Sabina Wurmbrand (1913-2000)
While many in today's world speak of peace, for thousands in the church today, their world screams of a different word…persecution. These Christians suffer for no other reason than for following Jesus Christ. For the greater part of the 20th century, one woman devoted her life to speaking out for the underground church in Eastern Europe.
Sabina Oster Wurmbrand was born on July 10, 1913 in Czernowitz, a city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which became a part of Romania after WWI and part of the Ukraine after WWII. She was born into a Jewish family and the town where she grew up was an important educational and cultural hub for the Jewish faith. She graduated from high school in Czernowitz and then studied languages at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In 1936, at the age of 23, Sabina met and married Richard Wurmbrand. While the couple was vacationing that year in the mountains of Romania, both Sabina and Richard were converted to the Christian faith. Upon returning to their home in Bucharest, they joined the Anglican Mission Church.
During occupation of Romania during World War II, Sabina's parents, two sisters, and one brother were killed in Nazi concentration camps. In the ensuing years, the couple spent their time rescuing Jewish children from ghettos that they were forced to live in by the Nazi regime. They also taught in bomb shelters and were arrested several times for underground Christian activities.
After the war, a million Russian troops poured into Romania, enabling the Communists to seize power. As the communists attempted to control the churches for their own purposes, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand immediately began an effective "underground" ministry to their enslaved people and the invading Russian soldiers. The Wurmbrands also traveled to Budapest, smuggling in goods and food that were needed by refugees living there.
During her travels, Sabina actively spoke to the Russian occupation troops about the Christian faith. In 1946-47 she organized Christian camps for Romania's religious leaders of all denominations and conducted street meetings with gatherings of up to 5,000 people. She organized a soup kitchen in Bucharest which served 1,000 people a day during a severe drought. This was the beginnings of what would become "Voice of the Martyrs," a missionary organization that she founded with her husband to help the persecuted church around the world.
So effective was the work of the Wurmbrands that Richard was eventually arrested in 1948 after which he spent a total of 14 years in Communist prisons, three of those years in solitary confinement, suffering much at the hands of his captors. Not many women have had their faith tested like Sabina. Although she suffered much sorrow and loss during the war and post-war years, she never gave up her faith. During Richard's imprisonment, Sabina selflessly helped the persecuted church, while struggling herself for survival for her and her young son.
After Richard's arrest by the Communist government in 1948, Sabina encouraged young ministers to continue underground Christian activity. She was arrested in 1951 and taken to a labor camp to build a river canal. She spent three years in Romanian slave labor camps and prisons, leaving her young son to live on the streets. After being released, she spent several years under house arrest. The Communist leaders offered her freedom if she would divorce her husband and renounce her faith. She refused. They then told her that her husband died in prison. She would not believe the report and kept a hope alive that she would see her husband again someday.
In 1964 Richard was released from prison and returned home. He soon resumed his work. In 1965, the Wurmbrand family was ransomed from Romania for $10,000 and Richard was warned again not to preach. The family traveled to Scandinavia and England before arriving in the United States, where Richard testified before the Senate in Washington, D.C. regarding his inhumane treatment in Communist prisons. His story and the stories of many thousands of persecuted Christians from behind the Iron and Bamboo Curtains were carried across the world in newspapers in the USA, Europe and Asia.
For the rest of their lives, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand worked with The Voice of the Martyrs to serve the persecuted church around the world. Christians are persecuted and imprisoned in Vietnam, China, North Korea, Cuba, Laoas, and even still in the former Soviet Union. In the Middle East and in parts of Africa, Christians are threatened on a daily basis by radical Muslims. Many Christians are killed each day… yes, even today. The Voice of the Martyrs strives to bring practical and spiritual assistance to them, while making their voice heard.
Sabina actively spoke to churches, groups and conferences for 32 years after the founding of the ministry and accompanied her husband to testify at Congressional hearings on religious persecution. She wrote her prison memoirs in a book The Pastor's Wife which detailed her testimony and has been published in six languages. In it, she wrote:
"Those of us who had faith realized for the first time how rich we were. The youngest Christians and the weakest had more resources to call upon than the wealthiest old ladies and the most brilliant intellectuals.
"Since so many honest and good pastors were now arrested it fell more and more upon their wives to build up the Underground Church. Dozens of us became self-taught 'ministers';through talking to people we learned to preach. Women came from every part of the country to Bucharest to ask advice and report on how the church fared with them. Soon we found that nearly all our time went to this work.
"The West is still arguing about whether women should be ordained. In the East this problems has found its own solution. For wherever, under Communism, pastors are imprisoned, their wives become pastors in their place, ordained by Jesus' pierced hands."
Sabina Oster Wurmbrand lived to be 87 years old. She died in California on August 11, 2000. Her husband, Richard followed her in death on February 17, 2001. Their ministry to the persecuted church still continues into the 21st century through the on-going efforts of The Voice of the Martyrs in 30 countries (Press "p" to visit their website).