Wurmbrand grew up before and during the hardships of World War I. At times he stole to eat. Bright, with an education gained mostly from his father’s books, he became a sharp young businessman, making money in whatever way was possible.
Soon the young Wurmbrand was found to be suffering from tuberculosis brought on by his destructive behaviour. When Richard and Sabina took their doctor’s advice and sought refuge in a mountain village, they had no idea what lay in store.
Face-to-face with Christ
In the village that Wurmbrand chose for his rest and recuperation lived an old German carpenter, Christian Wolfkes, and his wife. Wolfkes’s heart’s desire, above all else, was to win a Jew to Christ. As it was not possible for him to leave the mountain to find a Jew, he prayed that God would bring a Jew to him. Soon the Wurmbrands arrived in the village.
Wolfkes and his wife prayed for Richard and Sabina and showered love and kindness on them. Wolfkes gave Wurmbrand a New Testament. Richard, an avid reader of other books, began to read the Bible – almost unwillingly at first. In the pages of the New Testament, he came face-to-face with Jesus Christ. So did Sabina.
Soon after this, the Second World War broke out, and it was not long before the Wurmbrands learned what it meant to suffer for the sake of Christ. During the Nazi reign of terror, they were repeatedly arrested and beaten as they sought to remain true to their new-found faith. The whole of Sabina’s Jewish family perished in the Holocaust. Their six adopted children were sent by ship to a place of safety but were lost when the ship disappeared.
But their sorrows were only beginning. A million Russian soldiers occupied Romania in 1944 – before World War II even ended – and the country became a part of the Eastern Europe Communist bloc. A new tyranny was imposed, creating conditions hostile to Christian worship.
Soon the Wurmbrands and others took to secret meetings arranged by code to worship in safety. What would one day be known as the ‘underground church’ was getting its footing, although Wurmbrand did not use the term at the time. (He found it in use when he arrived in the West later and began to use it, though he preferred ‘persecuted church’ or ‘martyr church’ – defined as a part of the body of Christ remaining faithful in the face of pressures placed on it by atheist governments and officials.)
In 1945 the new government organised a ‘Congress of Cults’, a meeting where all religious leaders would be expected to openly support the atheistic government and its aims. Intent on controlling every facet of life in Romania, including churches and pastors, the government invited the Wurmbrands and other church leaders to attend. One by one, other leaders, including some Christians, spoke out in support of the communists.
By this time Wurmbrand had become a well-known Romanian author and religious leader – first as an Anglican and then as a Lutheran minister. He lectured on the Old Testament at the Bucharest Baptist Seminary and was a representative to the World Council of Churches.
Sabina turned to Richard and told him that when he had the opportunity to speak, he should “wipe the shame from the face of Jesus.” Understanding the consequences of such an act, Richard told Sabina that if he were to do so, she would likely lose her husband. Sabina replied, “I don’t need a coward for a husband.”
When Wurmbrand stepped forward to speak at the congress, there was a hush as everyone anticipated his endorsement of the new government. Into the electrifying silence fell Wurmbrand’s proclamation to 4,000 delegates that their duty as Christians was to glorify God and Christ alone. He was hustled from the podium and from that moment became a marked man. As he continued his ministry, the government watched him.
Ceasing to exist
On the morning of 29 February 1948, as Wurmbrand walked to church to prepare for the morning service, a secret police van pulled up beside him. Two men pushed him into the van, which quickly drove away. Thrown into prison Wurmbrand ceased to exist as though he had disappeared from the face of the earth. His name was registered as Vasile Georgescu, and he was forbidden to pronounce his real name, even when speaking to the guards. When foreign ambassadors or family members inquired about him, “Wurmbrand” did not appear on any list.
Richard Wurmbrand endured two terms of prison totalling 14 years. Sabina continued their underground church work but was also incarcerated for three years in Romania’s terrible labour camps. Wurmbrand became so ill in prison that he was put into what was called the ‘dying room’, where guards sent prisoners who were expected to live no longer than a few days. Wurmbrand survived for more than two years before being released from the dying room. During that time, he ministered to many people before their deaths.
Finally, in 1965, friends ransomed the now-freed Wurmbrand family from Romania. The communists were selling prisoners to the West, most for about $2,000. The price on the Wurmbrands’ heads? $10,000. On a cold Christmas Eve, Sabina, Richard, and their surviving son Michael arrived at the airport in Oslo, Norway. A few faithful friends met the freed family.
Out of these experiences, the Wurmbrands in 1967 founded a ministry called Jesus to the Communist World, which would spread worldwide and come to be known as The Voice of the Martyrs. Its mission was to ask Christians everywhere to rise up and support their brothers and sisters facing terrible persecution under many anti-God regimes.
In Tortured for Christ, Richard Wurmbrand wrote, “The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut 18 holes in my body.
“Doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars of the lung tuberculosis which I also had, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself it is a miracle.
God is a God of miracles. I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the underground church behind the Iron Curtain. He allowed me to come out alive and cry aloud the message from your suffering, faithful brethren.”
By Merv Knight
Sabina Wurmbrand reached over and pinched her husband’s arm. “Richard,” she said fiercely, “stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ. They are spitting on his face!”
“If I do so,” Richard Wurmbrand answered, looking intently at his wife, “you will lose your husband.”
Her eyes bore into his. “I don’t want a coward for a husband.”
