***DISCLAIMER – DUE TO GRAPHIC QUOTATIONS I SHOW IN THIS REVIEW, READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED***
Recently, someone offered to give me the book Tortured for Christ (written in 1967) by the late Richard Wurmbrand (henceforth referred to as Wurmbrand). Since I’m not the best inventory-taker of my own bookshelf, I had to check to make sure I did not already have this book. Turns out, I did. Therefore, I declined the offer. I then stated I would read the book. I am glad I read it.
For those who are unaware (as I was prior to my reading of the book), Wurmbrand was the founder of The Voice of the Martyrs, “a nonprofit, interdenominational missions organization that serves persecuted Christians around the world….dedicated to inspiring believers to deepen their commitment to Christ and to fulfill His Great Commission — no matter the cost.” It had been a while since I read a book about persecuted Christians. Moreover, until this book, I had never reviewed a book whose main themes were persecution and martyrdom. Needless to say, I was excited to read and review this one.
Wurmbrand’s book has a foreword (written by Tom White, the USA director of The Voice of the Martyrs), seven chapters, an epilogue, an appendix (filled with letters celebrating the book’s 30-year anniversary in 1997), a section with resources on the persecuted church and a short section about Wurmbrand (pp. 7-172).
White writes a decent foreword. I show the first two and last two paragraphs because they give the clearest idea on the direction and origin of this book (pp. 7, 9):
Richard Wurmbrand said, “Tortured for Christ has no literary value. It was written in only three days shortly after my release from prison. But it was written with pen and tears. And for some reason, God has chosen to bless this writing and use it for His purpose.”
Over the years, Tortured for Christ has been translated into 65 languages and millions of copies have been distributed throughout the world. We are continually amazed at how this testimony has been used of God to strengthen His Body. We have discovered that in this Body, victory, courage, resilience, and tenacity know no borders, no skin color, no nationality, but are given equally to all by the Holy Spirit….
…Tortured for Christ not only reveals the facts surrounding a man who has suffered at the hands of a brutal Communist regime, it reveals the faith and perseverance of a man totally committed to Christ and his desire to share the truth with others. It is this truth that comes alive through each page, transforming the thinking of Western Christians by revealing that throughout history, and even today, Christians endure horrific sufferings and even die for the witness to the life and power of Jesus Christ.
It is our prayer that this testimony lives on, that we may come to a deeper knowledge of our relationship with Jesus Christ and our duty on this earth. That we may come to understand the true aspects of the martyr’s life, and if by God’s will, we would be willing to be that witness.
I’ve never been in prison. Wurmbrand, who served 14 years in prison, seemingly could have spent 33.5 years in prison (pp. 49, 171). Moreover, he wrote this book with pen and tears in three days shortly after his prison release. I don’t know of anyone else who has written a book under such circumstances. The foreword’s last paragraph gives the book’s goal.
In most of my book reviews, I detail a book’s strengths and weaknesses. Since this is a true story more than anything else, I instead detail four highlights I found in the book (there were more). Some of the highlights are mind-blowing. Because of the mind-blowing stuff, I won’t offer anything as far as correctives go (you’ll see why). If I went through what Wurmbrand and others went through, I doubt I’d be the same writer, person, etc..
A recurring theme in this book was the atheism present in Communist Russia. Wurmbrand states that atheism is the “state religion in all the Communist countries” (p. 93). He details his own atheism when discussing how he became a Christian (pp. 11-14). Wurmbrand explains how atheism gave him no peace in his heart (p. 12). He also explains essentially the turning point in his life regarding what he would do for those under the dominion of Communism (p. 14):
I will never forget my first encounter with a Russian prisoner, an engineer. I asked him if he believed in God. If he had said “no”, I would not have minded it much. It is the choice of every man to believe or disbelieve. But when I asked him this, he lifted his eyes toward me without understanding and said, “I have no such military order to believe. If I have an order I will believe.”
