The main character in Tortured for Christ is not a Wurmbrand. It’s this woman

Tortured for Christ is often described as the life story of Rev. Richard Wurmbrand. In fact, however, Rev. Wurmbrand is not the main character of the movie or the book. The main character is a woman, but she is not Sabina, his wife. The main character is not listed in the movie credits or on the book cover, nor is she mentioned by name in any of the promotional materials. In fact, you can only see her in the movie and book at all if Christ reveals her to you, and that may only occur after you have read or seen the story several times.

The chance to catch even a glimpse of this woman is the only real reason to watch and read Tortured for Christ. If you do not see this woman, you will simply think of Tortured for Christ as a kind of a heavy and slightly dated story about a pastor who paid a high price for following Jesus, and you will wonder why the movie opens with Rev. Wurmbrand being tortured and closes with him still in prison. What kind of a movie opens with a torture scene and closes with a prison scene? Definitely no movie that anyone wants to see.

This movie, this book, is made to reveal her. Who is she?

She is the Underground Church.  

As Rev. Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ, “Before entering prison, I loved Christ very much. Now, after having seen the Bride of Christ (his spiritual Body) in prison, I would say that I love the Underground Church almost as much as I love Christ Himself. I have seen her beauty, her spirit of sacrifice.”

This is the reason why Tortured for Christ takes place in prison: To see her, you must look in prisons and the most closed countries. The Underground Church does not appear in wealthy, free places where people have rights and dignity and good food and running water. But Rev. Wurmbrand would say that South Korean Christians are deprived because Sarang Church on Easter morning, Myungsung Church in early morning prayer, and Yoido Full Gospel Church’s Prayer Mountain—all wither in comparison to the beauty of the Underground Church, in North Korea and in the other darkest places of the world.

Rev. Wurmbrand wrote in Tortured for Christ, “Whoever has known the spiritual beauty of the Underground Church cannot be satisfied anymore with the emptiness of some Western churches.” Presumably the thought applies to South Korean churches as well.

That is why Tortured for Christ is not about torture, not about Rev. Wurmbrand, not simply about standing up for Jesus no matter the cost.

It is about her, the Underground Church.

Watch the movie. Read the book. Perhaps like Christ, the Apostle Paul, and Rev. Wurmbrand, you will be transfixed by her as well.

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Martyrdom precedes persecution, not the other way around

We must learn how the Bible tells stories of persecution and make sure our modern accounts reflect biblical theology.

Unfortunately, these days many accounts of Christian persecution are told like news stories designed to advance the narrative that Christians are increasingly in danger and in need of the prayers of other Christians and the protection of governments. The accounts make the persecutor the actor, the martyr the victim, and God the absentee deity who must be summoned back to the scene by our prayers in order to put an end to the violence.

Biblically, however, martyrdom is the cause of persecution, not the other way around. Martyrdom means making a witness: We witness to the character of God in the midst of those who remain slaves to sin and who are mobilized by the enemy to oppose the good news. Wherever a witness to the character of God is made, the enemy mobilizes his slaves to silence it. But the most vital part of the witness is yet to come: The character of God is fully revealed only on the Cross, where Christ willingly enters into suffering love rather than revile those who persecute him. Christ calls us, his witnesses, to follow him by taking up our own crosses: Thus, our witness to the character of God is complete when we voluntarily suffer in love rather than revile our own persecutors.

This biblical understanding should re-train what we pay attention to in martyrdom. What is important is the witness to the character of God, not the world’s predictable violent response to that witness. We don’t pray in order to summon God to the scene; instead, we give thanks because God has entered the scene, through the witness of the martyr.

So we pray Romans 8:17 for the persecuted: As they share in the sufferings of Christ as his co-heirs, may they be glorified with Christ. We pray 2 Corinthians 1:5 for the persecuted: As the sufferings of Christ overflow to them, so also may the comfort of Christ overflow to them. And instead of calling on governments to protect Christians as though we were an endangered species, we pray 2 Timothy 1:8: That God by his power may grant us to join the persecuted in suffering for the gospel.

