A Central Asian pastor remembered as a peaceful witness for Jesus Christ is this year’s Voice of the Martyrs Korea International Martyrs Day honoree.

The ministry held a press conference this week at its Jeongneung office to honor martyred pastor Sergei Bessarab with a plaque on its Martyrs Timeline and a video available for use by churches, small groups, and families to commemorate this year’s International Martyrs Day. The video is available at www.vomkorea.com/en/dotcm 

“According to church tradition, June 29 marks the martyrdom of the Apostle Paul, so Christians around the world take time this week to honor the legacy of those who have sacrificed their lives for the advancement of the gospel, said Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.  

Representative Foley said that this year her organization is honoring Pastor Sergei Bessarab, who was martyred in Central Asia on January 12, 2004.  

“Five years before his death, Sergei Bessarab had gone to prison five times, but not for his faith in Christ,” said Representative Foley. She says that one day a fellow prisoner shared the gospel with Bessarab, who eventually surrendered his life to the Lord. 

Pastor Sergei preaching at his church in Central Asia.

Representative Foley said that one day a fellow prisoner shared the gospel with Bessarab, who eventually surrendered his life to the Lord. 

After being released from prison, Bessarab and his wife Tamara felt called to gospel ministry and began preaching around Central Asia, before settling on a particular city to plant a church in, said Representative Foley. The city had over 100 mosques but no Christian presence, she added. 

Pastor Bessarab faithfully preached the gospel, and his new church grew to almost 60 people. But according to Representative Foley, some in the city were not happy with the pastors faithful witness. 

On January 12, 2004, after returning from a prayer meeting, Pastor Sergei came into the house that he and Tamara were building for the needs of the church and where they lived and played his guitar quietly by a window, said Representative Foley. Suddenly shots rang out and he fell dead, having been shot at point blank range This was less than a year after Sergei and Tamara moved to town. 

Pastor Sergei’s family surround a picture of Pastor Sergei after his death.

Almost immediately, Tamara began to see fruit from Sergei’s life and death. 

“During Sergei’s funeral, my son gave his life to Christ, Tamara told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. The fact that Sergei was always prepared to sacrifice life for his faith, and eventually did that, showed my son that faith in Christ is worth our firm stance, even under the threat of death.”  

Representative Foley said that most people expected that Pastor Bessarabs death would lead to the closure of the church he had planted. On the contrary, his death filled the church, and it became a living witness of God’s faithfulness, said Representative Foley. She said that Bessarabs wife Tamara continues the ministry to the present day, despite her own serious health problems.  

According to Representative Foley, International Martyrs Day is an opportunity for churches around the world to learn about Christians facing martyrdom today, particularly in the more than 70 countries where there are restrictions on the practice of the Christian faith. She said Voice of the Martyrs Korea tries to highlight a martyr from a different country or region on International Martyrs Day each year so that Christians can better understand the extent and types of persecution currently being faced by other Christians around the world. Pastor Bessarab is the first Central Asian martyr Voice of the Martyrs Korea has highlighted, according to Representative Foley 

A short video about Pastor Bessarab is available at www.vomkorea.com/en/dotcm for individual viewing as well as use by churches and small groups in commemoration of International Martyrs Day, Representative Foleys aid. 

Today, many local believers in Central Asia are facing increasing restrictions, persecutions, and even martyrdom due to their faithful witness for Christ, said Representative Foley. But the Lord is continuing to raise up bold local pastors to lead his churches there. Sadly, many churches around the world still have not yet heard the stories of Central Asian pastors like Pastor Bessarab.” She said that is why her organization is highlighting Pastor Bessarabs martyrdom. “We want believers around the world to be encouraged and strengthened by learning more about how the Lord is working in the Central Asian towns and villages that are well beyond the reach of foreign missionaries, said Representative Foley.  

Voice of the Martyrs Korea’s previous honorees on International Martyrs Day include Colombian lay evangelist Rocio Pino, who was martyred on March 6, 2011 by the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia; North Korean underground Christian Cha Deok Sun, who was martyred between 2005-2010; and Somali evangelist Abdiwelli Ahmed, a convert to Christianity from Islam who was martyred in Kenya on February 27, 2013. 

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