Pastor Richard Wurmbrand is an evangelical minister who spent fourteen years in Communist imprisonment and torture in his homeland of Romania. In 1945, when the Communists seized Romania and attempted to control the churches for their purposes, Richard Wurmbrand immediately began an effective “underground” ministry to his enslaved people and the invading Russian soldiers. He was eventually arrested in 1948. Richard spent three years in solitary confinement, seeing no one but his Communist torturers. Pastor Wurmbrand was released in a general amnesty in 1964. Realizing the great danger of a third imprisonment, Christians in Norway negotiated with the Communist authorities and paid for his release from Romania. In May 1966, he testified in Washington before the Senate’s Internal Security Subcommittee and stripped to the waist to show eighteen deep torture wounds covering his body. What follows is a small part of the many experiences he had while he was imprisoned.
My former fellow-prisoner the Romanian-Orthodox Deacon John Stanescu, suffered in jail for his faith.
Colonel Albon, director of the slave labor camp, was informed that someone had dared to preach in a cell. He entered the cell carrying a cane and demanded to know the culprit. When no one responded, he said, “Well, then all will be flogged.”
He commenced at one end of the cell, and there was the usual yelling and rising in tears. When he came to Stanescu, he said, “Not ready yet? Strip this minute!”
Stanescu replied, “There is a God in heaven, and He will judge you.”
With this, his fate was sealed. He would surely be beaten to death. But just at that moment, a guard entered the cell and said, “Colonel, you are called urgently to the office. Some generals have come from the Ministry.”
Albon left, saying to Stanescu, “We will see each other again soon.” However, the generals arrested the colonel (Communists hate and jail each other for no reason), and after an hour Albon was back in the cell, this time as a prisoner.
Many inmates jumped to lynch him. Now Stanescu defended the defeated enemy with his own body, receiving many blows himself as he protected the torturer from the flogged prisoners. Stanescu was a real priest.
Later I asked him, “Where did you get the power to do this?”
He replied, “I live Jesus ardently. I always have Him before my eyes. I also see Him in my enemy. It is Jesus who keeps him from doing even worse things.” Beware of a faith without a cross!
When I was in jail I fell very, very sick. I had tuberculosis of the whole surface of both lungs and four vertebra were attacked by tuberculosis. I also had intestinal tuberculosis, diabetes, heart failure, jaundice, and other sicknesses I can’t even remember. I was near to death.
At my right hand was an Orthodox priest by the name of Iscu. He was Abbot of a monastery. This man, perhaps in his 40’s, had been so tortured he was near to death. But his face was serene. He spoke about his hope of heaven, about his love of Christ, about his faith. He radiated joy.
On my left side was the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest almost to death. He had been arrested by his own comrades.
And so it happened that the Communist torturer who had tortured this priest nearly to death had been tortured nearly to death by his comrades. And he was dying near me. His soul was in agony.
During the night he would awaken me saying, “Pastor, please pray for me. I can’t die, I have committed such terrible crimes.”
Then I saw a miracle. I saw the agonizing priest calling two other prisoners. And leaning on their shoulders, slowly, slowly he walked past my bed, sat on the bedside of his murderer, and caressed his head – I will never forget this gesture. I watched a murdered man caressing his murderer! That is love – he found a caress for him.
The priest said to the man, “You are young; you did not know what you were doing. I love you with all my heart.” But he did not just say the words. You can say “love,” and it’s just a word of four letters. But he really loved. “I love you with all my heart.”
Then he went on, “If I who am a sinner can love you so much, imagine Christ, Who is Love incarnate, how much He loves you! And all the Christians whom you have tortured, know that they forgive you, they love you, and Christ loves you. He wishes you to be saved much more than you wish to be saved. You wonder if your sins can be forgiven. He wishes to forgive your sins more than you wish your sins to be forgiven. He desires for you to be with Him in heaven. He is Love. You only need to turn to Him and repent.”
In this prison cell in which there was no possibility of privacy, I overheard the confession of the murderer to the murdered. Life is more thrilling than a novel – no novelist has ever written such a thing. The murdered – near to death – received the confession of the murderer. The murdered gave absolution to this murderer.
They prayed together, embraced each other, and the priest went back to his bed. Both men died that same night. It was Christmas Eve. But it was not a Christmas Eve in which we simply remembered that 2000 years ago Jesus was born in Bethlehem. It was a Christmas Eve during which Jesus was born in the heart of a Communist murderer.
These are the things I have seen with my own eyes…
Pastor Richard Wurmbrand