October 29, 2020
Todd Nettleton, chief of media relations for The Voice of the Martyrs, speaks to a guest during VOM’s weekly radio broadcast. Nettleton and VOM staff recently updated ‘Jesus Freaks,’ a collection of stories from the persecuted church.
(Photos courtesy of Todd Nettleton)
For the last 53 years, The Voice of the Martyrs has served persecuted Christians around the world, and, in doing so, sought to become their voice and share their stories.
“My job is to tell the story,” said Todd Nettleton, who heads up communications for the organization. Working through VOM, Nettleton has traveled the world to interview persecuted Christians from more than 20 nations.
He writes for VOM’s free monthly print magazine, hosts a weekly half-hour radio broadcast and podcast and helps write devotional books, among other outreach efforts.
Stories of the courage and faith of people who overcome severe punishments inflicted on them for merely practicing and sharing their faith are endless, Nettleton said.
Many of these stories can be found in the updated version of the book “Jesus Freaks,” originally published 20 years ago, which shares the experiences and perspectives of persecuted Christians who are “the ultimate Jesus Freaks.”
The book is authored by the writing team of VOM and the contemporary Christian music group DC Talk, whose award-winning single “Jesus Freak” motivated the name of the book.
“This book has been an amazing inspiration to a whole generation of people,” Nettleton said, who hopes the updated version reaches a new generation.
A former sportswriter, Nettleton has applied his writing skills to VOM outreach for some 20 years. So how did he transition from writer to radio host?
“The Lord laid that in my lap,” he said with a laugh. Nettleton had arrived at “kind of a crossroads” professionally and wanted to do more. He had conducted thousands of radio interviews for VOM and thought he might be good at hosting a radio show, but he never broached the subject to anyone other than his wife. Then one day, “my boss came into my office and said, ‘We want to have a radio program and we want you to host.’”
Launched six years ago, VOM Radio’s weekly program is broadcast by more than 1,050 stations in the United States — 23 in Alabama — as well as satellite radio and online. You can find your local station by entering your zip code at vomradio.net/stations.
For Nettleton, it’s a labor of love. “When we go in the studio, I always have a feeling of gratefulness,” he said. “I can’t believe I get to do this. I can’t believe I get to interview these people.”
While Christian persecution is ongoing in many countries worldwide, Nettleton said most of the martyrs’ stories and even their locales are unknown to the average churchgoer.
One such place is the Northeast Africa nation of Eritrea, where more than 500 Christians are imprisoned. “Some of the pastors I’ve met there have been in prison 15-plus years. No trial, no charges, no lawyers. You just disappear into the prison system in Eritrea,” Nettleton said.
For His glory
Such accounts deeply influence his everyday life. “One of the things I have is a great confirmation that God can use every situation to bring about His plan and for His glory.”
Hearing from Christians “who would give anything just to have a Bible” sparked Nettleton’s own “love for the Scripture and my desire to be in the Scripture every day,” he said.
“It’s life-giving sustenance. I want to live that way.”
Nettleton also encourages Christians in America to seek to understand the degree to which fellow believers in other parts of the world are persecuted.
Body of Christ
“I think the biggest thing we need to understand is we are all connected. We are all part of the body of Christ. When one part of the body suffers, we’re all supposed to feel it.
“But if we don’t know, how can we feel it?” Nettleton asked.
By educating themselves, Christians can offer more informed and specific prayers, he said. A good way to start is by participating in the International Day of Prayer. While it’s important to provide aid, donate Bibles, write to the imprisoned and take missionary trips, it’s prayers persecuted Christians want the most, Nettleton said.
“The most important thing we can do is pray for them. Every single time that we ask that question, that’s the first thing they ask for.”
These martyrs don’t pray to be released from prison or that their suffering ends, he said. “They pray that they will be faithful under persecution in spite of the suffering.”
Despite their dire circumstances, Nettleton added, “There’s a sense of joy we find among persecuted Christians. It’s sort of counterintuitive but it’s really very common among them.”
See related story: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is November 1.