Snapshots: A Son Remembers his Father
By Michael (Mihai) Wurmbrand
In December 1965, my father, Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, was invited to speak at the First Baptist Church of Rome, in Italy. It was his first Sunday in the Free World. He was freshly ransomed from communist Romania for $10,000 by Scandinavian Christians after 14 years of torture in prisons there. The pastor of the church was to be absent, so an American missionary who attended the church invited my father to speak. However, the Baptist minister did not leave Rome so he came to the service and listened to my father.
Hardly had my father, who was fluent in Italian, started his sermon when this minister stood up and interrupted him. “In this church you cannot say one word against communism. I am a Communist and a Baptist,” the pastor shouted. My father asked him loudly, “How can you be a Christian Baptist and at the same time a communist when communists are atheists? Communism denies the existence of God?”
To our horror, as fresh refugees from a communist country, the church stood up, chanting again and again, “Io sono Comunista i Batista, Io sono Comunista i Batista! (I am a Communist and a Baptist!).” We had been happy to arrive into the Free World and here we were meeting the nightmare of communism. This “church” service ended in true bedlam.
In the middle of January 1966, my father spoke in a chapel in Oslo, Norway. After speaking and taking questions from the audience, my father was asked by an American colonel, “Why should we not coexist with communism?” Without uttering one word, Rev. Wurmbrand left the podium, went to the colonel, snatched his wallet from his front pocket and placed it into his own pocket. Then my father stretched out his hand and said, “Let’s shake hands and be friends. Your wallet is in my pocket. Why should we not coexist?” Returning the wallet to the startled colonel, Rev. Wurmbrand explained how the communists had taken half of Europe and most of Asia and now wanted to coexist. Every thief would like to coexist with the police! We might not have a solution against cancer, but we fight it and do not plan to “coexist” with it.
The American colonel was so impressed that he asked the audience to take an offering then and there to send this newly-arrived refugee with his dramatic message to America.
Less than three months later, my father landed alone in New York. He had only a few minor contacts, and within a week he decided to return to Europe. With no invitations other than to speak to some small army chapel meetings, Rev. Wurmbrand realized how fast money disappears on motels and travel. He considered this trip nothing but a flop. He called, by chance, a Jewish-Christian missionary he had corresponded with before World War II and who now lived in Philadelphia. Rev. Bucksbazen invited him to come to Philadelphia for a day. He wanted to meet the man he had written to many years before.
After an hour of face-to-face discussion, the American missionary urged my father to return back to Europe as soon as possible. “You speak good English, but with a heavy foreign accent. You are too old and too sick to pastor an American church; you could not possibly even raise a salary to maintain your family. You do not even have a driver’s license or a car,” Rev. Bucksbazen said. He took Rev. Wurmbrand through downtown Philadelphia to show him the town just before he was supposed to return to the train station. The traffic circulation was stopped though. It so happened that day was the largest pro-”leftist” rally of the period in the United States, with more than 60,000 in attendance. A Presbyterian minister spoke to the crowd, praising the communists.
Drawing closer to hear better, Rev. Richard Wurmbrand, a refugee totally on his own who had been on the New Continent only five days, and had not been out of Romania for more than six months, without a moment’s hesitation, jumped on the podium. He went straight for the microphone, pushed the speaker aside and shouted into the microphone, “Your Christian brethren suffer under communism and you, a minister, instead of praising their Christian martyrdom, you praise their torturers! You are a Judas! You know nothing of communism. I am a Doctor in Communism!”
The startled Presbyterian pastor laughed back, “There is no such thing as being a ‘Doctor in Communism.’”
“I will show you my credentials,” my father retorted. He took off his shirt to show deep scars on his torso, the results of his treatment by communist torturers in his long years of communist imprisonment. “Do you think it is right for communists to inflict such pain and scars upon a fellow minister?” With these words Rev. Wurmbrand took over the rally, and the rally was finished. The police intervened and asked Rev. Wurmbrand to put on his shirt. Scores of reporters surrounded him, asking him for interviews. He had to extend his stay with his Jewish-Christian friend in Philadelphia to give more interviews.
The next day over 80 percent of the major newspapers in America had my father’s picture without his shirt, on their front page, with articles on what made this Lutheran minister take off his shirt and break the pro-leftist demonstration. Invitations poured in and Rev. Wurmbrand had to extend his stay in the United States by two months and return again twice for extended periods. Eventually we immigrated permanently to the United States.
His worldwide bestseller, Tortured for Christ, appeared and was translated into more than 85 languages. We started a worldwide missionary organization to help the persecuted Christians in communist countries, called today The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). My father’s message was the biblical message: Hate sin but redeem in love the sinner, redeem through Christian love the persecutors by changing their heart with Christian love.
God granted that Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, after 1989, was able to personally visit and preach to large audiences in many countries behind the former Iron Curtain. Richard Wurmbrand died just shy of his 92nd birthday, which would have been on March 24, 2001.
In 2006, the Romanian government-owned TV Broadcasting station (TVR), in cooperation with one of the largest newspapers of the country (Evenimentul Zilei, “The Daily Event”), started a poll among readers and viewers as to who were or are the greatest, most admired Romanian personalities throughout history. The television station promised to prepare one-hour TV documentaries about each of the top ten finalists. These secular promoters were flabbergasted to find out that nearly 400,000 random participants chose, right behind the top three most-known kings of Romania and Romania’s national poet, as the fifth most admired Romanian personality of all times, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand. All the other personalities were part of Romanian history, even during more than 40 years of communism, while nothing could be publicized about Richard Wurmbrand during the communist regime. Christians in Romania rose as one to name their brother who had made their persecution at the hands of communists known worldwide and as a praise to God for His everlasting love.
From the depths of suffering in underground prison cells, like Job of old, Richard Wurmbrand did not look in sadness back down into the past, but had his eyes lifted in faith to the heavens. Such was his example.