Eleven-year-old Michael tried to be brave as he followed the guard down the prison hallway. The echo of their footsteps stopped when they reached the large room where several prisoners huddled together. He looked around nervously. Finally his eyes found hers.
"Michael!" cried his mother. Michael felt a lump in his throat when he saw her. Her shabby uniform hung loosely on her thin body. She was so dirty, he could hardly recognize her. Yet when their eyes met, a familiar joy filled them for the first time in two years. Michael took a deep breath, trying to hold back the tears.
"Michael!" She called again across the room. "Believe in Jesus with all your heart!"
Before he could respond, the guards were dragging her away from him, angry at her words of faith. Tears rolled down his cheeks, and he sobbed as she disappeared around the concrete wall.
Seeing his mother's unwavering passion for Jesus despite being in prison, the boy made a life-changing decision. It was at that moment that Michael Wurmbrand welcomed Christ into his own heart.
It was 1952 in Communist Romania. Michael's mother, Sabina, was in prison because of her faith. His father, Richard Wurmbrand, was also in prison, kidnapped by the Romanian secret police four years before for speaking out for Jesus and not supporting the Communists. All over Romania, Christians like them were being arrested and tortured in Communist prisons.
Despite the danger, some Christians continued to meet together. There was no church building, steeple, or sign to welcome visitors. Instead, believers had to find new ways to gather for meetings.
Desperate Times, Clever Measures
The doctor stood on the busy street corner, pretending to read his newspaper. Plenty of young men walked past, but none had the tattered brown umbrella he was looking for. Finally, he saw the signal. The doctor folded his newspaper and tucked it under his arm. Keeping a distance between them, he followed the young man with the tattered brown umbrella down the street and around the corner.
A few blocks away, the young man disappeared into a stairwell. The doctor walked past, stopped and looked around, then quickly followed the young man inside. He hurried up the stairs and through an open door, which shut softly behind him. He was safe in the secret meeting place with a group of believers—the underground church!
Michael stood there next to his mother, Sabina. It was a year after his brief visit with her, and he was overflowing with thanks for her release from prison. They waited as the young man looked through the peephole in the door. A moment later, he straightened and said, "It's all clear, we can start the meeting."
"What news do you bring of Richard?" Sabina asked. Michael waited, holding his breath for the answer.
"He's alive." The doctor replied.
"Oh, praise Jesus!" Sabina whispered.
Michael stepped forward, his eyes glistening with tears. "Is it really true?" he asked hopefully.
"Yes, son." The doctor smiled. "Your father is alive."
Michael's mother pulled her son into a tight embrace and both wept with joy.
Then everyone took turns praying. One prayed for Richard's protection and release from prison. Another prayed that God would protect the underground church. They even prayed for the Communists. They continued praying all night, praising God for helping them through such hardships.
Even the Walls Speak of Faith!
In his cell, Richard Wurmbrand was on his knees, too, praying for his fellow Romanians who were also in prison—those who held strong in the faith no matter what, as well as the weaker ones who would give in to their fear and even turn in their own families to avoid more torture.
He prayed also for his wife and son, though he wasn't sure if they were still alive. The last he had heard, Sabina was in prison and was forced to work, digging a canal. He asked God to keep his family strong in faith.
A tapping on the wall interrupted Richard's prayers. At first he thought it might be a mouse scurrying about, but the tapping continued and a pattern began to emerge … dot, dot, dash, dot, dash, dot. Morse code! Someone in another prison cell was trying to communicate with him! Richard knelt beside the wall and tapped back. The two prisoners began passing the time in "conversation."
Before long their friendship grew, and Richard was able to share his faith with this man. Finally, without ever hearing his voice or seeing his face, Richard used Morse code to lead this man to Christ.
Even though he was starved, tortured, beaten and abused, Richard Wurmbrand held to his faith through 14 years in prison. Despite those horrible circumstances, God used him to help many hurting people. Finally, in 1965, he was released and reunited with his family. Knowing he could be imprisoned again, Richard still looked forward to preaching the Word of God in Romania once more. But God had other plans.
The World Must Know!
"You must go! Leave the country!" pleaded a woman. Richard and his wife, Sabina, exchanged a long look. Twenty-three-year-old Michael stood silently by, waiting for the answer.
"I have not endured all these scars only to turn and run away. I am needed here, to be a voice to the Romanian people for Christ!" Richard said with frustration.
"We need you even more to be a voice for us in the outside world," a man said, his hand on Richard's shoulder. "No one outside the country really knows what the Communists are doing to our people!"
Richard began to imagine how God could use him if he shared the story of Romania's suffering Christians in the United States. If Christians and governments in the free world understood how the Communists were secretly torturing believers, maybe they could help.
The Voice of the Martyrs
Richard looked out the airplane window as the buildings of Communist Romania grew smaller. With Sabina and Michael at his side, he was on his way to freedom in America. He thought about the secret police and their last threat: "If you speak against Communism, we'll hire a gangster to kill you for just $1,000."
But Richard knew that God was with him. He was not afraid. He wanted to be a voice for his country and for the oppressed Christians. He wanted to be a "voice of the martyrs" to the free world.
In the years that followed, Richard's voice reached the free world with stories of Christians suffering for their faith. Most people thought that Christian persecution was a thing of the past. Richard's stories were shocking and provoked Christians to be more bold and active in their faith. The ministry he began, The Voice of the Martyrs, still helps persecuted Christians around the world and educates others about their struggles.
Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.
- Christians are still being persecuted and even killed around the world today. How could you help them? Check out http://www.kidsofcourage.com for ideas.
- In many places where Christians are persecuted, the church is growing rapidly. Why might that be?
- Have you ever had someone make fun of you for your faith? What did you do?
- What might comfort someone who is suffering from severe persecution?
- The second Sunday in November is set aside as "International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church." Find this day on your calendar. How can you help your family and church participate in this day of prayer this year?
- MacKenzie, Catherine. Voice in the Dark: The Story of Richard Wurmbrand. Christian Focus Publications, 1997.