PREPARE FOR THE UNDERGROUND CHURCH - NOW
“Then Ananias answered, ‘Lord I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he has done to Your saints in Jerusalem.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake’” (Acts 9;13,15,16).
To my knowledge, there exists not one single theological seminary, Bible school, or university in the whole world that has a course on the Underground Church. You may learn in seminaries about Sebalianism and Apollinarianism. Five minutes after you have finished the seminary, you forget about them. You probably will never meet a Sabelian or an Apollinarian. We learn about the Coptic Church and about all kinds of small sects that we might never meet in our life. The Church underground is the Church of one-third of the world, men who had never thought before that they would have to belong to an underground church. While America was preoccupied with Watergate, Communists took over fifteen countries. Islam and Humanism are gaining influence and power. Christian pastors must know what an underground church looks like and what it does. I spoke with a bishop in Britain for an hour or so about underground church work. Finally, he said, “Excuse me, but you speak of my hobby; I am very interested in church architecture. Would you please tell me if the underground church use Gothic styles in the building of churches?”
If I would tell you who this bishop is, you could not bear even to imagine how a man with so great a name could ask such a question.
The Underground Church is comparatively unknown. We have it right next-door, but we are not ready to join it and we are not trained for it. Every Christian pastor now has the whole world as his parish and we must know this because we might pass though tragic circumstances. Even if we do not pass though these tragic circumstances we have a duty to help and to instruct those who do pass through them.
In Muslim nations, in Red China, and so on, many believers have become victims. Many have gone into prisons and many have died in prison. We cannot be proud of this. The better thing would have been to be so well instructed on how to do underground work and not be captured.
In a war, those who die for their fatherland are not admired as much as the heroes who make the enemy die for their fatherland. It is not I who should die for my fatherland; he should die for his. I admire those who know how to work so well that they are not caught. We have to know the underground work.
Preparing for Suffering
Suffering cannot be avoided in the Underground Church, whatever measures are taken, but suffering should be reduced to the minimum.
It is not possible to give a course on the Church underground in a short time. I would urge you to ask your synod or denomination to introduce courses on the Underground Church.
What happens in a country when oppressive powers take over? In some countries the terror started at once, as in Mozambique and Cambodia. In other places religious liberty follows as never before. And so it begins. Some regimes come to power without having real power. They do not have the people on their side. They have not necessarily organized their police and their staff of the army yet. In Russia, the Communists immediately gave great liberty to the Protestants in order to destroy the Orthodox. When they have destroyed the Orthodox, the turn came for the Protestants. The initial situation does not last long. During that time they infiltrate the churches, putting their men in leadership. They find out the weakness of pastors. Some might be ambitious men; some might be entrapped with the love of money. Another might have a hidden sin somewhere, with which he may be blackmailed. They explain that they would make it known and thus put their men in leadership. Then, at certain moment the great persecution begins. In Romania, such a clamp-down happened in one day. All the Catholic bishops went to prison, along with innumerable priests, monks and nuns. Then many Protestant pastors of all denominations were arrested. Many died in prison.
Jesus, our Lord, told Ananias: “Meet Saul of Tarsus. He will be My underground pastor, My underground worker.” That is what Paul was – a pastor of an underground church. Jesus started a crash course for this underground pastor. He started it with the words, “I will show him how many things he must suffer…” (Acts 9:16)
Preparation for underground work begins by studying sufferology, martyrology. Solzhenitsyn, in his book Gulag Archipelago, says that police officers in the former Soviet Union had a course on arrestology – the science of how to arrest people so no that nobody around shall observe. If they have created a new name, arrestology, lest us create the name of sufferology.
Later, we will look at the technical side of underground work, but first of all there must be a certain spiritual preparation for it. In a free country, to be a member of a church, it is enough to believe and be baptized. In the Church underground it is not enough to be a member in it. You can be baptized and you can believe, but you will not be a member of the Underground Church unless you know how to suffer. You might have the mightiest faith in the world, but if you are not prepared to suffer, then you will be taken by the police. You will get two slaps and you will declare anything. So the preparation for suffering is one of the essentials in the preparation in the underground work.
A Christian does not panic if he is put in prison. For the rank-and-file believer, prison is a new place of witness for Christ. For a pastor, prison is a new parish. It is a parish with no great income but with great opportunities for work. I speak a little of this in my book With God in Solitary Confinement. In other books I mention Morse Code, which is also a part of the training for the Underground Church. You know what this is – a code by which messages are conveyed. Through this code you can preach the gospel to those who are to your right and left. The prisoners always change. Some are taken out from the cell and others are put in. God has given many Christians who have been in prison the privilege to bring to Christ, through Morse Code, men whom they have never seen. Others, after many years, meet these men whom they have brought to Christ through Morse code. I have had several parishes in common cells.
