“God, I know surely that You do not exist. But if perchance You exist, which I contest, it is not my duty to believe in You; it is Your duty to reveal Yourself to me.”1 The young Jewish atheist who uttered that flippant prayer was Richard Wurmbrand, born in 1909 in Bucharest, Romania. Little did he know how completely God would answer him, call him to a life of service to Christ, and use him to raise up one of the strongest ministries in the world today that helps the persecuted church.
Salvation and Service
In 1938, in a remote Romanian village, an old German carpenter named Christian Wolfkes lay sick. The only person by his side giving aid and comfort was a Jewish follower of Christ. When Wolfkes recovered, he was so grateful to God that he prayed earnestly for the opportunity to share the gospel with a Jewish person. Although none lived in his village, still he prayed.
One day a young, newly married Jewish couple arrived on vacation. They were Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand. The carpenter enthusiastically gave Richard a Bible. Richard had read the Scriptures once but had gotten nothing from them. However, this time, his heart was stirred. He didn’t know why, until he learned the secret. The carpenter and his wife had spent many long hours every day praying for his salvation. “The Bible he gave me was written not so much in words, but in flames of love fired by his prayers,” Richard would write later.2
The carpenter spoke about God’s unconditional love for the Jewish people (Dt. 7:6–7; Jer. 31:3), the Messianic fulfillments in Jesus, and Jesus’ purpose in coming to Earth: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (Jn. 3:17). The Spirit of God freed Richard’s heart, and he believed. Sabina also came to faith and was so deeply changed she soon brought others to the Messiah.
To help Richard grow in the faith, God led him to a Jewish pastor named Isaac Feinstein in Jassy, Romania. Feinstein led a sizeable congregation of Jewish believers. As they talked, Richard cried out, “No, no!” With tears in his eyes he declared, “I do not want a Jesus who has been calculated, explained, and believed in, but a real Jesus.”3
The pastor asked him to stay for prayer that night. It was then the Holy Spirit so deeply touched Richard’s heart to God’s great salvation that he immediately understood service for Christ meant full surrender as a living sacrifice (cf. Rom. 12:1). “I do not understand everything that has happened to me,” he wrote, “but I believe that my whole life, and the life of all His [God’s] children, has been planned by God, down to the smallest detail.”4
Confused by all the Christian sects and denominations, Richard focused on the Bible alone. He observed,
The Jewish people have given to the world the Bible, consisting of the Old and New Testaments, a book written by Jews, but which is at the same time the Word of God—the only book capable of satisfying the spiritual needs of the world. And it will satisfy these needs when it is once again in the hands of those who have written it, and when they gather round Him who is the chief subject of the book, Jesus the Messiah of the Jews and the Saviour of nations.5
This was his call, to take the gospel to the Jewish people (cf. Rom. 1:16). For more than 25 years of a ministry that spanned almost three-quarters of a century—whether free or imprisoned; through peace, war, and unspeakable torture—Richard Wurmbrand kept firm on that goal.
Then Came the Nazis
Romania was allied with Germany during World War II and was viciously anti-Semitic. Believing in Jesus did nothing to protect the Jews from the Nazis or the fascist Romanian Iron Guards. One of the worst pogroms in Jewish history took place on June 27, 1941, in Jassy when soldiers, police, and mobs tore through the town and savagely massacred 13,266 Jewish people.
Among them were Richard’s dear friend, Pastor Feinstein, and all the Jewish believers in Christ. (See “A Martyr for Messiah,”) “Not a single man from the Jewish-Christian congregation in Jassy survived; all were killed in the pogrom. Only a few girls escaped with their lives,” wrote Wurmbrand.6
The Wurmbrands wept, but Feinstein’s death gave them strength to stand for Christ. They preached in bomb shelters and rescued Jewish children from ghettos. Again and again they were arrested and beaten. Sabina’s parents, two sisters, and one brother were killed in the concentration camps. Yet, like Pastor Feinstein, Richard and Sabina spoke of salvation to everyone, including prison guards and soldiers. Many came to faith.
