Brad Konemann, 22, has recently been appointed Voice of the Martyrs Australia's first youth director. Mr Konemann, who lives with his wife Katherine in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, spoke about his new role and how trips to visit the persecuted church in Vietnam and Colombia have impacted his life... 

Why has Voice of the Martyrs Australia decided to appoint a youth director?
"Voice of the Martyrs Australia has been serving the persecuted church since 1969. We bear witness not only to the hardships of persecuted believers but also to their incredible faith, hope and joy through suffering. We want to challenge young people to live with this same kind of passion and commitment to Christ in Australia. We also want to train and equip youth to prayerfully and practically support persecuted believers around the world. Youth are the future of the church, and we have a message that they need to hear. My job is to get that message out to youth."

Brad Konemann

Brad Konemann with friends during his visit to Colombia last year. 

 

"It has been such a privilege to meet Christians around the world that have suffered for their faith and yet continue to worship Jesus with joy and hope. They are such a testimony to what Jesus has done for us and how we are called to follow him by taking up our cross."

- Brad Konemann, youth director at Voice of the Martyrs Australia.

What will your role involve? 
"As youth director, I will be raising awareness about the reality of Christian persecution among young believers in Australia. I think that we have a lot to learn from the passion and 'take-up-your-cross faith' of the persecuted church. I am praying that God will use our message to stir up that kind of faith in the youth of Australia. A key focus of my role will be to equip young people to prayerfully and practically support the persecuted church. The youth ministry will be providing advocacy opportunities so that young people can really get involved in what we are doing and make a significant difference in the lives of persecuted believers in restricted nations around the world."

Do you think younger Christians in Australia have a good grasp of the scope and types of persecution facing Christians around the world? 
"Since the advent of the information age, I think the global is increasingly becoming local. Young people want to know what is going on in the world, and this information is increasingly made available to them through the internet. Currently, however, stories of persecution aren't readily available to youth in a medium that really engages them. Young people may have heard about persecution, but most simply do not know what is really going on. The new youth ministry of Voice of the Martyrs Australia aims to change this. By meeting youth where they're at, including the use of the internet and social networking sites, we hope to engage young Australian Christians with the reality of persecution, and provide them with opportunities to support their brothers and sisters around the world."

When did you become a Christian - was it a sudden conversion or did you grow up in a Christian home?
"I grew up in a Christian home. My parents taught me about Jesus, and I knew about God. But I didn't ever really live it. As a teen, I wasn't particularly rebellious, but I definitely wasn't living for Jesus. I just wasn't really that interested in all the Christian stuff; my main concern was myself. I really started to follow Jesus seriously towards the end of high school. I made some friends who loved Jesus. They talked about him all the time and I saw that he made a real difference in their lives. This really intrigued me and I wanted the kind of faith they had. So, I started going along to youth group and church and God changed my life completely. I started following Jesus and treasuring him in my heart. Since then I've been growing and learning, and serving our great God."

How did you first become involved with Voice of the Martyrs?
"It's a funny story, actually. I didn't know a lot about Voice of the Martyrs at all, but I got a call from a lady from my church who told me that Voice of the Martyrs was having an information night about a trip they were doing taking young people into a restricted nation. It sounded like a fantastic opportunity, and it turned out that it was the interview for Underground Reality: Vietnam. It's an initiative of Voice of the Martyrs to engage youth with the persecuted church and involves taking young people into a restricted nation to meet the persecuted church face-to-face. I was selected on the night as one of two Australian teens to travel to Vietnam along with six American teens, to smuggle Bibles into the country and meet with Vietnamese teens. (The whole experience was filmed and has subsequently been released as a four episode reality show and distributed to countless youth groups all over the world. The whole trip is unscripted, raw footage of young people on an incredible journey.) So, the amazing thing for me is that all of my involvement with Voice of the Martyrs has been straight from God; I didn't seek it out at all, He has just continued to bring me opportunities to serve the persecuted church."

