God’s General – Richard Wurmbrand
Richard Wurmbrand, also known as Nicolai Ionescu, was born on March 24, 1909 in Bucharest, in a Jewish-Romanian family. He was brought up in bitter poverty along with his three elder brothers in Istanbul for a short while. His father died when he was just 9 years old. When he was 15 years of age, his family returned to Romania.
Having experienced no love from his family or friends at his young age, he convinced himself that there was no God, but deep within him, he was sad believing/thinking that “God of love did not exist.” Soon he became a militant atheist, who did not believe in God. Being surrounded in communist environment, he was “as convinced an atheist as any communist.” As a young man, he was drawn to the left-wing politics that flourished in Bucharest in the 1930’s. During this time, like other Romanian communists, he was arrested several times, then sentenced and released again.
On October 26, 1936, he married “Sabina Oster,” also known as Bintzea to her friends, who was also a Jew by birth. After 2 year, in 1938, they happened to meet Christian Wolfkes, a Jewish carpenter. Having known that the Wurmbrands were a Jewish descendant, this carpenter pursued them and shared the Gospel. In Richard’s own words, “Seeing I was a Jew, the carpenter courted me as never a beautiful girl had been courted. He saw in me the answer to his prayer and gave me a Bible to read.” The carpenter and his wife were continually praying for him, and as Richard read the Bible, “the Word of God became alive,” and his eyes of understanding were enlightened. He saw not mere words but “flames of love” in the Bible. After this encounter, he accepted Jesus as the Savior; his wife too received Jesus as her Savior in a short while. They joined the Anglican Church’s ministry among Jewish people.
During World War II, Richard and Sabina evangelized to any one they could come across with; they started out by distributing tracts. They also rescued many Jewish children. He also had an opportunity to minister to Russian soldiers held in Romanian prisons. He had intense sorrow within him to see people raised from childhood in atheism.
In 1944, when the Soviet Union occupied Romania as the first step to establishing a communist regime, Richard began a ministry to his Romanian countrymen. When the government attempted to control churches, he immediately began an “underground” ministry to his people. Richard is remembered for his courage in standing up in a gathering of church leaders and denouncing government control of the churches.
Over the next 2 years, Richard distributed 1 million Bibles to Russian troops. By now, he was head of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission in Bucharest, a position which helped cover his underground activities.
On February 29, 1948, while he was on his way to church service, the secret police team kidnapped him and threw him into prison. He was in prison for over 8 years and went through terrible torture.
During the time when he was in prison, his wife and his son too were persecuted to pull them away from faith in Lord Jesus. Once, Sabina was informed by the soldiers who masked themselves as prisoners that her husband died in the prison and they had attended the funeral. Another time, an official information was released to Sabina informing her about her husband’s death.
In 1956, he was warned never to preach again and was released from prison. Richard soon resumed his underground ministry. In 1959, he was rearrested with 25 years sentence. Some of the severe tortures that he went through in the prison during this time include: placed in a wooden box with nails driven through the sides; imprisoned in a “refrigerator cell,” where he would be frozen to the point of death and then taken out and thawed, and then frozen again. In addition to physical torture, he was repeatedly brainwashed for 17 hours a day to renounce Jesus. He was also tortured with extended isolation period. During this time, he did not hear any sound, not even the guards outside, walking around. While he was not in isolation, he utilized the opportunity to witness Jesus to both his torturers and other fellow prisoners. Through his witness, many Communists received Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
After 5 years, in 1964, the Norwegian Mission to Jews and the Hebrew Christian Alliance group came forward and negotiated with the Communist authorities for Richard’s release from the prison. Therefore, he was ransomed for $10,000 though other political prisoners at that time were released for just $1,900. The communist told Richard to leave for America and never preach again. He was reluctant to leave his flock in Romania. However, his church members and well-wishers advised and insisted him to leave Romania with his family. Finally, he decided to devote the rest of his life to become a voice for the persecuted church, despite warning and death threats. He went to America and started speaking out on behalf of the underground church.
The Voice of the Martyrs
The following year, he appeared before a US Senate subcommittee, and at one point stripped his shirt to show the scars of deep torture wounds. For this act, Romania contacted him and threatened to kill him. In 1967, the Wurmbrands began a ministry to the persecuted church in communist countries, called “the Voice of the Martyrs.” In the same year, his book “Tortured for Christ” was also published. Later, he wrote 18 books in English and many others in Romania. In his books, he wrote boldly about the tortures he went through, confronted Communalism all the way expressing hope and compassion even for his torturers. The organization was established in 80 different countries by the mid- 80’s.
In 1990, Richard and Sabina returned to Romania after 25 long years. The Voice of Martyrs opened a printing facility and bookstore in Bucharest. He also engaged in preaching with local ministers of almost all denominations.
After this, while they were living in California, on August 11, 2000, his wife died. Richard followed her and died on February 17, 2001, of natural causes, active in his ministry to the end. The life of Rev. Richard is a great testimony to all who are persecuted today. It compels anyone to love their enemies and radiate Christ through their life. The Voice of Martyrs continues Richard’s work in many countries even now. His books are still a blessing to many.