Title: Tortured for Christ
Author: Richard Wurmbrand
Recommended Ages: Mature Readers
Star Rating: ★★★★
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I would venture a wager that every one of us is familiar with the dramatic story of Corrie ten Boom as told in her autobiography The Hiding Place. But how many of us have heard the story of Richard Wurmbrand as told in his book Tortured for Christ? Whatever the number, it is too few.
Richard Wurmbrand was born on March 24, 1909 in the city of Bucharest, Romania. Although Jewish by nationality, his family was devoid of any religious affiliation or interest. After living through the harsh poverty brought on by WWI, Richard became a devout Communist who hated the concept of a masterful God whom he should have to obey.
But though he hated God, he was strangely drawn to churches. He would often sit through sermons and prayers; sermons which taught about a God of love and prayers which addressed a God of mercy. Richard came to wish that such a God did exist, but his mind had been convinced that this was impossible.
Some years later, Richard visited a small mountain village where there lived a carpenter. This carpenter was a Christian, and he had made it his prayer before God that one day he might lead a Jew to Christ. When the carpenter discovered that Richard was a Jew he “courted me [Richard] as never a beautiful girl had been courted.” [pg. 13] God used the faithful witnessing of this carpenter to bring Richard to Himself. Richard’s wife Sabrina was saved a short while later. They immediately began evangelizing, seeking to share with others the immense joy which was now theirs. Then came WWII.
Prior to reading this book, I had assumed that the Nazis were the apex of cruelty in the twentieth century. But Mr. Wurmbrand says,
“The Nazi terror was great, but only a taste of what was to come under the Communists… Beginning August 23, 1944, one million Russian troops entered Romania and, very soon after this, the Communists came to power in our country. Then began a nightmare that made suffering under the Nazis seem easy.” [pgs. 13 & 14]
By this time, Mr. Wurmbrand was an ordained minister in the Lutheran church. The Communists sought to subvert the institutional church by persuading its leaders to join their regime. To this effect, a congress was convened where four thousand priests, pastors, and ministers gathered in compromise and swore loyalty to and compatibility with the new government. Mr. Wurmbrand alone stood and spoke the truth of God’s word. It was a worthy speech but a costly one.
For the next four years, Mr. Wurmbrand and his wife worked covertly forming an underground church. They often infiltrated the Russian barracks under different pretexts and evangelized the soldiers there who had never heard the name of Christ save in blasphemy or ridicule. They risked their lives in this enterprise, but their rewards were great.
Then, on February 29, 1948, Mr. Wurmbrand was kidnapped by the secret police. Here is his account of the event.
“A van of the secret police stopped in front of me, four men jumped out and pushed me into the vehicle. I was taken to a prison where I was kept secretly for over eight years. During that time, no one knew whether I was alive or dead. My wife was visited by the secret police who posed as released fellow-prisoners. They told her that they had attended my burial. She was heartbroken.” [pg. 33]
While Mr. Wurmbrand’s family and friends mourned his death, he endured worse than death. He endured torture. Mr. Wurmbrand tells of being placed into icebox-like ‘refrigerator cells’ so cold that ice formed around the edges. Left there until symptoms of hypothermia manifested, his torturers would drag him from the cell, thaw him out, then cast him back into the cell. Other times Christians were hung upside down and beaten with sticks. Other tortures attacked the mind rather than the body. The Russians brainwashed their prisoners by constantly broadcasting phrases designed to demoralize the Christians Communism is good! Communism is good! Christianity is stupid! Christianity is stupid! Give up!
Preaching to the other prisoners was strictly forbidden. But as Mr. Wurmbrand writes,
“A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching; they were happy beating us – so everyone was happy.” [pg. 41]
After eight and one half years in prison, Mr. Wurmbrand was released under strict injunctions to never preach again. Mr. Wurmbrand promptly resumed his work with the Underground Church, using his scars to strengthen his message of the grace of God. He was rearrested and sentenced to twenty-five years. Five and one half years later a general amnesty was granted to the prisoners, but even this was no guarantee that Mr. Wurmbrand would not be rearrested. So, two Christian organizations – the Norwegian Mission to the Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance – ransomed him from the Communist government for $ 10,000. The standard amount for a political prisoner was $ 1,900.
