Friday, February 17, 2017

February 17 - Richard Wurmbrand, Prisoner, Preacher, Voice of the Martyrs

Richard Wurmbrand just didn't know when to shut up. He had a lot of time to reconsider his calling and his convictions but he simply wouldn't stop preaching the Gospel that had changed his life and set flame to all his previous ambitions, hopes, dreams, and securities. He had much time to consider how he had arrived in prison--his first sentence was eight and a half years and his second was about five years long--but he never found himself turning away from the high calling that had landed him within shackles and isolated in solitary confinement. He had been called to preach and he could not imagine squelching that calling even if he might gain his freedom by doing so.

Richard had been born to a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania, in 1909. When he was young his family moved regularly and even lived in Istanbul for some time. His father died in 1918 and his family moved back to Romania in 1924. As a youth, he became infatuated with the ideals and methods of the Communist Party. This was less than a decade after the Bolshevik revolution. So, a Romanian teen must surely have thrilled to imagine the dreams that were publicized and suggested by the Party. He moved to Moscow as a young man to study Marxist thought and philosophy. In Moscow, he had not been comfortable or happy. So, he returned to Romania secretly and against the wishes of the Party. They were none too pleased that the young man had escaped and slighted them and so the secret police captured and arrested him. He was imprisoned for a short while for this crime and while in prison he renounced the communism of his youth because of its excesses and failures. After his release, he was married in 1936. In 1938, however, his world was changed when he and wife befriended a Romanian carpenter who seemed especially friendly and loving. Soon, they heard the Gospel from this man--Christian Wolfkes--and were converted to the Faith that would sustain them for the rest of their lives.

As converted Jews themselves, they took part in evangelism efforts through the Anglican mission to the Jews. Eventually, he would be ordained an Anglican minister. After World War II, he was ordained a Lutheran minister in his native country of Romania. The Soviets moved into Romania in 1944 and Richard, his wife, and his congregation were forced to become a part of the underground church. The Communists were unwilling to allow the Church to function in their State and so it became a secretive thing that demanded much and promised adversity. It grew wildly. He began preaching to his fellow Romanians and the Soviet soldiers. In 1948 he was arrested for his ministry and imprisoned. He served his time and continued to be a minister in the prisons that he was held in. In 1956 the Soviets released him and told him never to preach again if he wanted to remain free. He began preaching immediately. In 1959, they arrested him again, beat him, tortured him, and sentenced him to twenty-five years of prison life that promised to be full of more beatings and torture. Roughly five years later he was released from prison as part of an amnesty agreement brokered by western Christian groups.

Richard spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel he had been willing to sacrifice everything for. He wrote book after book about his experiences in prison and the stories he saw there. Further, he wrote about the plight of the underground Church so that others might know what was going on in countries where the Church must be hidden to escape the Communist Party.This effort became a group now known as "Voice of the Martyrs" and it worked to raise awareness of the abuses perpetrated against peaceful Christians in the name of State security. Eleven years before his death Richard and his wife were able to return to Romania for the first time since their escape through amnesty. Richard died in California on February 27, 2001.

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