After the war, the Communists poured into Romania. Richard, now a Lutheran minister, preached boldly to the Russian troops and resisted pressure to swear loyalty to the atheistic rule. On one occasion, the Wurmbrands were forced to attend the Congress of Cults. About 4,000 people were there, and the session was broadcast live throughout the country. Many religious leaders forsook their faith. Sabina told Richard, “Stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ.” Knowing the cost, Richard stood and declared to all that their loyalty was to Christ first. He was kidnapped by the secret police and spent the next 14 years in prison, suffering horrific tortures and brutality. Even the Nazis were not as cruel to him as the Communists.
For three years he was kept in solitary confinement in a cell 30 feet beneath the ground. Among other things, he was forced to sit erect with eyes wide open and listen over and over to the words Communism is good. Christianity is stupid. Give up. Sabina was arrested and spent three years in slave-labor camps. Their nine-year-old son and only child, Mihai, was forced to live in the streets.
After being released, Sabina spent several years under house arrest. When Richard was briefly released, they formed an underground church. Many people were saved as he preached to Russian soldiers and dis-tressed Romanians.
Free at Last
In 1965 Christians in Norway heard of the Wurmbrands’ plight and ransomed them for $10,000. The secret police told Richard to remain silent about his ordeal. But Richard never remained silent. In 1966 he testified before the U.S. Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee about his inhumane treatment in Communist prisons. As proof of his torture, he stripped to the waist to show 18 deep torture wounds on his body. His story quickly spread, and he became known as “the voice of the underground church.”
The Wurmbrands soon immigrated to the United States and began a work called Jesus to the Communist World, later renamed The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). Today VOM (persecution.com) is one of God’s strongest instruments of aid to the persecuted church throughout the world.
Sabina wrote her prison memoirs, The Pastor’s Wife, published in six languages. And Richard’s books are bestsellers in more than 50 languages. His book Tortured for Christ, released in 1967, has become a classic. Wrote VOM: “By the mid-1980s his work was established in 80 restricted nations with offices in 30 countries around the world.”
In 1990, after the fall of Romania’s Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu, the Wurmbrands returned to Romania for the first time in 25 years. Richard preached in many churches and also on public television. In addition, a Christian printing facility and bookstore were opened in Bucharest, and city officials offered storage below Ceausescu’s palace, the very site where Richard had been held in solitary confinement.7
On August 11, 2000, Sabina went home to the Lord. A year later, a month before his 92nd birthday, Pastor Wurmbrand was reunited with her in heaven. Wrote their son, Mihai, in 2009:
In 2006, the Romanian government-owned TV Broadcasting station (TVR), in cooperation with one of the largest newspapers of the country…started a poll among readers and viewers as to who were or are the greatest, most admired Romanian personalities throughout history. The television station promised to prepare one-hour TV documentaries about each of the top ten finalists. These secular promoters were flabbergasted to find out that nearly 400,000 random participants chose, right behind the top three most-known kings of Romania and Romania’s national poet, as the fifth most admired Romanian personality of all times, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand.8
Despite all the torture and hardship an evil world could throw at them, the Wurmbrands stood firm to the end in their devotion and service to Jesus Christ and left a legacy for the rest of us to follow. Wrote the man who was once an atheist: “Our lives are planned in eternity; our lives serve God’s purpose. I can be confident, even when I understand nothing.”9
- Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ (Bartlesville, OK: Living Sacrifice Books, 1998), 12.
- Ibid., 13.
- Richard Wurmbrand, Christ on the Jewish Road (Middlebury, IN: Living Sacrifice Books, 1975), 36.
- Ibid., 12.
- Ibid., 9.
- Ibid., 32.
- “The Story of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand”
- Michael (Mihai) Wurmbrand, “Snapshots: A Son Remembers His Father,” 2009
- Wurmbrand, Christ on the Jewish Road, 12.
Peter serves as creative resource coordinator for The Friends of Israel. A unique aspect of his ministry is to communicate the gospel in biblical and historical reenactments. He preaches and teaches in churches and at Bible and prophecy conferences, and is an award-winning, contributing editor for The Friends of Israel’s magazine, Israel My Glory.