Tears ran down my cheeks. I felt my heart torn in pieces. Here stood before me a man whose mind was dead, a man who had lost a great gift God has given to mankind — his individuality. He was a brainwashed tool in the hands of the Communists, ready to believe or not on an order. He could not think anymore on his own. This was a typical Russian after all these years of Communist domination! After the shock of seeing what communism had done to human beings, I promised God that I would dedicate my life to these men, to give them back their personalities and to give them faith in God and Christ.
I’m glad Wurmbrand put an emphasis on faith in God and Christ (see also pp. 29-30 as well as Hebrews 11, Galatians 1-5 and Romans 1-5). While some of Wurmbrand’s Gospel language in the book could have used some cleanup, consider the condition he was in (described in the foreword) when he wrote this book; he wrote it in three days shortly after being released from prison. Wurmbrand even admitted that it had no literary value. When was the last time you saw an author openly admit in a book that it had no literary value? I never saw such an admission until I saw this book. Moreover, when you see the details of the tortures he endured, who knows what kind of impact it had on the technicalities of his theology.
I experienced what I call a “reader first” when I read chapter two; I almost did not want to continue reading for fear of reading more graphic tellings of what happened during Wurmbrand’s imprisonment. It was far and away the most impactful chapter in the book. After Wurmbrand briefly discusses the concept of “man-stealing” (p. 33), he explains some rather graphic details of prison life under the sub-heading “Unspeakable Tortures” (pp. 34-38). Please be aware that the following excerpt is rather graphic in nature (pp. 34-35):
A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep because he had to defend himself all the time. If he rested a moment, the rats would attack him.
He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The Communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. Eventually, they brought his fourteen-year-old son to the prison and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could, then he cried to his son, “Alexander, I must say what they want! I can’t bear your beating anymore!” The son answered, “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, ‘Jesus and my fatherland.'” The Communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood spattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. Our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.
Handcuffs with sharp nails on the insides were placed on our wrists. If we were totally still, they didn’t cut us. But in the bitterly cold cells, when we shook with cold, our wrists would be torn by the nails.
Christians were hung upside-down on ropes and beaten so severely that their bodies swung back and forth under the blows. Christians were also placed in ice-box “refrigerator cells,” which were so cold that frost and ice covered the inside. I was thrown into one while I had very little clothing on. Prison doctors would watch through an opening until they saw symptoms of freezing to death, then they would give a signal and guards would rush in to take us out and make us warm. When we were finally warmed, we would immediately be put back into the ice-box cells to freeze. Thawing out, then freezing to within minutes of death, then being thawed out — over and over again! Even today there are times when I can’t bear to open a refrigerator.
We Christians were sometimes forced to stand and wooden boxes only slightly larger than we were. This left no room to move. Dozens of sharp nails were driven into every side of the box, with their razor-sharp points sticking through the wood. While we stood perfectly still, it was all right. But we were forced to stand in these boxes for endless hours; when we became fatigued and swayed with tiredness, the nails would pierce our bodies. If we moved or twitched a muscle — there were the horrible nails.
Wurmbrand details many more experiences in jail in the book In God’s Underground. If the book details experiences as graphic and gut-wrenching as the ones in the above excerpt, I may not be able to review the book should I decide to read it (although I might anyway simply for the sake of perspective). This is what was happening to Christians in and around 1967. Considering how things in the world have gotten worse since then, I can’t imagine that this type of torture has ceased.
Here’s another gut-wrenching story that happened to a young girl (pp. 37-38):
One of our workers in the Underground Church was a young girl. The Communist police discovered that she secretly spread Gospels and taught children about Christ. They decided to arrest her. But to make the arrest as agonizing and painful as they could, they decided to delay her arrest a few weeks, until the day she was to be married. On her wedding day, the girl was dressed as a bride — the most wonderful, joyous day in a girl’s life! Suddenly, the door burst open and the secret police rushed in.
