In the late nineties the church I attended was privileged to host and hear from a very old man called Richard Wurmbrand as he recounted something of his life story. The account is published as Tortured For Christ and I have often reflected since that this book, together with some selected works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (especially Discipleship), and Brother Yun’s The Heavenly Man should be required reading for all who say they follow Christ – and especially for anyone in any kind of leadership therein.
The world may not always be a comfortable place to follow Christ, and if it is, perhaps we are not.
I am re-reading the book now. And as and when I get chance I intend to post a portion or two and leave you to ponder its application as I do.
Wurmbrand had been an atheist Jew. In the years before WW2 he had lived a dissolute self centred life, quite successfully it seems. His outlook on life was Marxist with whom he agreed that religion is the opiate of the people. He met the lady who was to become his wife and began to settle down a little, but had no sense of conscience for those he had cheated in business or any other relationships.
Then the old lifestyle of drinking and smoking and little sleeping while chasing women (and catching many of them) caught up with him. He had a weak constitution and when he caught tuberculosis he was terribly sick and drawing near to death. He was twenty seven.
He was sent to an isolated sanatorium in the Carpathians to breathe fresh air and receive treatments. His wife Sabina, herself Jewish and atheist, believed she would be widowed when he was told it was 50/50.
It was there and now, coughing up blood “in an isolated sanatorium, Richard prayed his first hesitant prayer. “God, I’m absolutely sure You don’t exist,” he whispered. “But if, by some chance, You do exist, it isn’t my job to believe in You. It’s Your job to reveal Yourself to me.”
As it turned out, Richard wasn’t the only man praying to God in the rural hills of Romania. High up in the mountains, in a village as isolated as the sanatorium, an aged German carpenter named Christian Wölfkes had spent the entire night on his knees praying to God. For years he and his wife pleaded for the chance to lead a single Jew to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. For hours at a time, the couple poured out their hearts before their Creator, praying over their Bible and interceding with tears for the salvation of the Jew they had never met.
“My God,” he prayed aloud, “I’ve served You on earth, and I want to have my reward on earth as well as in heaven. And my reward should be that I shouldn’t die before I bring a Jew to Christ, because Jesus was from the Jewish people.” He sighed. “But I’m poor, old, and sick. I can’t go around and find a Jew. In my village, there aren’t any. Bring a Jew into my village, and I’ll do my best to lead him to Christ.”
When Sabina visited she found her husband slightly better physically but troubled spiritually.
“I’ve been thinking about the past,” he said to her. “All the people I’ve hurt. … My mother. All the girls you don’t even know about.” He drew in a sharp breath and confessed, “For my entire life, I’ve thought only about myself.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Sabina said dismissively. “My life hasn’t been much different. We’re young; that’s what people do.”
But God was not done with either of them. What happened next is a challenge and a great encouragement to me as I pray! Remember how specific the prayer was. How passionate. And how very far from God both Richard and Sabina were – in many ways the last people one might expect to become believers in Jesus Christ! Who do you know, who do you think is too far gone?
One afternoon as he and Sabina wandered through the cobblestone streets, Richard encountered a feeble old man who invited them into his home. His name was Christian Wölfkes. When Christian discovered Richard was Jewish, his eyes filled with tears. “I asked God to grant me one favor at the end of my life,” he said, gripping Richard’s arm with a calloused hand. “Because Christ was a Jew, I wanted to bring a Jew to Him. But since there aren’t any here, and since I can’t leave the village, I knew God had to send me one. And here you are! An answer to my prayer!”
Christian handed him a tattered Bible, worn out from years of use. As Richard flipped through its tear-stained pages, Christian added, “My wife and I have prayed for hours over this, asking for your conversion.”