The prison official shouts, “Give me their names!” But Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, tied up in a dark-and-dingy Romanian prison torture chamber, remains silent.
His face is bloodied, and his feet scarred from relentless beatings. The guards had offered him a deal: If he hands over the names of Christians to the Communist government, he would get a reduced sentenced – perhaps even be freed. He refuses.
“It’s only a matter of time,” the prison official tells him. “… Be reasonable. Your life belongs to me now.”
A weak Wurmbrand, struggling for breaths, responds, “My life is not my own. I belong to Christ.”
The gut-wrenching and inspirational story of Wurmbrand is well-known to Christians worldwide thanks to a series of books he wrote, but on Monday night (March 5) moviegoers will have a chance to watch his story unfold on the big screen when Tortured for Christ – based on the 1967 best-selling book by the same name — debuts. It was produced by The Voice of the Martyrs and will be in theaters only one night.
Wurmbrand was a Romanian Christian pastor in 1944 when Russian troops entered his country. Atheism became the official state religion, and those who proclaimed Christ were arrested and tortured.
Neither Wurmbrand nor his wife and children remained silent. His kids even made a game out of saying “God bless you” to the Russian soldiers. The children got away with such antics, but Wurmbrand and his wife did not. He spent 14 years in Romanian prisons and was frequently tortured. His wife, Sabina, was sentenced to hard labor.
The movie was filmed in Romania with Romanian actors, and some of the scenes even were filmed in a prison where he stayed.
Tortured for Christ shows Wurmbrand taking a stand for Christ from the get-go. When other church leaders succumbed to Communist doctrine at a “Congress of Cults” – a large public gathering of church and government leaders – Wurmbrand didn’t back down. His wife encouraged him.
“If I speak now, you’ll have no husband,” he whispers to his wife in the film.
She retorts, “I don’t need a coward for a husband.”
Wurmbrand took the podium that day and preached the gospel. Incredibly, he avoided immediate arrest.
Perhaps even more incredibly, Russian soldiers were open to the good news – and many became Christians due to his bold witness. To avoid confiscation of Bibles, Wurmbrand and his fellow believers had special Bibles printed with Karl Marx on the cover. “Marx on the cover, Jesus in the pages,” he says in the film. He even baptized one Russian soldier in his bathtub.
He was preaching on borrowed time, though, and he eventually was arrested and put in prison. The Russians assumed he would cut a deal and give them the names of all the Christians, but he refused.
Thus began 14 years of torture. He was beaten. He was burned. He spent three years in solitary confinement. In one particularly horrifying incident, he was forced to stand for hours and days in a box surrounded by sharp spikes. And through it all, he refused to recant his faith.
The film isn’t easy to watch, even if it inspires you. How many of us would be willing to face a gruesome death for Christ? How many of us would continue praying in a cell, knowing that such an action would result in physical punishment? And how many of us would be filled with so much joy in prison that we would sing hymns and make music with our prison chains – as he did?
Tortured for Christ is part documentary, part film. An actor voicing Wurmbrand’s words narrates it. It is unrated, although it likely would have received a PG-13 based solely on the violent images. It’s not gory, though. Most of the torture is implied. The film contains no coarse language or sexuality.
“We loved the Russians so much that we risked everything to bring them the gospel,” Wurmbrand says in the film.
Wurmbrand’s story is one that all Christians should know.
Tortured for Christ is unrated. It is not appropriate for young children. Find a listing of theaters at torturedforchrist.com
Michael Foust is a movie critic, a husband, and the father of four small children.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.