By MARTIN WILLOUGHBY
Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina have had a big impact on my faith journey. While I never knew them or spoke to them (they died in 2001 and 2000 respectively), I am inspired by the story of their lives. Richard was a preacher in Romania during the Communist party takeover of that country in the 1940’s. The new government invited all of the religious leaders in the country to attend a meeting of the new Parliament. As other leaders were compromising their beliefs to avoid conflict with the new government, Richard struggled with what to do. Sabina turned to her husband and suggested that he get up to speak to “wash away the shame from the face of Christ.” Richard reminded her there would be dire consequences if he spoke out. She firmly replied, “I do not wish to have a coward for a husband.” Not only did he speak out, he preached from the podium despite the threats from the government officials.
Unfortunately, Richard’s prediction was accurate. He was later kidnapped and whisked away to prison where he served a total of 14 years during two periods of imprisonment. Much of his time in prison was in solitary confinement, and he endured merciless torture from his captors. The following words are what stick with me to this day: “And then the miracle happened. When it was at the worst, when we were tortured as never before, we began to love those who tortured us.” He continued, “The more we were mocked and tortured, the more we pitied and loved our torturers.” After finally being released from prison, Richard and Sabina (who had also served three years of hard labor) left the country and began the international ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs (www.persecution.com), which is dedicated to helping the plight of the persecuted church worldwide.
Much like Paul in his imprisonment, the fragrance of Christ’s love through Richard overcame the stench of prison to change lives of both prisoners and even guards. Richard and Sabina’s lives and the many martyrs around the world who have been willing to suffer for the sake of Christ remind me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5 when he says, “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
While the lives of persecuted Christians may seem like a far and distant idea, I believe there are some very practical implications for us in our own lives. For me, the vivid example of the Wurmbrands helps me to keep things in perspective and serves as a model for me of how to handle conflict and challenges. If there is someone you are in conflict with, there is no more potent thing you can do than to love and pray for them. As Jesus reminded us, loving people we like is easy; loving people who despise us is the real challenge. It is only the power of Christ in us that can give us the ability to have that kind of love.
One important lesson I learned in life is that I can’t control other people—even my own kids! However, I can control my response to the challenges I face in life. No matter what anyone else says or does, I control and can choose my reaction. Admittedly, the flesh is weak, and we want to react viscerally. However, I have repeatedly seen the impact of people who are filled with God’s grace and love that choose to react in faith. I hope you are inspired as I am by the Wurmbrands, and I hope that we can all learn to embrace in love those we are in conflict with. I know the world would be a better place.
By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.