Martyrs’ Day is observed on different days in different countries and in some countries not at all. Often the “martyrs” commemorated are political or military heroes, the sort of deaths we in America remember on Memorial Day. Several martyrs remembered in Papua New Guinea died for Christ.

Beside a road against the bush at Ora Bay in Papua stands a stone altar. The Lord’s Supper is celebrated there on this day, Martyrs’ Day, September 2d. May Hayman is remembered then.

War had come to the Pacific. The Japanese seized Papua as a staging ground for hostilities against Australia. The outcome was very much in doubt. When it had first become apparent that Papua would be invaded, Bishop Strong of the Anglican Church broadcast a radio message. “Whatever others may do, we cannot leave. . . .If we are fools, we are fools for Christ’s sake.” All the mission personnel agreed. To abandon the native church at this desperate moment would be to forever lose face. To die would be to win a martyr’s crown and show the Papuans that faith was for real.

Brave Bishop Strong narrowly escaped death from the Japanese. Other missionaries lost their lives. Nine months after the Bishop made his speech, mission authorities decided that it was appropriate to evacuate the women staff. They had stood heroically and shown of what stuff they were made. Several were taken to safety in Australia. But nurse Hayman remained.

Vivian Redlich

Early in August 1942 her fiancee, Vivian Redlich, was captured after hiding out in the bush for weeks. Determined to meet the needs of his flock he led worship under conditions of great danger. A sorcerer named Embogi betrayed him to the Japanese. Tapiedi, a Christian guide pleaded for Vivian’s life and was brained with an ax. Vivian and other Christians, including a six-year-old boy, were beheaded, their corpses cast into the sea.

May Hayman and another nurse escaped into the forest also. After eluding the Japanese for several days they, too, were betrayed by heathen Papuans, anxious to win Japanese favor. The Japanese caged them and tormented them by offering food and then withdrawing it. Three days after their capture, they were murdered beside an open trench and their bodies flung into it. It is at the site of this trench that the stone altar stands.

Embogi became a Christian after the war. As he was awaiting execution, he ordered his people to fetch missionaries. They did. The man who brained Tapiedi also became a Christian. In his newfound faith he opened the doors of a new church in his village of Embi: a church dedicated to Tapiedi. This happy conclusion, recounted in Diana Dewar’s All for Christ, shows how the seed of martyrs grows. Martyrs’ Day thus represents a day of rejoicing, not sorrow.

Bibliography:

  1. Dewar, Diana. All for Christ; some twentieth century martyrs. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
  2. “Martyrs Day.” Various encyclopedias.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

1192Richard Lionheart and Saladin sign an agreement allowing Christians access to the holy city. Thus ending the Third Crusade.

1634 John Brebeuf, Jesuit missionary, baptizes the first Iroquois, a Seneca chief, to become a Christian. 

1821 – Brindabun, an Asian Indian gospel preacher, known for his recitation of Scriptures and powerful prayers; passed away.

1973 – Death of J. R. R. Tolkien, an English writer, poet, philologist, academic and devout Catholic. He had helped lead C. S. Lewis to Christ and was a member of the literary club The Inklings. Among his writings were the fantasy favorites The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

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