In parishes in the free world on Sunday morning, you may ring a bell. If any wish, they come to church – if not, they do not come. If a man does not like your sermons this Sunday, the next Sunday he stays away. He does not come in any case if it rains. But where you have prison as your parish, you have your parishioners with you the whole day. Free parishioners look at their watch: “Already he has preached for thirty minutes. Will he never finish?” When arrested, watches are taken away from you; you have the parishioners with you the whole week and can preach to them for morning to night! They have no choice. There have never been, in the history of the Romanian, nor the Russian Church, so many conversions brought about as there have been in prison. So do not fear prison. Look upon it as just a new assignment given by God. I remember that when I was arrested for the second time, my wife told me as I embraced her before going with the policemen, “Richard, remember what is written, ‘You will be brought before rulers and kings to be testimony unto them.’” (Matthew 10:18)
Men can accept this. But what about the terrible tortures that are inflicted on prisoners? What will we do about these tortures? Will we be able to bear them? If I do not bear them, I put in prison another fifty or sixty men whom I know because that is what the oppressors wish from me, to betray those around me. Hence comes the great need for preparation for suffering, which must start now. It is too difficult to prepare yourself for it when you are already in prison.
I remember we had a case in Romania where a pastor of twenty years had sinned with a woman. Other pastors debated this question. It was said: “His sin has not been what he has done on that evening; the circumstances were such that he could not resist temptation. Rather that twenty years before, when not thus tempted, he had not said to himself, ‘During my pastoral life different things will happen to me. Among other things I will be tempted to sexual sin. I will not commit it then’”. You have to prepare yourself beforehand for all eventualities. We have to prepare for suffering.
Truth About the Truth
How much each one of us can suffer depends on how much he is bound with a cause, how dear this cause is to him, and how much it means for him.
In this respect we have had in Communist countries very big surprises. There have been preachers and writers of Christian books who have become traitors. The composer of the best hymnal of Romania became composer of the best Communist hymnal of Romania. Everything depends on whether we have remained in the sphere of words or if we are merged with divine realities.
God is the Truth. The Bible is the truth about the Truth. Theology is the truth about the truth about the Truth. A good sermon is the truth about the truth about the truth, about the Truth. It is not the Truth. The Truth is God alone. Around this Truth there is scaffolding of words, of theologies, and of expositions. None of these is of any help in times of suffering. It is only the Truth Himself who is of help, and we have to penetrate through sermons, through theological books, through everything there is “words” and be bound up with the reality of God Himself.
I have told in the West how Christians were tied to crosses for four days and four nights. The crosses were put on the floor and other prisoners were tortured and made to fulfill their bodily necessities upon the faces and bodies of the crucified ones. I have since been asked, “Which Bible verse helped and strengthened you in those circumstances?” My answer is, “No Bible verse was of any help.” It is sheer cant and religious hypocrisy to say, “This Bible verse strengthens me, or that Bible verse helps me.” Bible verses alone are not meant to help. We knew Psalm 23: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want… though walk through the valley of the shadows of death…”
When you pass through suffering you realize that it was never meant by God that Psalm 23 should strengthen you. It is the Lord who can strengthen you, not the psalm that speaks of Him doing so. It is not enough to have the psalm. You must have the One about whom the psalm speaks. We also knew the verse, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9). But the verse is not sufficient. It is the grace that is sufficient and not the verse.
Pastors and zealous witnesses who are handling the Word as a calling from God are in danger of giving holy words more value than they really have. Holy words are only the means to arrive at the reality expressed by them. If you are united with the Reality, the Lord Almighty, evil loses its power over you; it cannot break the Lord Almighty. If you have only the words of the Lord Almighty, you can be very easily broken.
The preparation for underground works is deep spiritualization. As we peel an onion in preparation for its use, so God must “peel” from us what are mere words, sensations of our enjoyments in religion, in order to arrive at the reality of our faith. Jesus has told us that “anyone [who] desires to come after” Him will have to “take up his cross” (Matthew 16:24), and Jesus Himself showed how heavy this cross can be. We have to be prepared for this.
Look at the world’s way! An advertisement for a pornographic magazine inflames the imagination. In just the same way, we have to inflame the imagination by having before us spiritual realities. We have to make spiritual exercises. I am very sorry that spiritual exercises are almost unknown in Protestantism. We have to revive them in the Underground Church. Spiritual exercises may have been misused by some Catholics, and then the Reformation came. There exists always the movement of the pendulum. If one has fallen to one extreme, another will fall into the other extreme.
Because some abused the use of false spiritual exercises, others would not make spiritual exercises at all. We have to have not only our moments of prayer in which we speak, but we should have moments of meditation and contemplation. We can read in Hebrews 11 the long list of those who were sawn asunder, burned on stakes, and devoured by lions, but we must also visualize those things. Now I am before lions, I am beaten, I am in danger of being burned, etc. How do I behave in this matter?
