The idea of Christian witness and martyrdom is epitomised in the witness of Jesus. Before Pilate Jesus clearly stipulated in no unclear terms that he had come to bear witness to nothing else but the truth. At the basis therefore of every martyrdom is this willingness to bear witness to the truth in whatever form. On a Christian level, it means that a Christian should not be ashamed to testify to our Lord Jesus Christ.
In situations which require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation, after the example of Jesus. As a guiding principle, we must always keep a clear conscience before God and people in matters of the truth which we want to defend. We must speak it out clearly, distinctly and solemnly without fear. This eventually flows and trickles down to all spheres of life including the political, social, economic and all other spheres of life. Our faith must be the guiding star to lead us in all the spheres of life.
True witness and martyrdom does not just come from the blues. It must be founded on firm faith in God. The duty of Christians to take part in the life of the Church and the world impels them to act as witnesses of the Gospel in all spheres of life. This witness is a transmission of the faith in words and actions. The importance of witness is that it makes the truth known to all people.
This witness is what was practised by great people like John Chilembwe, Bishop Romeo, Mahatma Gandhi, Aaron Gadama, Yatuta Chisiza and several others including for me people like the Malawian citizens killed on 20th July 2011. These people were first convinced about the values which they held to be true then they were to give witness to these ideas no matter the cost they had to pay.
Martyrdom is the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith. It basically means giving witness even to the point of death. The martyr bears witness to Christ who died and rose, to whom he is united by charity. The martyr bears all the pain, torture, ill-treatment and death through an act of fortitude. This was well echoed by Ignatius of Antioch who said; ‘let me become the food of the beasts, through which I will reach God.’
Furthermore, martyrdom is the highest proof of love. Very few people are presented with such an opportunity to die as martyrs in defence of Christian witness explicitly but most of us are given the challenge to witness to the faith in other ways.
However when situations arise when we have to give witness through death we must not decline to do so because it is the highest proof of love. Anytime when we a situation when we have to deny God or to act according to the divine will of God, we must rather sacrifice our lives rather contradict the supreme claims of God. We should be courageous to do this because in doing this we die for a good cause.
History gives us examples of several people who resisted and refused to deny God even in the face of death. The martyrs of Uganda are a great example of people who were asked to renounce their faith in God and embrace the pagan gods but they stood firm in their faith and were torched in the fire to death.
If the Ugandan martyrs and people like John Chilembwe gave witness up to their death point, it is a lesson for us that we can witness to Christ in all situation, good or bad. Jesus set a standard for his disciples to be read to acknowledge him before all people and they should be determined not to deny belief in him.
‘Everyone who acknowledges me before people, I also will acknowledge before my father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny him before my father who is in heaven’ (Mathew 10:32)
As a nation, therefore we need to think seriously about our own martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of political independence which we now enjoy. Inspired by their faith, the heroic martyrs denounced bad governance policies and liberated us from political slavery. We have an obligation to preserve and protect the good governance policies which they fought for.
The best way of thanking the Malawian martyrs are not the verbal appreciations but we need to get focussed on building good democratic principles. Let us pray that what the martyrs fought for will be implemented in Malawi.