“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” – Hebrews 13:3
If I were to ask you, what makes you happy, what is the first thought that just popped in your mind? What brings joy to your life? Is it your spouse, job, children, hobbies, or fill in the blank? For a Christian, the answer should be Jesus. Yet, too many Christians would not give Jesus as their answer. Without Jesus, as the center of our joy we will never be able to suffer for Christ. I want to share with you the following story about a Pastor named Richard Wurmbrand and his wife. This story begins in Romania in 1948 after the communists had taken over…
The new Romanian communist government, seeking to consolidate loyalty and rein in people of faith, organized a “Congress of Cults.” The gathering was attended by various religious leaders, including the Wurmbrands. One by one, in impassioned speeches, these leaders swore loyalty to the government. They extolled the virtues of communism, despite its clear attempts to control and even suppress churches.
Richard and Sabina were disgusted by the actions of their fellow leaders. Sabina said, “Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.” Richard replied, “If I do, you’ll lose your husband.” But Sabina said what Richard knew in his heart: “I don’t wish to have a coward as a husband.” Richard stood up in front of the four thousand delegates as so many had done before him. But instead of praising communism, he bravely declared that the church’s duty is to glorify God and Christ alone.
On February 29, 1948, on his way to a church service, Richard was seized by the secret police and locked away in solitary confinement. For three years, he was confined to an underground cell with no lights or windows, where absolute silence was preserved – itself a form of sensory deprivation torture. The guards did not speak within earshot, and they wore felt on their shoes so that Richard could not even hear their steps.
Richard did not consider this time of imprisonment wasted. He slept during the day and composed and delivered sermons each night. He even attempted to evangelize other inmates by tapping Morse code messages on the wall. He wrote, “Through this code you can preach the gospel to those who are to your right and left. The prisoners always change. Some are taken out from the cell and others are put in.”
Two years later, Sabina was also arrested. Sabina was taken to work on the Danube Canal (a project which was never completed). Mihai, their nine-year-old son, was left homeless. Sabina spent three years working at penal labor. Eventually Sabina was released, but she was greeted with the worst news imaginable. Secret police, posing as former prisoners, claimed to have attended Richard’s funeral in prison. Her husband, she was told, was dead. But this was not true. Richard was being moved from prison to prison. He experienced extreme physical torture during this time. The guards beat the soles of his feet until the skin tore off, then again until they exposed bone.
After eight and a half years in prison, Richard was discovered by a Christian doctor pretending to be a Communist Party member, and was finally released in a general amnesty in 1956. Strictly warned not to preach, he went immediately back to his work in the underground church. In 1959 he was arrested again after an associate conspired against him. He was accused of preaching against communist doctrine, and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison. As he embraced his wife before leaving her for the second time, she encouraged him to keep up their evangelistic work, saying, “Richard, remember that it is written, ‘You will be brought before rulers and kings to be a testimony unto them.’” This time the psychological torture was even worse than physical pain. As Richard recorded it: We had to sit seventeen hours with nothing to lean on, and you were not allowed to close your eyes. For seventeen hours a day we had to hear, “Communism is good, Communism is good, Communism is good, etc.; Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead, etc.; Give up, give up, etc.” You were bored after one minute of this but you had to hear it the whole seventeen hours for weeks, months, years even, without any interruption.
During Richard’s second imprisonment, Sabina was once again told that her husband had died. This time she did not believe it. In 1964, due to increased political pressure from Western countries, Richard was once again granted amnesty and released. Fearing that he would continue getting himself arrested, the Norwegian Mission to the Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance negotiated with Romanian authorities to release Richard and Sabina from the country for $10,000. Although at first he refused to leave his home country, Richard was later convinced by fellow leaders of the underground church to become a voice in the West for the persecuted church. In 1966 Richard testified before the US Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee. During his testimony, he pulled off his shirt to reveal eighteen deep scars from the torture he had experienced in the communist prisons. “My body represents Romania, my country, which has been tortured to a point that it can no longer weep,” he told the subcommittee. “These marks on my body are my credentials.”
In April 1967, Richard and Sabina formed an interdenominational organization to support the persecuted church in communist countries. They called it Jesus to the Communist World. But as they expanded their mission to include persecuted Christians in other parts of the world, including Muslim countries, the organization was renamed The Voice of the Martyrs. Because of his influential work, Richard became known as “The Voice of the Underground Church.”
If Jesus is not your joy then you will never know true happiness. If He is not your joy you can never say as James says, Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness (James 1:2-3).
Your shepherd, Pastor Mark