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This is Why He Came

Stories of Salvation and Transformation from Around the World

Giving Hope to the Persecuted: The Story of Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand

by Faith Myers, DBU Student

In Luke 2:35, Mary is told that her beloved Son, Jesus, would be the cause of the piercing of her soul. Little did she know then that her child, the long-awaited Messiah, would be persecuted and killed to bring the promise of salvation, and today many who are transformed by Christ are striving to reach the world with the Gospel at a great cost.

The Voice of the Martyrs, a renowned non-profit whose mission is to serve persecuted Christians around the world, is an organization that many have heard of, but too few know the inspiring story of its founders: Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand. The couple would become renowned for their resilient faith as they evangelized in the midst of war, and as they shamelessly continued their ministry after immense suffering under the rule of Communism.  

Richard Wurmbrand grew up in a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania. As a young man, he was known for his intelligence; he worked as a stockbroker and would eventually become fluent in nine different languages. In 1936, he married a Jewish woman by the name of Sabina Oster.

After they were exposed to the Gospel by a German carpenter in 1938, the newlywed Wurmbrands became devoted Christians. It was at the brink of World War II that Richard became an ordained Lutheran minister, thus beginning some of the most harrowing moments of his life as a follower of Jesus.

When the war broke out in Europe, the Wurmbrands were not passive about their faith. Instead, they welcomed every opportunity to evangelize to German forces, Russian soldiers, Jews, and anyone around them. No matter the potential consequences, the continuing war was not something the Wurmbrands would allow to scare them from sharing their faith: the couple preached in bomb shelters, rescued Jewish children, and smuggled Bibles to Russian troops.

The year 1945 marked not only the end of World War II but the start of Communist control in Romania. Despite the threat of imprisonment, the couple diligently served both oppressed Christians and Russian soldiers occupying their country. In that same year, the Wurmbrands attended the Congress of Cults, hosted by the Communist government in Romania. Broadcasted to all of Romania, Richard did not hide his faith in the presence of such an oppressive government: he proclaimed that the world should only be glorying God and Him alone. The Wurmbrands’ unashamed and outspoken faith was fully at odds with the Communist regime, and this tension eventually led to an onset of torture that would last years and years.

In 1948, Richard was kidnapped by the secret police and thrown into solitary confinement. There, he was tortured and beaten by the Communist government, the trauma of which he relays in his book, Tortured for Christ. In 1950, Sabina was also arrested and forced to leave her son in the care of another family. For three years, she was imprisoned as a slave-laborer on the Danube Canal. Both Richard and Sabina endured harsh circumstances for years, and their arrest was no secret to their community. However, when diplomats from other countries started to question the Romanian government about the condition of Richard and Sabina, the government merely responded with a lie: the couple had fled the county. The Communist regime took the deception a step further, leading others, including Sabina, to believe that Richard had died in prison. This was thankfully not the case, and after several years of undergoing torture, Richard was released.

Richard and Sabina continued to work with the underground church, starting where they had left off before their imprisonments. None of these arrests and years of torture could dissuade the couple from helping persecuted Christians, and they continued their ministry even as Richard was arrested yet again. He was forced to endure another five years of torture from 1959 until 1964, when general amnesty finally granted him freedom. It would be the last time the couple suffered under the Romanian government, and the mark of a turning point in their lives.

Throughout all of this trauma, the Wurmbrands remained faithful to their ministry, serving the underground church no matter the cost. After Richard’s last arrest, the Christian community in Europe was worried that the couple would be imprisoned and tortured again—and this time, the repercussions could prove to be even worse. Wanting to help the family escape, two organizations paid a $10,000 ransom that would allow the Wurmbrands to leave Romania for good. Richard, Sabina, and their son left the country for England by way of Norway. After living in England, the family decided to move to the United States, still actively engaged in their ministry to hurting Christians all over the world.

In 1966, now in the U.S. and far from the threat of a Communist regime, Richard testified before the Senate. He relayed the torturous events that he and his family had suffered at the hand of the Romanian government, showing his wounds to all those present in the room. His testimony gained wide recognition, not only Stateside but across the globe. One year later, Richard and Sabina founded their ministry: Jesus to the Communist World, now known as The Voice of the Martyrs. Together, the Wurmbrands created an organization that would lend help to suffering Christians in oppressed and dangerous countries, and the work still continues today.

Richard and Sabina’s story of resilience and commitment to Christ is encouraging, and it stands as a great example for Christians today. In the midst of darkness, the Wurmbrands would not allow fear to hold them back from their mission: even with looming consequences, the couple continued their work in assisting persecuted Christians under the threat of Communism, under the terror of Islamic nations, and under the rule of other unforthcoming and often cruel governments.

During this Christmas season, let us be grateful for what Christ so willingly gave for us, graciously offering us freedom that only He can bring, and let us resolve to stand firm in our faith, no matter the cost.

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