They sat in a Romanian national congress on religion shortly after Communist soldiers had stormed their country. The assembled Christian pastors, priests, and ministers of all denominations stood, one by one, and spouted praise to Joseph Stalin and to the new Communist leader-ship, who had put thousands of Christians in prison.
As Richard stood to speak, many were thrilled to see that this well-known pastor would join their cause. But instead of praising the Communists, he praised Jesus Christ as the only path to salvation.
“Our first loyalty,” he told the gathering, “should be to God, not to Communist leaders.” The gathering was broadcast live across Romania, and thousands across the country heard Richard’s challenge.
Realizing the damage Richard was doing, Communist officials rushed the stage. Richard escaped out the back door but was a hunted man from then on. He would later spend fourteen years in prison.
Most of us will probably never be challenged to make our stand for Christ in front of an entire nation. But we are all called to make a stand for him wherever we are each day. It is not the size of the witnessing audience but the sincerity of our stand that matters. Our lives may not depend on what we say. But our jobs may depend on our decision to voice our convictions. It may mean losing a relationship. It may even mean estrangement from our families. In any case, it is far better to endure the consequences of our convictions than to regret their noticeable absence. When and where will you seize the opportunity to take a stand for Christ today?
Story from our daily devotional book. For more info go to https://vom.com.au/shop/books/extreme-devotion-with-study-guide-voice-of-the-martyrs/
The founder of Voice of the Martyrs (VOM), Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was no stranger to persecution by extremists. He spent 14 years in a communist Romanian prison, and his wife, Sabina, lost her parents, two sisters and one brother in a Nazi concentration camp.
“Jesus never feared or hated anyone,” Richard was known to say in the years following his release. Today, Western Christians are faced with new challenges presented by Islamic extremists, and many are unsure of how to respond.
During recent visits to Iraq and neighbouring countries where VOM is serving persecuted Christians, I have had the privilege of meeting and hearing the incredible stories of many of our brothers and sisters who have lost everything to Islamic extremists. Their responses to persecution provide us with an exemplary pattern of three approaches that are well supported by the Sermon on the Mount.
- Pray for Islamic Extremists and those they Persecute
When Jesus said, “pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), he was teaching people who suffered under extreme oppression. The Roman authorities were known for their cruel tactics and utter disregard for the Jewish people they terrorised.
We in the West have been shocked by the cruelty exhibited in videos produced by the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS). Stories of their brutality naturally push us toward hatred and fear. But in contrast to our natural inclinations, Jesus calls us to pray for our persecutors. We should pray that they will come to know the truth of Christ and that many will experience ‘Saul-to-Paul’ transformations, becoming the next wave of bold evangelists in their region.
What about those who are persecuted? When we ask persecuted Christians how we can help, their first response is, “Pray for us.” Through prayer, some persecuted believers have experienced supernatural deliverance. Abu Fadi, a brother from Mosul who lost everything when IS militants attacked, was miraculously rescued along with his family after being detained at an IS checkpoint. Perhaps a believer in the West was praying at that precise moment, lifting up the plight of our Iraqi family members.
- Reveal the Love of Christ to Muslims
When IS extremists moved into northern Iraq, they began identifying Christian-owned homes and businesses by spray-painting the Arabic letter ﻥ, or ‘N,’ on the buildings. This single letter, the first letter of the word used in the Koran to identify Christians, conveyed the powerful accusation that the occupants were followers of Jesus.
Our Christian brothers and sisters were then given the choice of either converting to Islam or standing for Christ and losing everything they owned. In Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, more than 100,000 Christians were displaced, abducted or killed in less than one week.
How should Christians respond to this type of cruel treatment? Jesus provides clear instruction in His Sermon on the Mount: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you” (Matthew 5:44).
I have seen firsthand how persecuted Christians live out their faith and observed the remarkable ways they share the love of Christ with their enemies. During a memorable trip to northern Nigeria, I met a widow whose husband had been killed by Boko Haram. The woman said she often saw the man who had killed her husband walking through her village. Then, remarkably, she told me that with God’s help she was learning to forgive him. I was stunned by her response and deeply inspired by her example. Through God’s grace, it is even possible to share Christ’s love with the extremist who killed your husband.
- Stand with our Persecuted Family Members
Scripture reminds us that we are to “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them — those who are mistreated — since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).
What does it mean to “remember” them? At VOM, it means that we will do whatever we can to provide the spiritual and physical help that they need. We serve the persecuted church through persecution response projects, Bible distributions and support of front-line workers who are advancing God’s kingdom.
Today, you have Christian brothers and sisters who are in prison. You have family members who have been kidnapped by IS in Syria. Parents, siblings and children in our family are being mistreated. But as followers of Jesus, we are confident that they are never truly alone.
On 13 April 1969, Pastor Wurmbrand stood before an audience at London’s Royal Festival Hall and shared about his prison experiences: “You are alone in a cell; they meant you to be alone. But, we were not alone!”
I have met and prayed with Christians who have been held captive and faced unimaginable tortures. But they report that God was with them; they supernaturally experienced His presence. Some even share that these dark times were the times of greatest intimacy with their Father in heaven.
We invite you to partner with us as we stand alongside our persecuted brothers and sisters, who remain joyful and blessed by their relationship with Christ despite having lost everything they own. These Christians are our family members — part of the body of Christ. We will not let them suffer in silence. We will not let them serve alone.
Dr Jason Peters works for The Voice of the Martyrs USA