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Copyright © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
A Voice from Behind the Iron Curtain
A JEWISH MAN NAMED RICHARD WURMBRAND
The Church has been made up of the lives of people who love the Lord, and are used by Him for God's purposes in extending His kingdom, since the very beginnings in Judea. While everyone in the Church should know the names and stories of early saints like Peter and Paul, time and world events have brought other lovers of God into the spotlight, while many heroic Church members remain obscure and unknown. With the rise of Nazism and Communism in Eastern Europe, an atheistic Jewish man named Richard Wurmbrand came to know the Lord through an obscure carpenter in a small village in Rumania. His life proved to be an influential one in the modern Church, though an easy life he did not live.
Richard Wurmbrand was bitter towards religion, though he wanted to be able to believe that there was a God who loved him. When he visited a small village in his country of Rumania, a carpenter took him under his wing and showed him the gospel through the Word of God. Wurmbrand turned from being a Jewish atheist to a lover of Jesus Christ. After his conversion, along with his wife's, they began to tell as many people as they could about the love of God that had captured their hearts and transformed their lives.
TORTURED FOR CHRIST
With many people responding, Wurmbrand began a small Lutheran congregation, where he quickly took leadership, though he had no formal theological training. During this time, the Nazis were occupying Rumania, and Pastor Wurmbrand was arrested several times, along with his wife and other believers. When they were arrested, they were repeatedly beaten and taken before Nazi judges. Though the beatings were brutal and undesirable, they were nothing compared to what Wurmbrand would face later on in his life. In his book, Tortured for Christ, Wurmbrand optimistically points out the advantage of the beatings and oppression under the Nazi regime: "They taught us that physical beatings could be endured, that the human spirit with God's help can survive horrible tortures" (13).
A BURDEN TO REACH THE RUSSIANS - GOD BROUGHT THEM TO HIS LIVING ROOM!
Pastor Wurmbrand had a burden to reach the Russians. He could identify with their atheistic worldview, though the differences between his upbringing and theirs was starkly different when matters of thought came into play. His desire to see Russians come to know the love of the Lord only deepened when he spoke with a Russian man about God, and the man's response was that if the regime told him to believe in God, he would. These people were taught to do as they were told-they could not think for themselves!
God brought the Russians to Wurmbrand's doorstep, and into his living room, so to speak. Communism took over Rumania, along with one million Russian soldiers. In the beginning, the leaders of the Church were seduced into submitting to Communism. They believed that the Church and Communism could co-exist, even compliment each other, when Lenin was strongly against any type of organized religion. In any case, Communism took over the Church and used the leaders as their puppets. Pastor Wurmbrand kept up his public post as the pastor of a Lutheran church, though he also worked in the beginnings of the Underground Church in his nation. With his respectable position still intact, he began a secret ministry to Russian soldiers, as well as an underground ministry to the "enslaved peoples of Rumania" (Wurmbrand, 17).
SHARING THE GOSPEL WITH THE RUSSIONS AND QUENCHING THEIR THIRST
In working with the Russians, in any capacity that he could get away with, Pastor Wurmbrand saw the spiritual thirst that they had. They drank up the gospel, any portion that they could get. The underground work printed and distributed Russian gospels and Christian literature. Children would go to the soldiers and give the literature to them, as they could go unpunished and do it fairly easily, as the soldiers had children back at home that they missed.
Another way that they got to share the gospel with Russians was a bit more tricky, but it worked, nonetheless. Russians were obsessed with watches and clocks; they stole any that they could, and they would sell them out of their barracks. Rumanians would go to the Russian barracks in order to buy watches, and Wurmbrand would go and start small talk about the gospel while looking at watches. Those who were eager to hear more would drag him to a place where they could sit and talk, and they would sit and listen to him preach the gospel. The pastor was introduced to members of the Russian Underground church, where he learned about the extent to which believers were punished for their faith.
INGENIOUS WAYS OF SHARING THE GOSPEL
Wurmbrand continued his work with underground ministries; they even made booklets that looked like Communist propaganda, until about ten pages into it, the gospel was clearly laid out. They took these booklets, approved by the Communists, and handed them out at Communist conferences, where people were excited and eager to learn more about Lenin and Marx.
THE HONEYMOON WAS OVER
The "honeymoon" phase of the Communist regime in Rumania did not last. After the initial subtle seduction to gain church leaders' support of Communism, the terror began. The Communists took everything away from everyone. There was great poverty, and many were imprisoned for various reasons. The Underground Church would continue meet in private homes, the woods, basements, or anywhere else they could; they still would do open air evangelism, though, along with each others' support to look out for the secret police. It was quite effective, and some days they were able to preach to hundreds, even thousands.
The boldness of these saints is reminiscent of that of the believers in Acts. Though they were faced with danger, the boldness of the Spirit was upon them to preach the Good News to their countrymen. As the secret police was an important force in opposing those against Communism, of which the Church was one of the greatest threats, the believers were encouraged to join the secret police in order to be able to help their brothers and sisters in the Lord. They were hated and rejected by their families, and recognized as traitors because they were willing to put on the Communist uniform, though they did it in order to help the cause of the Gospel.
LIFE IN PRISON
On February 29, 1948, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was kidnapped by the secret police. For eight years, he was subjected to horrific tortures and nobody knew whether he was dead or alive. His wife was told by simulated prisoner refugees, who were in fact secret police agents in disguise, that he had been killed.
Over this long period of Wurmbrand's imprisonment, he experienced tortures too numerous and sickening to mention. His torturers broke four vertebrae in his back, carved him in a dozen places, as well as burned and cut eighteen holes into his body. On top of this, he developed tuberculosis. When he eventually left Rumania and was seen by a doctor, that person told him that by all natural means, he should have been dead for years.