The leaders of the underground church persuaded Mr. Wurmbrand to accept the ransom and travel overseas to be their voice to the western world. He labored faithfully at that task for thirty-seven years, testifying before Congress, writing and distributing materials, and founding Voice of the Martyrs a missions group dedicated to increasing Western awareness of persecution in other countries.
Several interesting points were raised in the course of the narrative.
I’ve always understood the word ‘martyr’ to refer to a person who is killed for their belief in a religious system. And it has come to mean this through common usage. But the Greek base word martus means ‘witness’ – one who bore public testimony to his beliefs. In this sense, Mr. Wurmbrand and millions of others who are never actually killed for their faith are nevertheless worthy of the title ‘martyr’.
After speaking of the Russian Communists’ absolute dedication to their philosophy, Mr. Wurmbrand remarks,
“I learned from them. As they allowed no place for Jesus in their hearts, I decided I would leave not the smallest place for Satan in mine.” [pg. 36]
Writing on why Communists believed that Christianity was such a threat to their system, Mr. Wurmbrand states,
“They knew that if a man believed in Christ, he would never be a mindless, willing subject. They knew they could imprison the physical body, but they couldn’t imprison a man’s spirit – his faith in God.” [pg. 31]
Whenever orthopraxy is emphasized in teaching, people are quick to retaliate that we should only be focused on ‘the gospel’. But as Mr. Wurmbrand rightly asks in the following quote, just was is ‘the gospel’?
“Some tell me ‘Preach the pure gospel!’ This reminds me that the Communist secret police also told me to preach Christ, but not to mention communism. Is it really so, that those who are for what is called ‘a pure gospel’ are inspired by the same spirit as those of the Communist secret police?
I don’t know what this so-called pure gospel is. Was the preaching of John the Baptist pure? He did not say only, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ (Matthew 3;2). He also ‘rebuked [Herod]… for all the evils which Herod had done’ (Luke 3:19). He was beheaded because he didn’t confine himself to abstract teaching. Jesus did not preach only the ‘pure’ Sermon on the Mount, but also what some church leaders would have called a negative sermon: ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! … Serpents, brood of vipers!’ (Matthew 23:27,33). It is for such ‘impure’ preaching that He was crucified.” [pg. 75]
The following snippet reminded me of Philippians 1:15-18. “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? Notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.”
“The Underground Church knows how to use atheistic literature, too, feeding upon it just as Elijah was fed by ravens. The atheists put much skill and zeal into ridiculing and criticizing Bible verses.
They published books called The Comical Bible and The Bible for Believers and Unbelievers. They tried to show how stupid Scripture is and, to do so, quoted many Bible verses. How we rejoiced over it! The book was printed in millions of copies and was full of Bible verses, which were unspeakably beautiful even when the Communists ridiculed them. The criticism itself was so stupid that no one took it seriously. In the past, ‘heretics’ burned by the Inquisition were taken to the stake in a procession, dressed in all kinds of ridiculous clothes with hell-flames and devils painted on them. And what saints were these heretics! In a similar way, Bible verses remain true, even if the Devil quotes them.
The Communist publishing house was very glad to receive thousands of letters asking for reprints of atheist books that quoted Bible verses to mock them. They did not know that these letters came from the Underground Church, which had no other opportunity of receiving the Scriptures.” [pg. 92]
Mr. Wurmbrand ended his book with this clarion call to Christians in the Western world.
“When I was beaten on the bottom of the feet, my tongue cried. Why did my tongue cry? It was not beaten. It cried because the tongue and feet are both part of the same body. And you free Christians are part of the same Body of Christ that is now beaten in prisons in restricted nations, that even now gives martyrs for Christ. Can you not feel our pain?” [pg. 150]
As has already been noted, Mr. Wurmbrand experienced extreme tortures at the hands of his jailers. I have explained a few of them but there were others, far more dreadful which I left between the covers. These are of such a nature as must prove disturbing to younger readers.
One of Mr. Wurmbrand’s main emphases in this book is the importance of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’. This is one of those phrases which is used in an attempt to succinctly and pithily state a doctrine which is in fact, far more complex. It can often be confusing and leads to the idea that a man can be defined apart from his actions.
Conclusion. Tortured for Christ is a highly readable and sobering autobiography of a man who dedicated his every breath to Christ. Buy a used copy here or receive a free copy from Voice of the Martyrs here.