That is what makes the stories of Asia Bibi, Pastor John Cao, Cha Deoksun, and the Iraq Bakery Christians so important. They are not victims of violence whose lives testify to the need for greater governmental protection of Christians. They are signs of Christ’s daily advance into the very heart of darkness to liberate captives. We praise God that he has never forgotten those trapped in sin. We imitate those who have responded to the call of Christ to take up their crosses and not revile those who hang us upon them. And our word to the nations is not “Protect us” but in the words of Early Rain Church Pastor Wang Yi, “You are engaging a battle against Christ that you cannot win.”

Jesus Christ is Lord. Our suffering is not the result of our weakness but rather of the merciful, unconquerable love of our Lord for sinners who know not what they do. 

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New Temptations for North Korean Christians

I recently did an interview with VOM Radio. The folks at Church in Chains  transcribed part of it. Much of this information I haven’t previously shared. Please receive it as guidance for your faithful year-end prayers on behalf of our North Korean brothers and sisters. As I note below, North Korean Christians are facing new, even more challenging temptations, no matter whether they live in Seoul, Pyongyang, Russia, or China.


Q. How have things changed for underground North Korean Christians?

A. There really hasn’t been any change for underground North Korean Christians or for most people in North Korea. The peace talks are not at all related to their daily situation. God has raised up a church in North Korea of about 100,000 believers; 30,000 of them are in concentration camps. Our responsibility is to be one body with that church. There is no political deal that can be made that entitles us biblically to sever ourselves from the body of Christ that God has raised up in North Korea.

Q. Has the peace process been affecting your work of VOM Korea?

A. In the 17 years since my wife and I founded VOM Korea this was by far the hardest year. Our situation has become so challenging in South Korea, because everything we do, as the South Korean government says, “fouls the air for peace”. We have always considered that everything that we do is unpolitical. But keep in mind that in 2014 the North Korean government responded to the UN annual report related to religious freedom by calling what missionaries do “acts of terror”. As the South Korean government tries to make peace with North Korea we become people who are associated with known terrorists. These are underground believers who, according to the North Korean government, are actively seeking to undermine the government in North Korea. So this year we faced active opposition to our work on a daily basis from not only North Korea, not only China, but from our own government in South Korea. The forecast is that things won’t get better, but will get harder.

Q. What is the greatest need of the church inside North Korea?

A. The first is to pray for the Lord to strengthen it in its current isolation. North Korean underground Christians are more isolated at this moment than they ever have been. The Chinese church for the most part has broken off relations with the North Korean church because of China’s own crackdown and the religious regulations that took effect in February.

Second, I don’t think we will see a change in the human rights situation. I think what we will see is a Chinese style move to capitalism and many in the West will breathe a sigh of relief and say: “Ah, wherever capitalism goes, the church is going to have an easier time.” Someone forgot to tell the Chinese Christians that because they are living in a world of hurt.

The challenge we see is North Korean Christians who were tortured for Christ inside of North Korea and who, when they come to South Korea, literally every single one of them, is struggling in their faith. When they have come into a situation of prosperity, they feel pressure to work, to make money for their family back in North Korea, they get caught up in the things of the world. Interestingly what they have said to me is: “When we were being beaten, we could withstand that because we had an inner strength. Now it’s the inner strength that is being attacked because we are feeling these temptations. Temptations to focus on money and saying that ‘I have to be the one to provide for my family and my relatives.’” All of these things are of course true, but Satan has a way to working those temptations up inside of us.

It’s an odd prayer request, but we are trying to help North Korean Christians to be prepared for facing economic prosperity. Unfortunately that is often held up as a God and they can participate in those things to the degree that they are loyal to the government. It is a bit of a “mark of the beast” action going on. South Korean Christians are giving economic opportunity that is being mediated to the North Korean people through the North Korean government. The North Korean government is saying that if you participate in the Juche ideology, you can have access to these things. This is a whole new set of challenges for North Korean believers.

Pray for North Korean Christians in their isolation, pray for them in their temptation. Pray for them in these “mark of the beast” moments, that they will remain faithful. They are still being beaten externally and I don’t see that changing any time soon. But pray that as a new set of temptations dawns on them, this will not overwhelm them.

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