Pastor Richard Wurmbrand
RI was inspired by the first-hand experience of persecution of Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned and tortured by the Romanian secret police during the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s.
Release International was founded in 1968, when it was known as Christian Mission to the Communist World.
Richard Wurmbrand himself died in February 2001, but his vision and passion to serve persecuted Christians around the world continues in the ministry of Release International today.
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand: a life of love
‘Love is the distinctive feature of all Christians. From a pastor, especially, burning love is expected.‘
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, from Victorious Faith
During his three years of solitary imprisonment, Richard Wurmbrand kept sane by preaching himself a sermon every night. A selection was published in 1969 as Sermons in Solitary Confinement, from which these brief extracts are taken. They provide a remarkable insight into the agony, spiritual battle and courage that marked Richard for the rest of his life.
Life in prison
‘Out of fourteen years in jail under the Communists in Romania, I spent three years alone in a cell thirty feet below ground, never seeing sun, moon or stars, flowers or snow, never seeing another man except for the guards and interrogators who beat and tortured me.
During that time I rarely slept at night. I slept in the daytime. Every night I passed the hours in spiritual exercises and prayer. Every night I composed a sermon and delivered it.
I had a faint hope that one day I might be released. And so I tried to memorise the sermons. In order to do this, I used a device of putting the main ideas into short rhymes … When my mind broke down under the influence of heavy doping, I forgot them. But as the effects of the drugs passed, they came vividly back to me.‘
From the Preface to Sermons in Solitary Confinement.
‘My dear brothers and sisters in the West
… I, in my solitary cell, in the grip of tuberculosis which has invaded my whole body, sit with the angels as in a theatre and watch everything that is happening, that has happened, and is yet to happen.
… God abides in me. If he abides in me, he brings with him all his responsibilities. They become mine. That is why Jesus says that I have power to remits sins or to retain them, to bind and to loose. If God lives in me and you, it depends on us whether beauty will conquer, or whether mankind will deteriorate more and more.
If God the Father and Jesus Christ abide in a Christian, it becomes his task to change the perverted, the immoral, the obsessed, the ambitious, the robbers; to transform a neurotic world into a world full of serenity.
… I used to wonder why the Church repeats the Lord’s prayer so often. Now I understand. Every time I say it, I am reminded that mankind expects me and my brethren … to make his kingdom come – his kingdom of righteousness and joy. We have to see that his will is done on earth. We have to provide the hungry with the bread of life. We have to forgive.
… Jesus said that the second commandment, to love your neighbour, is like the first, to love God. If you love us, the oppressed Christians in the Red camp, you love God, because God is within us, in cell eleven, and twelve, and thirteen, and in the cell with the rats and in the cell reserved for tortures.
I cannot tell you what to do for us. The pastors among us have been smitten, and the sheep area scattered. Care for these sheep, gather them in. Our Bibles have been confiscated. Our families eat garbage. I don’’t know how you can reach them. But you are the abode of the almighty and omniscient God. He must know.‘
From Sermon to the Churches in the West
A life of witness
Richard Wurmbrand is born of Jewish parents in Romania.
He marries Sabina Oster, also Jewish, a writer.
Richard and Sabina convert to Christianity, after being given a Bible by a German carpenter. They join the church of the Anglican Mission to the Jews in Bucharest. Their only son Michael was born in 1939.
After the Communists seize power, Richard and Sabina set up an underground church to minister to the Romanian people and the invading Russian Red Army.
On his way to church, secret police kidnap Richard and lock him in solitary confinement. He is designated ‘Prisoner Number 1’. He is to spend a total of 14 years in prison. While in jail, Richard is tortured regularly and given mind-altering drugs. He refuses to renounce his faith.
The Communists arrest Sabina, and assign her to forced labour on the Danube Canal for three years. At one stage, she is forced to live on grass. The Wurmbrand’s son Michael is left alone.
Richard is released after serving eight years in prison. He was warned to never preach again, but resumes his ministry.
Richard is turned in to the authorities by one of his own associates in the underground church. He is re-arrested and sentenced to a further 25 years imprisonment.
The Wurmbrand family is ransomed from Romania for $10,000 by a group of Norwegian Christians. The family travels to the West, and his story spreads rapidly around the world.
The Wurmbrands come to England and start their ministry. Richard testifies in 1966 in Washington before the Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee. He strips to the waist to show eighteen deep torture wounds covering his body. His international bestseller Tortured for Christ (1966) is followed by In God’s Underground (1968) – both expose the extent of religious persecution under communism. Many thousands hear Richard preach on his speaking tours.
The Rev W. Stuart Harris, who earlier visited the Wurmbrands in Romania, founds the organisation which becomes Release International in 1992. Richard settles in the United States, and continues to campaign tirelessly for religious liberties, throughout the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s. He founds the International Christian Association (ICA): a network of Christian organisations serving the persecuted church.
After the end of Ceaucescu’s dictatorship, Richard and Sabina return to Romania after 25 years of exile. He receives invitations to preach on television.
Richard retires, and continues to live in California.
Sabina Wurmbrand dies in August 2000. Six months later, on February 17, Richard Wurmbrand dies after several years of prolonged illness. The International Christian Association which he founded now represents 30 nations.
Release International today
Through our international network of missions, RI serves persecuted Christians in 30 countries around the world, by supporting pastors and their families, supplying Christian literature and Bibles and working for justice. RI is a member of the UK organisations Global Connections (formerly EMA) and the Evangelical Alliance.