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With Christians Being Martyred Around the Globe, Famed Hymn Writers Felt Compelled to Reach Into History to Resurrect This Stirring Carol

With Christians Being Martyred Around the Globe, Famed Hymn Writers Felt Compelled to Reach Into History to Resurrect This Stirring Carol

"Just to survive Christmas will be something that they will be extraordinarily thankful for."

Famed contemporary hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty are taking their "Joy: An Irish Christmas" show around the country in the coming weeks, entertaining audiences with a commemorative display of music and storytelling that will honor the birth of Christ.

Hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty

But there's an uncommon hymn that the couple chose to include in this year's show — one that speaks to the horrors that Christians in the Middle East continue to face at the hands of Islamic State militants.

The Gettys believe that the hymn, titled, "Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor," is important for audiences to hear, as it speaks to "the realities of Christmas 2015" for so many believers around the world.

"People need a song at all times," Keith Getty told The Church Boys podcast this week, explaining that music plays a powerful role in times of both joy, triumph and tragedy.

While the married musical minds hope to inspire audiences with the story of Christmas, they also want everyone to remember the plight of Christian refugees and others around the globe who are struggling to survive.

"Our concert tour celebrates what is at the heart of the holiday: the story of the birth of Jesus," Getty said in a statement. "Yet, this year, somewhat surprisingly and perhaps ironically, we feel especially compelled to include this carol, given recent and ongoing tragic events taking place around the world where people are being killed because of their Christian faith."

Listen to Getty explain how he and Kristyn will honor embattled Christians below:

It's the history behind "Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendor" that makes the song such a good fit to commemorate the Christians who have been under siege, he said. The lyrics read, in part:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,

All for love's sake becamest poor;

Thrones for a manger didst surrender,

Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,

All for love's sake becomes poor.

The hymn was written in 1934 by Frank Houghton, an Englishman who directed of the China Inland Mission following the beheading deaths of American missionaries John and Betty Stam; they were brutally murdered by Communist Chinese soldiers while working in the region with the mission.

"Houghton, who was the Bishop of East Szechwan ... traveled throughout the region trying to encourage missionaries during this desperate time where deep sorrow, questioning and fear had engulfed many of the people," Getty explained. "While in the mountains of Szechwan, Houghton took a theme from 2 Corinthians 8:9 (‘though He was rich, yet for your sake became poor…’’) and transformed it into a stunning hymn, inspired by the Christmas narrative."

It was those lyrics that helped inspire the growth of Christianity in China after the Stams' deaths — and words that the Gettys believe are entirely appropriate when considering what many people of faith are facing across the globe.

Getty said that he will be sharing the story behind the song during the show.

"It is important that as we sit down this Christmas and remember Christ coming that we realize that, for many believers in the world, just to survive Christmas will be something that they will be extraordinarily thankful for," Getty said.

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Follow faith and culture editor Billy Hallowell on Facebook and Twitter.

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