Aiming,though often failing 'to become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some'. Join with me in these reflections,discussions, videos and even humour about how we might become truly authentic in mission:Contextual yet Biblical:Passionate, but also Compassionate:In Word, as well as in Deed.The Spirit of Jesus within is calling each of his followers to reach out and fulfil the Missio Dei in a world of pain and need.
Saturday, 10 June 2017
Romanian pastor who survived the tortures of the gulag by preaching sermons to himself in his underground cell
RICHARD WURMBRAND, who has died aged 91, was a Romanian Lutheran pastor whose determination to spread the word of God led to his being imprisoned for 14 years and tortured by the Communist authorities.
He came to prominence in 1964 when he was ransomed from the Romanian government by a group of Norwegian Christians for $10,000. From then on he campaigned for religious freedom. When the Communists seized power in Romania in 1945, Wurmbrand and his wife, Sabina, set up an underground church which ministered both to the Romanian people and the invading Red Army. In 1948 Wurmbrand disappeared into the gulag and three years later his wife followed.
During his years in jail, Wurmbrand was beaten on his body and and on the soles of his feet, given mind-altering drugs and forced to watch the humiliation of fellow prisoners. Through everything, he refused to recant. For three years he was held in solitary confinement in a cell some 35 ft underground; he kept sane by preaching himself a sermon every night, fixing more than 300 of them in his brain with mnemonics and rhymes. After his release, he published 22 as a book, Sermons in Solitary Confinement (1969).
Only once did he have anyone else to speak to - a prisoner in the next cell to whom he communicated in Morse by tapping on his cell wall and whom he converted to Christianity. Sabina Wurmbrand meanwhile was forced to work as a slave labourer; at one stage, while building a canal, she was reduced to living on grass. After her release in 1954, she was denied work for refusing to divorce her husband. When later informed that he had died in prison, she refused to believe it even when strangers called on her claiming to be former prisoners who had attended his funeral.
After their release from Romania, the Wurmbrands moved to America where Richard Wurmbrand founded the Christian Mission to the Communist World (later renamed Release International), an organisation which highlights religious persecution around the world. His books Tortured for Christ (1966) and In God's Underground (1968) exposed the extent of religious persecution under Communism and became best-sellers.
In May 1966 when Wurmbrand testified in Washington before the Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee, he stripped to the waist to show 18 deep torture wounds covering his body. Richard Wurmbrand was born on March 24 1909 into a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania. He married Sabina Oster, also Jewish, in 1936 and they became Protestant evangelical Christians under the influence of Isaac Feinstein, who was to perish under the Nazis.
In 1938, their part of Romania became part of the Soviet Union, only to be invaded by German troops in 1940. From then until 1943 most of its large Jewish population was deported, starved or massacred. Though under great threat themselves, the couple brought several Jewish children out of the ghetto and concealed them. When the Soviet Armies occupied Romania in 1945, they surreptitiously distributed literature to the Red Army despite the risk of deportation to Siberia, and carried on interdenominational work.
Wurmbrand was a fiery, almost explosive man who never fought shy of controversy. Although he always spoke about his oppressors with understanding, he was passionate in his belief that "Communism is the greatest crime in humanity" and was highly critical of those who sought dialogue with Communist regimes.
In 1967, on a visit to Britain, he roundly condemned British churches for their lack of interest in the plight of Christians under Communism: "What is happening in China?" he demanded. "All the churches have been desecrated and closed, but nobody protests."
The British churches, he believed, had been compromised by their membership of the World Council of Churches which included members of the officially-approved Russian and Romanian churches. He recalled how, during his incarceration, he had been asked whether he would like to become a bishop - so that he could help to influence the World Council of Churches in "our" favour.
He also attacked organisations such as the British and Foreign Bible Society which believed that the way to advance Christianity behind the Iron Curtain was to conclude agreements for official imports of Bibles. Wurmbrand argued that such an approach would only benefit the official churches and that Bibles should be smuggled to those in the underground churches who were really keeping Christianity alive.
During the 1970s, Wurmbrand became involved in a unedifying dispute with a rival evangelical organisation, Underground Evangelism, one of whose star preachers, a young emigre from the Soviet Union had been found dead, apparently from suicide. Wurmbrand's allegation that the young man had been exploited ended up as a libel case in the Californian courts, but was later abandoned.
After the execution of Romania's Communist President Nicolae Ceaucescu in 1989, the Wurmbrands returned to Romania where they were welcomed as heroes. Richard Wurmbrand's wife Sabina died in August last year; they are survived by a son.