“Tears.” That’s how The Voice of the Martyrs co-founder Sabina Wurmbrand responded when a VOM worker detailed his findings about persecution against Christians in Sudan.
“Tears” are what many of my friends at VOM and I are shedding because of the sudden death of VOM Executive Director Tom White.
I worked closely with Tom over the years—laboring with him over the monthly newsletter, discussing Christian persecution in various restricted countries, and strategizing about responses. At times we disagreed, but I could not have asked for a better friend and mentor to help me understand persecution and the suffering church.
Tom’s passion was to bring about a fellowship of suffering, a connection between Christians in the West and our persecuted family members around the world.
He had a special heart for SE Asian Christian ethnics, like the Hmong of Vietnam and the Khmu of Laos, and a determined interest to highlight persecution against them in VOM’s monthly newsletter.
He also traveled extensively to more than 100 countries—risking his own safety-- to meet with persecuted believers where they lived: in jungles, mountain regions, remote and dangerous locations.
I recall joining him in December 2003 on a trip to Baghdad. Kidnappings and attacks against Westerners were increasing in Iraq as the glow of liberation wore off and the insurgency commenced. Tom was overjoyed to meet several evangelists who were imprisoned under Saddam Hussein.
A Christmas play performed by some Christian house church children left an impression on him. One of the young Iraqi performers—a kid wrapped up in toilet paper-- resembled an Egyptian mummy. He portrayed Lazarus brought back to life, emerging from the tomb as Jesus called out, “Lazarus come forth!”
Tom resembled a proud parent, enthralled by the performance. As the former school teacher snapped some photos, he excitedly announced the play would be spotlighted in a forthcoming VOM newsletter about Iraq.
One day while in Baghdad, we heard the deafening sound of continuous, celebratory gunfire erupt. We initially thought someone had just gotten married, but we learned later that Saddam Hussein had been captured in Tikrit and forcibly removed from a hole in the ground.
It was an historic moment. Tom expressed hoped that the Iraqi church would grow and experience greater religious freedom with Saddam gone, yet he knew Christians were likely to experience greater persecution as various Muslim groups battled for control of the country.
Tom also loved quotable quotes. Once after returning from a trip to Bangladesh, I told him about a former Muslim I had met who had “lost everything” for his faith in Christ. When I asked the persecuted believer to share his thoughts about what he had endured, he said, “They can burn my home and all my possessions, but they can’t burn Jesus from my heart!”
Tom’s face lit up as he inquired, “Did he really say that?”
“Yes,” I insisted. He brushed aside the clutter on his desk, found a pencil, and then frantically jotted down what I had just told him on a yellow legal pad.
“Wow! That’s great. They can’t burn Jesus from my heart… I’m going to use that in my editorial!”
He admired persecuted believers who endured hardship and possessed an eternal perspective about their faith. Tom worked tirelessly to share their experiences with the world. He truly was a voice of the martyrs.
He will be greatly missed not only by those who knew him, but also by many persecuted Christians who never had the opportunity to meet him. I doubt they’ll be represented by a more passionate advocate.
Please pray for his dear wife Ofelia, his children, and grandchildren during Tom’s homecoming.
“Well done, good and faithful servant!”
Below you can view a brief CBN News clip from Tom. While his comments were used in a story I did about persecution in China, what he says also applies to VOM’s loss at this time, heaven’s gain.