Not only did the Communists torture their prisoners physically, but mentally, as well. They brainwashed them up to fourteen hours a day. They would tell them over and over again things such as, "Communism is good, Communism is good, Communism is good…give up, give up, give up…" According to Wurmbrand, this was perhaps the most difficult part of his imprisonment. There was hope to withstand this, though. In response to the question, "How does one withstand brainwashing?" Wurmbrand said that it was the "heartwashing" by Jesus Christ that was the answer.
THE PRISON DOOR OPENDED!
After eight years in prison, Pastor Wurmbrand was released. His freedom was given perhaps because he had never given the secret police any information, though probably because the Communists were receiving pressure from those in the West who had heard about him and taken up his cause, through what was getting out of Rumania through the Underground Church. He had three years of freedom, outside of the jail cell, where he went right back to his work with the Underground Church, trying to win as many to the Lord as he could. He was soon arrested again, though, and he spent another five and a half years locked up and being tortured all over again.
Once in prison, the believers could not be kept silent. They would encourage each other and preach, even though that was to bring sure pain and beatings. The men would take turns preaching, and they knew that the guards would come in and interrupt the preaching and drag them away to be beaten. When they returned, however, bloodied and bruised, they would continue where they left off. Wurmbrand said that there was a lesson through the beatings and all the torture: the spirit is master of the body. What a profound lesson to learn in a hell of torture and physical pain.
WURMBRAND ON HIS PRISON LIFE
This is what Wurmbrand has to say about his time in prison:
I don't feel frustrated to have lost many years in prison. I have seen beautiful things. I myself have been among the weak and insignificant ones in prison, but have had the privilege to be in the same jail with great saints, heroes of faith who equaled the Christians of the first centuries. They went gladly to die for Christ. The spiritual beauty of such saints and heroes of faith can never be described. (Wurmbrand, 47).
There is no bitterness in this statement. In fact, those who knew Wurmbrand were amazed by the joy that marked his character after the atrocities that he experienced and witnessed.
THE NEWS GOT AROUND
Pastor Wurmbrand was released after fourteen total years spent imprisoned. He and his wife, who had also been in prison for a while, while their young son was left to fend for himself, were reunited. They started over in extreme poverty, as everything they had had been taken away. They began to work with the underground movement, once again, jumping right back in. By this time, word had reached the West of what was going on in Rumania and the movement of the Underground Church. With the support of a couple of Western church groups, more resources were available to believers in order to continue their work.
When a group of Westerners came to visit Rumania for a short-term trip to help out with the Underground Church, they met Pastor Wurmbrand and were amazed to learn what he had experienced, and the joy that so clearly marked him.
A RANSOM FOR THE LIFE OF WURMBRAND
Knowing that if he stayed in the country, Wurmbrand would be arrested again, and probably killed, the allied Church organizations from America and Britain paid a ransom of $10,000 for Wurmbrand to be able to leave Rumania. Ransoms were taken for many prisoners, though the going rate was normally around $1,200. Pastor Wurmbrand would have stayed to work with the underground movement, if the leaders of that very movement hadn't encouraged him. They encouraged him to go and be the "voice" of the Underground Church to the Free World.
Having this aim in mind, Wurmbrand agreed to go, but not before the secret police called him in for a "briefing" one last time. They brought him in and told him that his ransom had been paid, and he was able to leave the country. They warned him not to speak of what had been done to him and the realities of Communist Rumania, under the Russian regime, to those in the West. He was assured that if he did speak about the things he had witnessed and experienced, that his life would be on the line.
MOVING OVER TO THE WEST - PAINFUL MEMORIES, AND THE JOY OF UNDERGROUND CHURCH
Wurmbrand left Rumania with his wife, and came to the West. Once here, he could not keep silent about the evils of Communism, though he made it very clear that he loves communists. It is the same idea as loving the sinner while hating the sin. What Wurmbrand encountered in the West disturbed him more than the tortures in the Communist prisons. He met with much unconcern over the evils that he had experienced in the oppressive and abusive regime. "I suffer in the West more than I did in Communist lands." (Wurmbrand, 79).
This suffering was due to the longing he had over the beauties of the Underground Church, where there was no encountering lukewarm members of churches. This suffering also had to do with they way in which he perceived the West to be dying. Sharing the increasing suffering of the Church behind the Iron Curtain, was also painful to him, as he could relate, see and feel what they were going through. It is painful to relive such horrible atrocities as those which he experienced, though he realized that there were many of his brothers and sisters who were going through the same and worse.
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand has faithfully spoken for the Underground Church since he came to the West after his release from Rumania. He spoke to Congress in 1966, and stripped to the waist, to show them the scars of torture that had been afflicted on him. There may be those who would not like to believe that such evils are going on in the world, especially when the West chooses to ignore it, but there can be no arguing a man's experience and scars.
WURMBRAND'S HOMEWARD JOURNEY
Up until his death at the turn of the century, Richard Wurmbrand was faithful to being the voice of the Underground Church. He began the newsletter and organization, "Voice of the Martyrs." This free publication makes thousands of people aware of the evils that are still being done to Christians around the world. We cannot claim ignorance any longer; no, we must take action, even if this action is just to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world. Richard Wurmbrand has made the Western World aware of the realities of the persecution of believers, first in the Communist World, and now wherever this is a reality. Christians can sit in complacency if they wish, but, thanks to Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, they cannot claim unawareness any longer.
"Biography of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand" © 2000.
"The Story of Richard & Sabina Wurmbrand" Voice of the Martyrs, © 2003.
Wurmbrand, Richard. Tortured for Christ. Middlebury, IN: Living Sacrifice Books, 1990.
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