Many people called him 'the Voice of the Underground Church' and others referred to him as 'the Iron Curtain St Paul.' This humble man, who began the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs, was the Rev Richard Wurmbrand, who passed away 17 February 2001.
Richard's life was a partnership with the equally amazing Sabina who he married on 26 October 1936. Richard Wurmbrand was born the youngest of four boys in a Jewish family, on 24 March 1909, in Bucharest, Romania. Gifted intellectually and fluent in nine languages, Richard was active in leftist politics and worked as a stockbroker. After their marriage, Richard and Sabina were converted to Christ in 1938, chiefly by the influence of a German carpenter, Mr Wolfkes. They joined the Anglican Mission to the Jews in Bucharest. Richard was ordained firstly as an Anglican, and then after World War II, as a Lutheran minister.
During WW II, Richard and Sabina saw an opportunity for evangelism among the occupying German forces. They also preached in the bomb shelters and rescued Jewish children out of the ghettos. Richard and Sabina were repeatedly arrested and beaten and at least once, were nearly executed. Sabina lost her Jewish family in Nazi concentration camps.
In 1945 Romanian Communists seized power and a million 'invited' Russian troops poured into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministered to his oppressed countrymen and engaged in bold evangelism to the Russian soldiers. In the same year, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand attended the Congress of Cults organised by the Romanian Communist government. Many religious leaders came forward to praise Communism and to swear loyalty to the new regime. Sabina said, "Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ."
Richard warned, "If I do so, you lose your husband." She replied, "I don't wish to have a coward as a husband." Thus Richard declared to the 4,000 delegates, whose speeches were broadcast to the whole nation, that their duty is to glorify God and Christ alone. Between 1945 and 1947, Richard distributed one million Gospels to Russian troops, the books often disguised as Communist propaganda. Richard also smuggled Gospels into Russia. On 30 December 1947, the Peoples' Republic of Romania was proclaimed.
On 29 February 1948, the secret police arrested Richard while on his way to church and took him to their headquarters. He was locked in a solitary cell and assigned as 'Prisoner Number 1'.
In 1950, his wife Sabina was also imprisoned. She was forced to serve as a labourer on the Danube Canal project, leaving their nine-year-old son Mihai alone and homeless. Following her release in 1953, the Romanian authorities informed her that Richard had died in prison. A doctor masquerading as a Communist Party member discovered Richard alive in prison.
In a general amnesty, Richard was released in 1956 after serving eight-and-a-half years in prison. He was warned never to preach again. While in prison, he went through horrific tortures at the hands of the brutal secret police. Despite the treatments and the warnings he received from his persecutors, after his release Richard soon resumed his work with the 'underground' churches. He was re-arrested in 1959 through the conspiracy of an associate, and sentenced to 25 years. He was accused of preaching contrary to Communist doctrine.
Due to increased political pressure from Western countries, Richard was granted another amnesty and released in 1964. In December 1965, the Norwegian Mission to the Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance paid $10,000 in ransom to the Communist government to allow the Wurmbrand family to leave Romania. Reluctant to leave Romania, other underground church leaders convinced him to leave and become a 'voice' for the underground church to the world. Richard, Sabina, and their son Mihai left Romania for Norway and then travelled on to England.
Richard began his ministry of being a voice for persecuted Christians in England with Rev Stuart Harris, where he also wrote his testimony of persecution, Tortured for Christ. Later Richard moved on to the United States, and in 1965 he appeared before a US Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, where he stripped to the waist and revealed eighteen deep torture wounds on his body.
His story spread rapidly, leading to wider speaking engagements. In 1967, the Wurmbrands officially began a ministry committed to serving the persecuted church, called Jesus to the Communist World (later called Voice of the Martyrs). In the same year, Richard released his book, Tortured for Christ. In October, the first monthly issue of The Voice of the Martyrs newsletter was published in the USA.
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 Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989, Richard and Sabina returned to Romania after 25 years in exile, and were warmly received. A printing facility and bookstore were opened in Bucharest and the officials of the city offered storage below the palace of Ceausescu, the very site where Richard was held in solitary confinement.
Richard retired from the day to day work of Voice of the Martyrs in 1992, but continued as a consultant and member of the Board of Directors, showing a keen interest in the work until his death. During his ministry, Richard wrote 18 books in English, others in Romanian, which have been translated into 38 languages. His most well known book is Tortured for Christ. He received numerous honours and citations for his work during his lifetime.
Richard will be remembered with great affection as an outstanding man of God, passionate for the cause of Christ, powerful in evangelism, persevering in suffering, for the sake of Jesus whom he loved. Sabina, who passed away 11 August 2000, will be remembered as a woman of great integrity, mighty faith and serene godliness.
In August 1969, Richard Wurmbrand arrived in Sydney in response to an invitation issued by Ambassadors for Christ. For a month, he preached in meetings held all over Australia. Australian Christians warmly responded to his plea to 'remember the persecuted.' The meetings led to the founding of Voice of the Martyrs in Australia. The first Australian newsletter was published in November 1969. We praise God that VOM Australia has experienced constant growth from the beginning and is currently moving into ever enlarging projects to serve the persecuted church around the world.