Who Was Richard Wurmbrand?

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand (1909 – 2001)

“He stood in the midst of lions, but they could not devour him.” – Philadelphia Herald

Richard Wurmbrand was born the youngest of four boys in a Jewish family on March 24, 1909, in Bucharest, Romania. Gifted intellectually and fluent in nine languages, Richard was active in leftist politics and worked as a stockbroker. On Oct. 26, 1936, Richard married Sabina Oster, who was also Jewish. They placed their faith in Jesus Christ in 1938 as a result of the influence of a German carpenter named Christian Wölfkes. Richard was ordained as an Anglican, and later Lutheran, minister.

During World War II, Richard and Sabina saw opportunities for evangelism among the occupying German forces. They preached in bomb shelters and rescued Jewish children out of the ghettos. Richard and Sabina were repeatedly arrested and beaten and, at least once, nearly executed. Sabina lost her Jewish family in Nazi concentration camps.

In 1945, Romanian Communists seized power and a million Russian troops poured into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministered to his oppressed countrymen while engaging in bold evangelism to the Russian soldiers.

That same year, Richard and Sabina attended the Congress of Cults, organized by the Romanian Communist government. Many religious leaders came forward to praise Communism and to swear loyalty to the new regime. Richard walked up to the podium and declared to the delegates, whose speeches were broadcast to the whole nation, that their duty was to glorify God and Christ alone.

Between 1945 and 1947, Richard distributed 1 million Gospels to Russian troops, often disguising the books as Communist propaganda. Richard also helped arrange the smuggling of Gospels into Russia.

On Feb. 29, 1948, the secret police kidnapped Richard as he traveled to church and took him to their headquarters. He was locked in a solitary cell and labeled “Prisoner Number 1.” In 1950, his wife, Sabina, was also imprisoned. She was forced to serve as a laborer on the Danube Canal project, leaving their 9-year-old son, Mihai, alone and homeless. He was then taken in by Christian friends, who risked imprisonment to care for the child of a political prisoner. Sabina was released after three years, and Richard was also later released, only to be re-arrested and then released in an amnesty in 1964.

In December 1965, two organizations paid a $10,000 ransom to allow the Wurmbrand family to leave Romania. Reluctant to leave his homeland, Richard was convinced by other underground church leaders to leave and become a “voice” to the world for the underground church. Richard, Sabina and their son, Mihai, left Romania for Norway and then traveled on to England.

Richard began his ministry of being a voice for persecuted Christians in the West, where he also wrote his testimony of persecution, Tortured for Christ. Later, Richard moved to the United States, and in 1967 the Wurmbrands officially began a ministry committed to serving our persecuted Christian family called Jesus to the Communist World (later renamed The Voice of the Martyrs). This work continues today in more than 60 countries where Christians are persecuted.