Member Spotlight: The Voice of the Martyrs 

NRB | March 21, 2024 | Member News

In his 26 years at The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Todd Nettleton, Vice President for Message at VOM, has traveled to more than 30 nations to interview hundreds of Christians who endured persecution.

Last week, he spoke with the NRB team about his years of serving at VOM, the state of Christian persecution worldwide in the past and present, and how VOM uses broadcasting to bring visibility to persecuted Christians.

Nettleton is the host of VOM Radio, which airs weekly on over 1,150 radio stations. The show’s podcast version has reached number one on the iTunes “Religion and Spirituality” podcast chart and VOM Radio was named Program of the Year by NRB in 2016. At the 2024 NRB International Christian Media Convention in Nashville, Tenn., Nettleton received the William Ward Ayer Award for Distinguished Service. This award is presented to an individual NRB member with excellence and integrity for outstanding and significant contributions to the field of Christian communications.

Nettleton’s awareness of international ministry and persecution began when he was only 12 years old, planting a seed that would bear fruit for many years. At that time, his family moved to Papua New Guinea as missionaries there for four years. This first step in ministry made him love travel, intercultural relations, and understanding the world beyond his own experience. Though he went back to Southern California in time to finish high school and college, his parents stayed overseas working in several continents.

Nettleton daily considers his work an honor and a joy to help persecuted Christians have a platform to share their stories. Though he loves telling stories himself, Nettleton particularly enjoys the power of giving persecuted Christians the microphone and amplifying their own voices.

“The great thing about the radio program and about broadcasting is [these brothers and sisters] can tell their own stories,” Nettleton said. “We’re hearing from the person who went through the persecution. We’re hearing how God showed up in the midst of that. We’re hearing how they stayed faithful even though it was hard and difficult and risky. I still get excited to come to work.”

Having worked at VOM since April 1998, Nettleton was able to assess the extent of persecution as well as VOM’s approach over the last quarter century.

Nettleton said technology has sparked the greatest change in dramatically increasing the ability to know what is happening to persecuted Christians. In 1998, VOM often received updates from Christians in letters, sometimes delayed by weeks of overseas travel. Today, VOM can receive and watch videos of attacks within moments of their occurrence. This immediate knowledge allows VOM to invite Christians worldwide to pray for situations as they are happening. New features like a VOM prayer app also mobilize Christians to pray for more specific needs of persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world.

“They’re members of our family.” 
— Todd Nettleton, Vice President for Message, VOM

Not only has global awareness of religious persecution increased, but also Nettleton says persecution itself persists worldwide even more than when he began ministry.

“There is more persecution today,” Nettleton said. “Part of that is a good news story, because there are more Christians in places like North Africa, in places like the Middle East, even in China, in Vietnam. So when you have more Christians in a hostile or restricted nation, you have more potential targets for persecution.”

Nettleton described four main areas where VOM focuses its ministry: practical persecution response, sending Bibles to the most hostile and restricted nations, frontline ministry in areas of great risk for potential persecution, and being a voice for persecuted Christians by telling their stories through VOM Radio, a free monthly magazine, app, books, videos and website.

“Our work is very much field-driven,” Nettleton said. “Our international staff doesn’t land in a country and say, ‘Here’s a menu of the 15 things that VOM could do.’ It lands in a country and says, ‘We want to get to know you, we want to get to know your ministry, and then we want to figure out how do we come alongside you, and how do we help you in that [ministry.]’”

Nettleton says it’s important, especially for American Christians used to having certain guaranteed freedoms, not to be surprised when they hear about persecution.

“The first thing I think we have to understand is the biblical promise of persecution,” Nettleton said. “It’s happening because Jesus said it would happen. The Bible is very clear. If you follow Jesus closely, you will encounter hardship; you will encounter rejection. As we begin with that kind of foundational understanding, then it shouldn’t surprise us that persecution is getting worse.”

“I think [persecution] will get worse, and I think the church will grow, which maybe sounds like an oxymoron,” Nettleton said.

Nettleton believes it’s important for Christians to think, talk, and know about worldwide persecution beyond even the common places that come to mind when they think of persecution. An example of an unfamiliar persecution location is Eritrea, a country most Americans would need help to find on a map. Around 300 Christians are currently imprisoned there, some of them for almost 20 years.

“One of the things I think that’s really a blessing of VOM’s work is to put a name and a face on some of those brothers and sisters that in the normal course of our lives, we wouldn’t know about,” Nettleton said.

Though stories of persecution are sometimes painful to hear, Nettleton says most of the Christians he talks to express a contagious joy, even in the face of adversity. Nettleton is surprised and humbled to see their excitement to watch God grow their church within persecution.

“[Persecuted Christians] are not depressed,” Nettleton said. “They see God at work. They experience the reality of His presence even in the midst of suffering.”

Nettleton shared powerful stories about Christians facing persecution all around the world. Sister Tong, who was hosting a house church in China but had just come out of six months in prison, to Nettleton’s surprise, shared how the prison was “a wonderful time.” Jeffery Woodke, an American gospel worker who spent six-and-a-half years as a hostage of radical Islamist terror groups in West Africa, had the strength to forgive his captors. Nettleton tells these and other stories of the sufferings and bold faith of believers throughout the world in his book, “When Faith Is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines with Persecuted Christians.”

The conversations Nettleton has with Christians worldwide often remind him of the apostles’ experience in Acts 5:41: “They left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

“That is still the experience of our brothers and sisters today,” Nettleton said. “They are rejoicing that they’re counted worthy to suffer for the name of Christ.”

Nettleton always encourages Christians who are just learning about persecution to take three steps: make a commitment to pray for the persecuted brothers and sisters, educate themselves so that they can pray more effectively, and then respond to how God leads them as a result.

Nettleton strongly believes that as Christians pray faithfully and learn more about our persecuted family members, God will reveal the next step based on each person’s own gifts, talents, heart, and doors that He opens. Passionate, personal prayers come through knowledge of specific Christians’ situations: “The only way we can pray those prayers is if we educate ourselves to know the names and the faces and the places where our brothers and sisters are suffering,” Nettleton said.

Nettleton likes to remind Christians that if they view persecuted believers as their true brothers and sisters, they will not need to be prompted to care, pray, or respond.

“Once we understand that family relationship and that these are our brothers and sisters that are going through suffering,” Nettleton said, “it should be very natural for us to respond. We shouldn’t have to be guilted or bargained into it.”

“One of the things that we always try to emphasize is that persecuted brothers and sisters are not a statistic,” Nettleton said. “They’re not a news story. They’re members of our family.”

The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM) is a missionary organization and NRB member that serves persecuted Christians in the world’s most difficult and dangerous places to be a Christian. Founded in 1967 by Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, VOM is dedicated to inspiring all believers to a biblical faith by encouraging their commitment to Christ and the fulfillment of his Great Commission—no matter the cost. Check out their website to learn more and get involved.

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