When Iman—a young man with a troubled past on the streets of Iran—accepted Christ as his Savior, it came with a cost. He was arrested for evangelizing and spent weeks in a prison cell, including 21 days in solitary confinement. But to the amazement of his captors, Iman’s ministry didn’t end after his arrest; it just changed locations. His later description of that time in prison—during which he was able to share the gospel with over 100 prisoners and lead 24 to Christ—might not be what you’re expecting.
“It was the sweetest time of my life,” he said.
The Voice of the Martyrs, a ministry based here in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, is dedicated to sharing stories like Iman’s with believers all over the world. They champion these modern-day heroes of the faith, who are staying strong for Christ despite tremendous suffering. And for over 20 years, Todd Nettleton (BWC ’92) has traveled the world, interviewing these believers and bringing their stories home with him.
“I love the opportunity I have to hear first-hand accounts of God’s faithfulness and His amazing work around the world,” Nettleton said. “The thought that I get to sit down and ask questions of modern-day Peters and Pauls is pretty amazing, and very humbling to me.”
Working with The Voice of the Martyrs, Nettleton has just released a new book: When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines with Persecuted Christians (Moody Press). It’s filled with stories of people like Iman, people who took a stand for their Savior even when it was costly.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can spend 40 days hearing the stories of persecuted Christians and not have it affect our faith and the way we follow Christ.”
Growth on Campus
Nettleton’s work with The Voice of the Martyrs began, in many ways, with the connections and growth he made during his time at Bartlesville Wesleyan College. And by his own admission, many factors were pulling him towards Oklahoma.
“My parents are both alumni, and on one side my grandparents as well, so you could say that I was born to attend,” he said. “But as I went through my senior year of high school, God made it abundantly clear that BWC was where He wanted me to be.”
During his time on campus, the Lord confirmed that call through discipleship and growth—spiritually, intellectually, and relationally. “I took ownership of my walk with Christ. It wasn’t dependent on my parents, or my youth pastor, or who was speaking in chapel that day. It was up to me to follow Christ and to invest in my relationship with Him,” Nettleton said. “And relationally, I built life-long friendships. So many nights playing spades and eating popcorn in Epsilon! Being introduced to fantasy baseball, which kept us in touch through the summers. Intramural battles. Just so many friendships and conversations.”
Nettleton also grew in his relationship with a very special someone—his wife, Charlotte (England, BWC ’93). In fact, he proposed to her on stage at the BWC Valentine’s Banquet after the two were named the campus “Sweetheart Couple.”
“Pretty hard for her to say no with all those people watching, right?” he said.
“I love the opportunity I have to hear first-hand accounts of God’s faithfulness and His amazing work around the world. The thought that I get to sit down and ask questions of modern-day Peters and Pauls is pretty amazing, and very humbling to me.”
To Share Their Stories
After graduating in 1992 with a communications degree, Nettleton worked in writing positions around town, including two years at the Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise and four years working at the university. When the wife of his former BWC roommate reached out to him about the opportunity at VOM—she had been tasked with forming a communications team at the ministry—he jumped at the chance.
“With my background in journalism and as a missionary kid, it seemed like a great fit for me,” Nettleton said. “And 23 years later, I think it still is.”
Over the years, his role at the ministry has shifted somewhat, but Nettleton’s main job now is telling the stories of persecuted Christians. He hosts The Voice of the Martyrs’ weekly podcast, also broadcast on over 1,000 radio stations across the country. In each episode, Nettleton interviews someone involved in restricted-nations ministry, shining a light on the hardships Christians face around the country and how believers in America can help.
The idea for the new book came about years ago, when Nettleton would share his interviews and travels with believers back home. “Often when I return from a trip, I will have someone say, ‘I wish I could go on a trip with you!’ And now they can. This book is my invitation to come along with me, to spend 40 days sitting down with and hearing the stories of persecuted Christians.”
Nettleton’s goal for the book is not that Americans would focus on the pain or suffering of Christians in other countries, but that they would find their own faith strengthened.
“I don’t think there’s any way we can spend 40 days hearing the stories of persecuted Christians and not have it affect our faith and the way we follow Christ,” he said. “I hope readers will be bolder in their witness, more faithful to serve, and more willing to see God’s hand at work even in times of hardship or suffering.”
If you’re looking to get involved with the ministry of VOM, Nettleton recommends three steps, the first being prayer. “The first thing that persecuted Christians ask us to do is to pray,” he said. “That’s something every single one of us can do!”
He also recommends educating yourself so that you can pray more effectively and passionately. VOM provides a number of resources for American believers to learn more about the needs of persecuted Christians, and get involved.
Lastly, Nettleton urges simple obedience to what God is calling you to do.
“I believe that as we pray and as we learn more, God will open doors for specific involvement,” he said. “Maybe that will be sending letters to imprisoned Christians. Maybe it will be sponsoring Bibles to be delivered. Maybe it will be helping a Christian refugee family here in the US. Maybe it will be getting on a plane to go to a hostile or restricted nation. But I believe God will make clear the next steps He has for us as we pray and as we learn more. Then it’s up to us to be obedient to what He is asking us to do.”
To receive a free digital sample of When Faith is Forbidden, click here.
Disclaimer: The subject of this article is the author’s father.