens of countries around the world, including in 2014, when he went to Iraq within six weeks of ISIS taking over the plains of Ninevah, and destroying and scattering a Christian community that dates to the time of Christ.
"In every country, they all say they feel forgotten and no one knows their stories," he said. "So I just decided to record their stories. "
The people he interviewed are not only from Iraq and Syria but from nations across Northern Africa such as Eritrea and Nigeria, and Asian nations under communist rule, such as China.
"These are not famous people, but they ought to be, for their sacrifice for Jesus," he said.
While others have told the stories of such martyrs, Moore distinguishes his book as "the latest information from the front lines," recounted in the words of persecuted Christians.
"We give simple introductions, then it's the actual transcript of these men and women, sometimes young people," he explained.
"It's like sitting down with them across a table."
Moore emphasized that while "first century persecution in the 21st century" is horrific and evil, it also is "producing a first century harvest of millions coming to follow Jesus in the most miraculous ways and from the most unlikely places."
Moore is a visiting lecturer at Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity and a fellow of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling at Concordia University. He is also the founder and president of the KAIROS Company, a consulting and public relations firm based in Southern California. He previously was chief of staff for movie and television producer Mark Burnett, and a senior vice president of Liberty University. He was honored in April for his humanitarian work with a "Medal of Valor" award by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
His advocacy for persecuted Christians helped raise more than $25 million dollars in emergency assistance for threatened Christians and prompt genocide resolutions against ISIS that passed unanimously in both houses of the United States Congress and in the British and European Parliaments.
ISIS warning unheeded
In early 2014, Moore visited Capitol Hill to warn about the ISIS threat to Christians at a time when the terrorist group was little known and its capacity was downplayed by the White House.
His advocacy was largely met by indifference and skepticism, he said.
When ISIS launched its reign of terror across Iraq and Syria in the fall of 2014, decimating ancient Christian communities, Moore traveled to the region to document the experiences of the thousands of displaced Christians, culminating in his book "Defying ISIS: Preserving Christianity in the Place of Its Birth and in Your Own Backyard." The book is credited with raising awareness of the atrocities ISIS was committing against Christians, Yazidis and others in the Middle East.
Moore told WND his warnings about ISIS weren't due to any prescience on his part. He simply was relaying what he heard from Christians, including a gathering in Jordan of church leaders from across the Middle East.
"They were all predicting, screaming, about what was happening," he told WND. "The signs were ever-present, there were increasing kidnappings and more threats."
There were as many as 1.4 million Christians in northern Iraq just 10 years ago, but it's estimated that less than 200,000 remain.
His dream is that the stories in his book will "inspire millions of Christians to raise their own voices for the persecuted church, in the hallways of Congress, but also in the pulpits of America, to start praying for these people in the way we hope people would pray for us."
One of the many first-hand accounts comes from Rose in northeast Nigeria, where members of the ISIS-allied group Boko Haram burst into her home.
Her husband fought off the jihadists with his gun but eventually ran out of bullets.
"They came in and ordered him to lie down. That’s when they cut off my husband’s head entirely, then our children’s heads," Rose said. "I crouched as though I was going to lie down, but then I took off running. I was six months pregnant and didn’t feel well."
It got worse for Rose. The jihadists caught up to her. They offered her a way out – to simply deny Jesus and declare her allegiance to Allah – but she refused. Her neck was sliced with a sword and she was left for dead, only to be found miraculously alive two days later when health workers were clearing away corpses.
'Friend in the White House'
As a member of Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board, Moore said he has brought up the issue of the persecuted church in every opportunity he has had to meet with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence or senior White House advisers.
In Trump and Pence, he said, "we have an incredible advocate for persecuted Christians around the world."
Even as the Trump administration is paring down the State Department, he said it is increasing the agency's Office for International Religious Freedom, which monitors the persecution of religious minorities country-by-country and makes policy recommendations.
He noted that for all the talk about Iraq and Syria, more Christians were killed in Nigeria last year than in any other country. And it's often been pointed out that there were more Christian martyrs in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined.
Open Doors International, an organization that ranks levels of persecution around the world, has conservatively estimated that more than 7,100 Christians were killed for their faith in 2015. That figure is nearly double the number killed in 2014 and more than triple the number killed in 2013.
"It's a global problem that requires a global solution, and thankfully we have a friend in the White House," Moore said.
In contrast, he said, the Obama administration "didn't care," refusing, for example, to refer to the 21 men beheaded by ISIS for their faith on a Libyan beach as Christians and rejecting a non-binding resolution passed unanimously by the House to designate the ISIS campaign against Christians as "genocide."
In March, the Trump State Department determined ISIS committed genocide against Christian in Iraq and Syria. However, the Republican-led Senate has not acted on a bill passed unanimous in June by the House – the Iraq and Syria Genocide Accountability Act – which directs the State Department to provide relief to hundreds of thousands of displaced people, including Christians, Yazidis and Muslims.
But Moore argues the Trump administration is using foreign policy to raise the issue of Christians and others persecuted for their faith, including in communist North Korea.
U.S. foreign policy will never be perfect, Moore said, acknowledging the complex relationship with Saudi Arabia, for example, where Christian faith is completely banned.
"It's always going to be complicated, but I am heartened by the progress that we are making," he said.
Moore said another objective of his book is "to inspire us to understand what it looked like to be a disciple at the time of Jesus," noting the New Testament was written in the context of persecution.
"We're seeing people beheaded for Jesus Christ. We're seeing a type of persecution on public display that we have only seen at certain points in Christian history," he said. "And yet we're also seeing the church behave like the first century church."
He believes that if Christians are not being persecuted, or if they are not assisting those who are, "there's a huge part of the Christian faith that they are missing."
"There are certain things you will only experience when it costs you something," he said.
"Whether it's at the hands of someone who is viciously opposing you in your workplace, discriminating against you, or whether it's on the other side of a sword, at the hand of a terrorist in North Africa, it's only when your faith cost you something that you realize how valuable it is. "
He believes the greatest miracle is not a spectacular act such as the parting of the Red Sea, but the grace given to Christians to forgive those who persecute them.
He recalled that after the twin suicide bomb attacks on Palm Sunday worshippers in Egypt this year, a pastor delivered "a message to those who kill us," declaring he chose to forgive and pray for the Islamic jihadists who carried out the attacks.
"That is the light of Jesus," Moore said. "And we wonder why so many people are drawn to that Jesus, as opposed to the Jesus that we can so easily worship in our churches here."
Meanwhile, in the United States, with the codification of same-sex marriage turning the refusal to bake a wedding cake into a criminal act and judicial nominees being grilled by lawmakers for their religious beliefs, Moore acknowledged that Christians in America should take note of trends.
"Living in California, I see where the country could go," he said, "which is one of the reasons I was so involved in the last election.
"There are major forces in this country that would be more than happy to suppress our freedom every chance they get," said Moore.
"We've got to work as hard in this upcoming election as we did in the previous one in order to protect our religious liberty."