What was it that attracted you to the organisation?
"After travelling to Vietnam and meeting teens that were willing to risk their lives for Jesus, I was completely blown away. These teens were just like me, but they trusted Jesus with everything, whereas I struggled to step out in faith at all. I think the great thing about Voice of the Martyrs is that it works with these believers who love Jesus passionately and are willing to lay down their lives for the Gospel. It has been such a privilege to meet Christians around the world that have suffered for their faith and yet continue to worship Jesus with joy and hope. They are such a testimony to what Jesus has done for us and how we are called to follow him by taking up our cross. I can now tell the stories of these believers to young people around Australia and see this generation rise up to partner with us in providing prayerful and practical support for the persecuted church."

You and your wife travelled to Colombia last year as part of Underground Reality: Colombia, where, along with an American, a Canadian and three Colombians, you met with persecuted Christians. What sort of persecution are Christians undergoing there and what most struck you about what you saw there?
"Persecution is unique in Colombia. Whereas most Christians in restricted nations are persecuted by the government, police or other groups in power, believers in Colombia do enjoy religious freedom. The persecution is coming from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), commonly referred to as the 'guerrillas'. The FARC is trying to overthrow the Colombian government to create a socialist state. They are a violent terrorist organisation, funded by the drug trade, causing pain and suffering for all of Colombia. Believers are specifically targeted because they are preaching a new hope for Colombia, the hope of the Gospel, and urging Colombians to turn to Christ rather than embracing the violent ways of the FARC. In addition to this, brave believers are venturing into the rural areas and jungle of Colombia to take the Gospel into guerrilla territory. These missionaries risk of their lives to do this. There have been many stories of execution and kidnappings. But surprisingly, many guerrillas are turning to Christ, putting down their weapons and abandoning their violent ways. This is how God is radically transforming the nation of Colombia.

"What struck me? I went to Colombia with very clear expectations. I had heard all about the drugs, the violence, the pain and the suffering. I was expecting to go into this country and hear story after story of hardship. These things are reality in Colombia. The pain is so tragic and the persecution so real. It is a nation that has seen very dark days. But these expectations were completely blown out of the water. In this dark country, I could see God's light so clearly. Despite their suffering, believers were full of joy and hope for the future of this nation. It was so clear to see Jesus transforming this nation. As the Gospel of peace and forgiveness goes out, lives are being transformed and the nation is slowly changing. There is real hope for the nation of Colombia, and I simply wasn't expecting this."

If there was one story you'd want to tell young Australians about the persecution of Christians, what would it be?
"In 2006, I traveled with members of the Underground Reality team to visit a meeting of the underground church. We were smuggled up to the Central Highlands of Vietnam in a minibus, passing through government checkpoints and praying that God would allow us safe passage. After 13 hours hiding in a bus we finally reached our destination. We ran through a field to a small shed, the whole time the sound of singing could be heard.

"I will never forget what I experienced on this night. I walked into this small shed and saw believers who were completely 'on fire' for Jesus. I joined with men and women, my persecuted brothers and sisters, who were singing with an intensity and a joy that I had never seen before. Despite risking extreme consequences for their faith, these believers continued to meet together and praise our God with thankful hearts.

"We were forced to rush out of the meeting soon after arriving due to the risk of being discovered by the police. As I was leaving one young man gave me a huge hug, saying 'I will miss you!' As I turned to run to our minibus he shoved a small piece of paper into my hand. I will never forget the words that he wrote: 'Please pray for us, your persecuted brothers and sisters in Vietnam'.

"Christians really are suffering for their faith all over the world. But it's not all stories of gloom and doom. When we look at the persecuted church we see incredible hope and victory through hardship. Our persecuted brothers and sisters are asking us to remember them in prayer. Pray for their endurance in faith in the face of hardship. Pray for their continued joy and hope in believing. Pray for the growth of the church. Above all, we must not forget those who are persecuted for Jesus - their voices must be heard."

The DVD Underground Reality: Colombia will be released in coming months. 

www.persecution.com.au