When the bride saw the secret police, she held out her arms toward them to be handcuffed. They roughly put the manacles on her wrists. She looked toward her beloved, then kissed the chains and said, “I thank my heavenly Bridegroom for this jewel He has presented to me on my marriage day. I thank Him that I am worthy to suffer for Him.” She was dragged off, with weeping Christians and a weeping bridegroom left behind. They knew what happens to young Christian girls in the hands of Communist guards. Her bridegroom faithfully waited for her. After five years she was released — a destroyed, broken woman, looking thirty years older. She said it was the least she could do for her Christ. Such beautiful Christians are in the Underground Church.
This is a real-life thing that happened to a real-life girl. The crime? Spreading a real Gospel to real people in need of some really good news (more on that later).
Wurmbrand had to endure something in addition to torture; he had to endure brainwashing. He called it the “most horrible torture” (p. 38). He described it as follows:
We had to sit for seventeen hours a day — for weeks, months, and years — hearing:
Communism is good!
Communism is good!
Communism is good!
Christianity is stupid!
Christianity is stupid!
Christianity is stupid!
Several Christians have asked me how we could resist brainwashing. There is only one method of resistance to brainwashing: it is “heart washing.” If the heart is cleansed by the love of Jesus Christ, and if the heart loves Him, one can resist all tortures. What would a loving bride not do for a loving bridegroom? What would a loving mother not do for her child? If you love Christ as Mary did, who had Christ as a baby in her arms, if you love Jesus as a bride loves her bridegroom, then you can resist such tortures.
God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love. The Christians who suffered for their faith in prisons could love. I am a witness that they could love God and men.
The tortures and brutality continued without interruption. When I lost consciousness or became too dazed to give the torturers any further hopes of confession, I would be returned to my cell. There I would lie, untended and half dead, to regain a little strength so they could work on me again. Many died at this stage, but somehow my strength always managed to return. In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut eighteen holes in my body.
When my family and I were ransomed out of Romania and brought to Norway, doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars in my lungs from tuberculosis, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle! According to their medical books, I should have been dead for years. I know myself that it is a miracle. God is a God of miracles.
I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church in persecuted countries. He allowed one to come out alive and cry aloud the message of your suffering, faithful brethren.
Wurmbrand goes on to explain how he never saw a Bible or any other book during his fourteen years of prison (p. 49). He even admits to forgetting the Holy Scriptures because of all the starvation, druggings and tortures (p. 49). Can you imagine going fourteen years without seeing a Bible or a book? Can you imagine sitting for seventeen hours a day for weeks/months/years hearing constantly, “Christianity is stupid!”? Such things certainly had to have impacted him tremendously.
By this point, you’ve seen the concept “Underground Church” multiple times. Wurmbrand states three groups represent it:
- “Thousands upon thousands of former pastors and ministers who have been removed from their churches and from their flocks because they would not compromise the gospel” (said pastors risking more torture and re-arrest by doing underground meetings; p. 116)
- Lay people (pp. 116-118)
- “Faithful pastors in the official, but bridled and silenced ‘churches'” (pp. 118-120)
Wurmbrand explains more about who the Underground Church is in chapter five (pp. 93-120). This Church basically works under difficult conditions while trying to win Communists to Christ. While Wurmbrand suggests that the underground ministers really have no theological training (p. 93), that does not mean they’re incapable of refuting the Communists’ faulty atheism. Consider this excerpt (pp. 101-102):
On one occasion a Communist was giving a lecture on atheism. All factory workers were required to attend; among these workers were many Christians. They sat quietly hearing all the arguments against God and about the stupidity of believing in Christ. The lecturer attempted to prove that there is no spiritual world, no God, no Christ, no hereafter; man is only matter with no soul. He said over and over that only matter exists.
A Christian stood up and asked to speak. Permission was given. The Christian picked up his folding chair and threw it down. He paused, looking at it. He then walked up and slapped the Communist lecturer in the face. The lecturer became very angry. His face flushed red with indignation. He shouted obscenities and called for fellow Communists to arrest the Christian. He demanded, “How dare you slap me? What is the reason?”
