Truck and tank engines rumbled as caravans of Nazi German soldiers conquered town after town, eventually occupying nearly the entire European continent. Boots pounded on cobblestones and crass commands echoed in unfamiliar languages while desperate cries rang through the streets. Gunfire and screams became every day’s soundtrack as German soldiers flooded Romania in 1940.
Under the Nazi occupation, Jewish people, whether devoutly practicing or of ethnic and cultural identity, were persecuted. They were beaten and shot in the streets. Others were carted away to camps to face inhumane abuse and extermination. Unprecedented evil blanketed Europe. Taking a stand against the overwhelming darkness required great courage.
Among the brave warriors for Christ taking that stand were Sabina and Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian Christian couple who’d both been born into Jewish families. The Wurmbrands, like many other believers during WWII, dealt with the heart-wrenching decision to stand up for their faith or slip back into the shadows, avoiding risk but letting evil prevail. In the midst of physical and spiritual battles, the Wurmbrands offered forgiveness to their persecutors. They demonstrated love to their enemies and chose to think of them as a mission field, an opportunity to share Christ’s love, rather than give in to fear.
As followers of Christ, the Wurmbrands understood their higher calling. They knew, through Scripture and their own lives, that trials and adversity will come. They chose to sacrifice safety, comfort and familiarity to live on mission and further the Gospel. For their Kingdom work, Sabina was imprisoned three years, including many months in a labor camp helping build the Danube Canal. Richard spent 14 years locked away and tortured in Communist prisons. Sabina continued their ministry of spreading Christ’s promises while prison walls separated her from her husband, then was joined by Richard upon his release to continue their underground church ministry.
Putting their own lives at risk, the Wurmbrands lived as the hands and feet of Christ. After being ransomed out of Romania by Christians in the West, they established The Voice of the Martyrs, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving persecuted Christians and bringing relief to the families of those imprisoned for their faith in Christ.
Persecution didn’t end after the book of Acts, or after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Christians in more than 70 nations face persecution today. I’ve met many believers who, like the Wurmbrands, will endure any hardship, and even give their lives, rather than deny Christ. I often ask, near the end of those conversations, how Christians in the free world can help them. Their first request: “Pray for us!”
Prayer is powerful. It reaches across the world’s most closely guarded borders and into the darkest prison cells. It joins the hearts of Christians in free nations with those suffering for wearing the name of Christ. International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, observed annually on the first Sunday of November, is a bugle call for Christians in free nations to join in ministry with our brothers and sisters who serve the same Savior we do but without governmental protections we enjoy.
It is also an opportunity for all of us to be inspired by the example of people like Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand—those willing to pay any price to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. May we go and do likewise.
Todd Nettleton is host of The Voice of the Martyrs Radio and the author of When Faith is Forbidden: 40 Days on the Frontlines With Persecuted Christians. Todd serves as a voice for persecuted Christians, inspiring U.S. Christians with the faithfulness of Christ’s followers in 70-plus nations where they face persecution for wearing His name. The Voice if the Martyrs and Lifeway are releasing “Sabina: Tortured for Christ, The Nazi Years,” Nov. 8-10, through a special Fathom Event.