Boy martyrs: Bold and brave for Christ across time and space

“If anything happens to my pastor, I will not fear. I will take charge of pastor’s work and serve the Lord!” declared 14-year-old Samaru Madkami. It was no idle comment, for Samaru’s pastor was in real danger and Samaru was already active in ministry, sharing the Gospel with other young people and children in his village in Odisha state, India. He and his family had taken the decision to follow Christ about three years earlier and Samaru was, in the words of his pastor, “a passionate Christian”.  

At one time there had been 13 Christian families in Kenduguda village. But persecution had driven most of them away so that by June 2020 there were only four Christian families left. Samaru’s father, a church elder, had received death threats, and Samaru’s older cousin, Unga, had twice experienced God’s deliverance when attacked: the first time, extremists had tried to tie him up in a jute bag and throw him in the river, and the second time a knife-wielding gang had abducted him and threatened to kill him. Pastor Bijay, however, as the leader of the little group of believers, was clearly the main target. 

But in the end neither his pastor, nor his father, nor his older cousin had the honour of dying for Christ. That great privilege was granted to Samaru himself.  

 


“… it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29)  


 

Soon after he had made his brave declaration about carrying on the Kingdom work if his pastor were to be martyred, Samaru went missing. After two days, on 6 June 2020, his horribly mutilated body was found by the police. A gang had persuaded Samaru to come to a meeting in the jungle. There they had tortured him before slitting his throat, smashing his head with a rock and burying his body.

Samaru Madkami [Image credit: Kerusomen Gospel Ministries]

“I have chosen: Christ!”

More than a thousand years earlier, and more than 5,000 miles to the west, another young Christian boy also suffered three years for His Lord and Saviour and then died for Him. 

At the age of just ten, Pelayo1 was given into the hands of the Emir Abdurrahman of Córdoba, to be held as a hostage. The Emir, ruler of much of Spain since 9122, had captured Hermoygius, Bishop of Tuy, who was Pelayo’s uncle, but agreed to let him go and hold Pelayo instead. Presumably the plan was that Bishop Hermoygius would raise the necessary ransom money in Tuy, send it to Córdoba, and then Pelayo would be freed. This, however, did not happen, and little Pelayo remained in prison for three years.  

Then, in about the year 926, Emir Abdurrahman asked to see the Christian boy prisoner. Pelayo’s remarkable good looks amazed the whole court and the Emir offered to make Pelayo a court page-boy if he would convert to Islam. Pelayo refused the offer, saying that he would obey the Emir in everything “but first I am Christ’s. Nothing may part me from Him.” The Emir was enraged. As Pelayo steadfastly continued to affirm his faith in Christ, the Emir grew even angrier.  

 


“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12)  


 

Eventually he ordered that Pelayo should be hung up by his wrists, but despite the pain Pelayo still refused to deny Christ. He was brought back to court, bleeding. The Emir offered him a choice: “Happy freedom, honour, my favour and protection – or death. Choose!” 

Pelayo replied, “I have chosen: Christ!” 

The Emir had the 13-year-old boy torn to pieces with iron pincers, his hands and feet cut off, and what remained of him thrown in the river.


The stories of Samaru and Pelayo (Pelagius) can be found in Patrick Sookhdeo’s book of 366 daily devotional readings on Christian martyrs, Heroes of Our Faith Vol. 2  (Isaac Publishing, 2021, ISBN 978-1-952450-15-0).  See entries for June 6 and June 23. To purchase a copy please go to barnabasaid.org/resources/books or contact your nearest Barnabas Aid office (addresses on inside front cover) or write to sales@barnabasbooks.org.

1 Sometimes called Pelagius, but not to be confused with Pelagius the fifth-century British ascetic, after whom the heresy of Pelagianism is named.

2 In 929 Emir Abdurrahman took the title “Caliph” and continued his rule from Córdoba for a further 32 years. He is generally known as Caliph Abdurrahman, also spelled Abd al-Rahman. 

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