The Christian replied, “You have just proved yourself a liar. You said everything is matter…nothing else. I picked up a chair and threw it down. It is truly matter. The chair did not become angry. It is only matter. When I slapped you, you did not react like the chair. You reacted differently. Matter does not get mad or angry, but you did. Therefore, comrade professor, you are wrong. Man is more than matter. We are spiritual beings!”
While the Christian did not use Scripture in this scenario, he certainly proved the atheist wrong. He did this despite likely receiving no theological training. That’s not too shabby.
The fourth and final highlight I note in this book is the verse that has been the theme verse for The Voice of the Martyrs since 1967. That verse is Hebrews 13:3. For context, I start at Hebrews 13:1 (NKJV):
13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. 3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.
Consider the real-life tortures described in this book that have both happened and are perhaps still happening in the world today to Christians. Consider how they are brain-washed, beaten, kidnapped, arrested, frozen, thawed, re-frozen, stabbed/torn with nails, forced to stand for weeks while fighting off rats and, in the case of a father, forced to watch his son get beaten to death (with blood splattering everywhere). Consider how Wurmbrand went fourteen years in prison without seeing a Bible or a book. Christians are called to remember these people as if chained with them. How are you doing at that? I’m certainly doing an awful job. Prior to reading this book, I almost never really considered what persecuted Christians endure. It’s a wake-up call to say the least.
At this point, you’ve seen the graphic details of the various tortures. Now consider the heretical nonsense running wild in American evangelicalism today. Heretical, irreverent, Pharisaical, narcissistic, blasphemous Bible-twisters like Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren and Chris Hodges have both heavy influence and big churches in America. You also have arrogant, blasphemous and/or clueless hirelings like Henry Seeley, Todd Smith, Max Lucado, Joseph Prince, Ray Johnston and Steven Furtick that have a decent/big audience. Other people like Francis Chan, Brian Houston, Priscilla Shirer, Bob Goff, Andy Stanley, Jefferson Bethke, Gary Chapman, Rick Renner, Tony Evans, Christine Caine, Louie Giglio, Richard Rohr and Henry Blackaby also blaspheme God and/or engage in really irreverent behavior (i.e., twisting God’s Word, perverting the Gospel, approving heretics, etc.). Consider also such heretical/irreverent movements such as the Pentecostal-Charismatic Movement and the Seeker/Purpose-Driven movement. How much worse false teachers/movements are they in light of the Christians who are getting tortured, martyred and/or brainwashed for preaching the biblical Gospel? This is something to think about.
Wurmbrand has written an eye-opening work with Tortured For Christ. While one certainly needs to read it with discernment (like you would any book), one can’t help but wonder just how much of an impact all the torture and brainwashing had on Wurmbrand. His courage in telling the graphic details about what happens to persecuted Christians in Communist nations should be a wake-up call for all Christians. May all Christians take up the admonition of Hebrews 13:3 by remembering the prisoners as if chained with them. Somewhere, Christians are legitimately and graphically suffering for the name of Christ. Oh may we never lose sight of that.
Recall earlier that I detailed the gut-wrenching story of the bride-to-be. Her crime was spreading a real Gospel to real people who really need good news. We all need this good news because by default, we all (including Wurmbrand and the girl) were born dead in trespasses and sins.
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.Ephesians 2:1-10 (NASB)
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).
21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea.2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among the people, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be anymourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give water to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life, without cost. 7 The one who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and sexually immoral persons, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”Revelation 21:1-8 (NASB)
The Bible is clear that all liars will have their part in the lake of fire. No adulterer, no murderer, no idolater, no unbeliever (among others) will inherit the kingdom of God (see also 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Sin has a very serious consequence.
Thankfully, Jesus Christ came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news. This is the good news people like Wurmbrand and the girl were spreading. This is the good news that got both of them severely tortured.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Perhaps you have tortured Christians. You can repent and be forgiven of that too. Please do so before it is too late.
NOTE: Since Wurmbrand is deceased, I cannot send him my review. I instead sent it to The Voice of the Martyrs via their contact form online.