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“Merv, you really must read this book.” That is how a change in my life began when my friend and co-worker, Reg Werry, handed me a copy of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ.

It was March 1968 and Reg had just read the book and had been shaken by it. He loaned the book to three or four of us who were colleagues in ministry, insisting we needed to read this testimony of a man who was unknown to us. Tortured for Christ had been published in 1967 and it told of the shocking, horrific experiences of Richard Wurmbrand and fellow Christians in Romania who suffered unspeakable terror in communist jails. Pastor Wurmbrand had endured 14 years in prison. He and many others were incarcerated for nothing other than their uncompromising testimony of the power of the Gospel – the Good News of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Richard’s wife, Sabina, endured three years as a slave labourer.

Our consensus was that Australian Christians should be given the opportunity to hear Pastor Wurmbrand’s message if we could persuade him to come to Australia. On 29 May 1968 one of our group wrote to the pastor with an invitation and arrangements were made for him to come in August 1969.

On 1 August 1969 I met Richard Wurmbrand when he arrived at Sydney Airport. We had a month of great meetings as packed crowds across Australia listened to this man’s testimony, message and challenge. The atmosphere was electrifying as we learned about the persecuted church behind the Iron Curtain and many heroes of the faith incarcerated in prisons and labour camps for no other reason than their active Christian witness.

As Pastor Wurmbrand concluded his month with us and headed for South Africa, he threw down a challenge. “You must start a ministry in Australia to reach out with help for your persecuted brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain.” His cry resonated in my heart and so it was my wife Grace and I, together with Reg and Etta Werry, took a step of faith and Voice of the Martyrs, under the name of Jesus to the Communist World, was born in Australia that same year – 1969.

When Richard Wurmbrand with his wife and son were ransomed from Romania in December 1965, they travelled immediately to Norway. Dr Myrus Knutson, pastor of the American Lutheran Church in Oslo, became Richard’s first friend in the free world. Dr Knutson was so impressed and challenged by Richard’s message that he encouraged his congregation to raise the funds to send Pastor and Mrs Wurmbrand on a preaching tour in America. He believed America and the free world desperately needed to hear their testimony and message.

It was my privilege to meet and get to know Myrus Knutson and work together with him for many years. I quote a few words from a letter he wrote in 1966. “If you have met Pastor Richard Wurmbrand you have been blessed beyond measure. In him God has matched a man with the moment. His flaming passion for Christ is a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His sufferings and scarred half-destroyed body, his gifts of genius in language and persuasive communication equip him for an urgent hour.”

Indeed God had sent to us a man for the moment and it was a tremendous and precious experience for me to work for more than 30 years with Richard and his dear wife Sabina, until the Lord called them home. One rarely meets people with such loving and forgiving hearts. They had both endured almost indescribable terror, torture, beatings and starvation at the hands of their oppressors, yet their hearts overflowed with love for those who so ill-treated them.

I will never forget the time I stood outside a meeting place in Germany chatting with Richard as we waited for his meeting to start. As we stood there a car arrived and a man alighted. Immediately Richard excused himself and went to greet the newcomer. They hugged enthusiastically and I heard them speaking excitedly in Romanian. I assumed Richard had met one of his former co-workers from his underground church in Bucharest. I discovered later that the man Richard greeted so warmly had been one of his jailers and torturers in prison. Through the witness of Richard and others the prison guard had become a Christian and had himself served time in jail. How wonderful it was to witness the tortured and the torturer embracing as brothers in Christ – a great testimony to the power of the Gospel and the love of a man for his brother.

I would encourage you to read Tortured for Christ. It is as relevant today as it was in 1967. Or procure the new movie made last year by our American sister mission, Tortured for Christ [the movie]. Both available from VOM Australia.

Merv Knight
Co-founder VOM Australia

Tortured for Christ Book:

Tortured for Christ [the movie]: