At our previous writer's group meeting, I asked the women in my group to write a review on a 100-200 paged book of their choice. Since I had given the assignment, I had no choice, but to scan through the books on my bookshelves and pick out one to do myself. Charles Swindoll's So, you want to be like Christ? was my first choice. But, next to it stood another book with a glossy cover and a golden Wurmbrand Classics stamp on it. The title read, Tortured for Christ in white and red letters.
Years back, in my teenage years, I had vaguely heard of Richard Wurmbrand and his torturous imprisonment in Russian prisons. So, when I saw the book on sale at our local library for a mere one dollar, I quickly grabbed it and took it home. Even though, I can't remember now anything I've read in Tortured for Christ , the circling and jottings in my handwriting on some pages tell me I must have read through the book at least once before. The book still looks new and untouched.
Wurmbrand, who had spent a total of fourteen years in prison, wrote Tortured for Christ in three days shortly after his release from prison. In his words, "Tortured for Christ has no literary value... This book is written not so much with ink, as with the blood of bleeding hearts."
It's amazing how the book got translated into more than 65 languages, and is still being distributed in millions across the world. This gives us a glimpse of what God can do, when the heart of a writer is broken like that of God Himself.
Born in 1909 and orphaned as a child, Wurmbrand grew up in poverty in Romania. At age 14, he was convinced, he was an atheist. Once he even prayed, "God, I know surely that you don't exist. But if perchance You exist, which I contest, it is not my duty to believe in You. It's Your duty to reveal Yourself to me."
During the same time, an old carpenter in a village high up in the mountain in Romania,was also sending up a prayer. He wanted to bring a Jew to Christ before he died. So, he prayed, "I'm poor, old and sick. I cannot go around and seek a Jew. In my village, there are none. Bring a Jew into my village and I will do my best to bring him to Christ." God in His grace didn't waste much time in bringing the two men together and the young confirmed atheist became an ardent lover of Christ from that day onwards. A Lutheran church under his leadership started soon after and when the communists seized his country, he began a vigorous "undergroud" ministry. In 1948, he was arrested and tortured in prison.
I've always wondered how some Christians go through torture and imprisonment with so much courage and joy ? What keeps them sane and sound amidst hatred, cruelty and starvation? Knowing myself well, I've told the Lord to count me out for persecution. If a prick of a needle could make me sweat, how could I ever face persecution as brave as those Wurmbrand described in his book?
" I've seen Christians in Communist prisons with fifty pounds of chain on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt has been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold- and praying with fervor for the Communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was poured out in our hearts." He further goes on to say, " We felt the torture, but it often seemed as something distant and far removed from the spirit which was lost in the glory of Christ and His presence with us. "
That's it ! That's the secret. It's the presence of Christ that makes them to go on and on and even showing love towards their torturers. Wurmbrand writes about a pastor who was badly beaten and thrown into his cell half-dead and bleeding profusely. When the other prisoners started cursing the Communists doing such a horrible thing, the pastor amidst his groaning uttered, " Please, don't curse them! Keep silent! I wish to pray for them."
Though such love is beyond my comprehension, the book enabled me to see things from a different perspective. I better give that in Wurmbrand's own words- " God sees things differently than we see them, just as we see differently than an ant. From the human point of view, to be tied to a cross and smeared with excrement is a horrible thing. Nonetheless, the Bible calls the suffering of martyrs"light afflictions."
If made to stand in a box with no room to move and pierced with razor-sharp nails on every side could be called "light afflictions," what do we call the things we cry about. How pathetic I may sound to heaven's ears when I bawl and complain about back pain and backyard quarrels? Or the disagreements and dissatisfaction at work or church, we tend to view as persecution. No wonder, Wurmbrand wrote," I have found truly joyful Christians only in the Bible, in the underground Church, and in prison."
His only grievance- the church in the West sleeps while its brethren in Christ suffer and fight for the gospel. That is the main reason he wrote this book soon after his release 1964.
" I tremble because of the suffering of those persecuted in different lands. I tremble thinking about the eternal destiny of their torturers. I tremble for Western Christians who don't help their persecuted brethren."
In short, the message of the book- Remember the Persecuted church, help them, pray for them. Don't abandon them. They do not ask for escape, safety or an easy life. Give them the tools they need--Bibles, Christian literature and relief to the families of Christian martyrs.
It's my prayer that we, Christians, in the free world take time to learn more about persecuted churches around the world, pray for them on a regular basis and help them in anyway we could.
We are so blessed to live in countries where churches of all sizes and shapes are at every corner and Bibles can be bought in multiple versions and prayers can be uttered without any fear of punishment. It's sad that is that we've either taken our blessings for granted or we've made ourselves too busy to even realize how blessed we are in this part of the world.
Though Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who had been called the " Voice of the Underground Church" had gone to be with the Lord in 2001, his voice still lives through his books, as well as through the Voice of Martyrs Newsletter he founded in 1967. As I was about to post this blog this morning, I saw the Voice of Martyrs in my e-mail offering free copy of Tortured for Christ for my friends. That put a smile on my face, and strength on my finger to press the button to publish this very long blog.