Richard Wurmbrand, the youngest of four boys, was born on March 24, 1909 in Bucharest in a Jewish family. He lived with his family in Istanbul for a short while; his father died when he was 9, and the Wurmbrands returned to Romania when he was 15.
As an adolescent, he became attracted to communism, and, after attending a series of illegal meetings of the Communist Party of Romania (PCdR), he was sent to study Marxism in Moscow, but returned clandestinely the following year. Pursued by Siguranţa Statului (the secret police), he was arrested and held in Doftana prison. Wurmbrand subsequently renounced his political ideals.
He married Sabina Oster on October 26, 1936. Wurmbrand and his wife became believers in Yeshua in 1938 through the witness of Christian Wolfkes, a Romanian Christian carpenter; they joined the Anglican Mission to the Jews. Wurmbrand was ordained twice – first as an Anglican, then, after World War II, as a Lutheran pastor.
In 1944, when the Soviet Union occupied Romania as the first step to establishing the communist regime, Wurmbrand began a ministry to his Romanian countrymen and to the Red Army soldiers. When the government attempted to control the churches, he immediately began an “underground” ministry to his people. He was arrested on February 29, 1948, while on his way to church services.
Wurmbrand was imprisoned in Craiova, Gherla, the Danube-Black Sea Canal, Văcăreşti, Malmaison, Cluj, and ultimately Jilava, spending three years in solitary confinement. His wife, Sabina, was arrested in 1950 and spent three years of penal labour on the Canal.
Pastor Wurmbrand was released in 1956, after eight and a half years, and, although warned not to preach, resumed his work in the underground church. He was arrested again in 1959, and sentenced to 25 years. During his imprisonment, he was beaten and tortured.
Eventually, he was the recipient of an amnesty in 1964. Concerned with the possibility of further imprisonment, the Norwegian Mission to the Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance negotiated with the Communist authorities for his release from Romania for $10,000. He was convinced by underground church leaders to leave and become a voice for the persecuted church.
Exile and mission
Wurmbrand traveled to Norway, England, and then the United States. In May 1965, he testified in Washington, D.C. before the US Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee, taking off his shirt before the committee to show the scars from his torture. He became known as the “The Voice of the Underground Church”, doing much to publicize the persecution of Christians in Communist countries.
In April 1967, the Wurmbrands formed “Jesus To The Communist World” (later named “The Voice of the Martyrs”), an interdenominational organization working initially with and for persecuted Christians in Communist countries, but later expanding its activities to help persecuted believers in other places, especially in the Muslim world. However, when in Namibia, and confronted with the case of Colin Winter, the Anglican Bishop of Namibia, who had supported African strikers and was eventually deported from Namibia by South Africa, Wurmbrand criticized the latter’s anti-apartheid activism, and claimed resistance to communism was more important.
In 1990 Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand returned to Romania for the first time in 25 years. The Voice of the Martyrs opened a printing facility and bookstore in Bucharest. He preached about God together with pastor Ioan Panican.
The Wurmbrands had one son, Mihai. Wurmbrand wrote 18 books in English and others in Romanian. His best-known book is entitled Tortured for Christ, released in 1967. His wife, Sabina, died August 11, 2000.
Pastor Wurmbrand died on February 17, 2001 in a hospital in Long Beach, California. His last address was in Palos Verdes, California. In 2006, he came fifth among the greatest Romanians according to the Mari Români poll.
Reflection: I had the privilege of interviewing Richard Wurmbrand and twice hosting a packed out meeting at which he was the speaker. His eyes shone with warmth, wisdom, humour and his powerful faith, but you could see also the pain he had suffered. He challenged us all to take the call to discipleship seriously, and be willing to suffer for our faith.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a modern example of the martyrdom. His testimony through his years of prison, torture and solitary confinement challenge the weakness of our faith in the face of mild apathy and ridicule. Strengthen us we pray, to persevere in adverisity, looking to you, our Risen Messiah. In your name we pray. Amen.