I remember my last Sunday school before I left Romania. I took a group of ten to fifteen boys and girls on a Sunday morning, not to church, but to the zoo. Before the cage of lions I told them, “Your forefathers in faith were thrown before such wild beasts for their faith. Know that you also will have to suffer. You will not be thrown before lions, but you will have to suffer at the hands of men who would be much worse than lions. Decide here and now whether you wish to pledge allegiance to Christ.” They had tears in their eyes when they said, “Yes”.
We have to make the preparation now before we are imprisoned. In prison you lose everything. You are undressed and given a prisoner’s suit. No more nice furniture, nice carpets, or nice curtains. You do not have a wife anymore and you do not have your children. You do not have your library and you never see a flower. Nothing of what makes life pleasant remains. Nobody resists who has renounced the pleasures of life beforehand. There is a verse in Colossians about putting to death your members which are on earth. Ignorant and zealous Catholics have imposed some superstitions and penances. Protestants have given up mortification altogether. But there exists a Christian mortification, a “giving up” of the joys of the earth. The Christian who prepares himself for this now will not suffer the loss of them when he is prison. You have to use the things of the world without allowing an emotional attachment.
I personally use an exercise. I live in the United States of America. Can you imagine what an American supermarket looks like? You find there many delicious things. I look at everything and say to myself, “I can go without this thing and that thing; this thing is very nice, but I can without; this third thing I can without it, too”. I visited the whole supermarket and did not spend one dollar. I had the joy of seeing many beautiful things and the second joy of knowing that I can go without.
We also had liberal modernist theologians. None of them resisted any torture. “Why should I die for a dead God and a problematic Bible? If the stories of Adam and Eve are not true, if Joshua did not stop the sun, if the prophecies were written many years after they were fulfilled, if Jesus was not born of a virgin and if He did not rise bodily from the dead – then there are more lies in the Bible than in the Soviet newspaper Pravda. Why should I go to death for what is not true or at least remains problematic?”
Doubt makes traitors
I am Jewish. In Hebrew, the language that Jesus Himself spoke and in which the first revelation has been given, the word “doubt” does not exist. To doubt is as wrong for a man as it would be for him to walk on four legs – he is not meant to walk on four legs. A man walks erect; he is not a beast. To doubt is subhuman.
To every one of us doubts come, but do not allow doubts about essential doctrines of the Bible – such as the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the existence of eternal life – to make a nest on your mind. Every theological or philosophical doubt makes you a potential traitor. You can allow yourself doubts while you have a nice study and you prepare for sermons, and you eat well, or you write a book. Then you can allow yourself all kinds of daring ideas or doubts. When you are tortured, these doubts are changed into treason because you have to decide to live or die for this faith.
One of the most important things about the spiritual preparation of an underground worker is the solution of his doubts. In mathematics, if you do not find the solution you may have made a mistake somewhere, so you continue until you find out. Don’t live with doubts, but seek their solution.
Test of torture
Now to come to the very moment of tortures. Torture is sometimes very painful. They use red-hot irons. Sometimes it is a simple beating. We have all been spanked as children and beating is just another spanking. A simple beating is very easy to take. Jesus has said we should come to Him like children, which is rather like candidates for spanking!
A doctor came to me and said. “What should I do? I think about throwing myself through the window. They call me again and again and wish to make me an informer on the Underground Church. They threaten me that they will beat me if I don’t accept it. What should I do? It is terrible to think that they will beat me. I can’t take it. I have the alternative to become an informer, or to throw myself the window.” I said, “You have another solution. Give a stick into your husband’s hand and tell him to give you a good beating and you will see how can your bear it.” Don’t be afraid of a beating.
However, with us, Communists did not stop at beatings- they used very refined tortures. Now torture, you must know, can work both ways. It can harden you and strengthen your decision not to tell the police anything. There are thieves who resist any tortures and would not betray those with whom they have cooperated in theft. The more you beat them the more obstinate they become. Or, torture can just break your will.
Now I will tell you of one very interesting case that was published by the Czech Communist Press. You will know that under Dubcek there was a period of relaxation and then they could publish certain things in Czechoslovakia. An article appeared at that time. Novotny, who was the predecessor of Dubcek and who was a Communist dictator, had arrested one of his intimate comrades, a Communist leader, a convinced atheist, and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. (Not only Christians, Jews, or patriots were in prison. One Communist arrested another and tortured him just as they would do to anybody else.) They arrested this Communist leader and put him in a prison cell alone. Electromagnetic rays, which disturb the mind, passed through his cell. A loudspeaker repeated day and night: “Is your name Joseph or not Joseph?” (His name was not Joseph.) “Think it over. Are you Joseph or are you not Joseph? The biggest criminal in America has been Dillinger, but you are a bigger criminal than Dillinger. What is your first name? Is it Joseph or is not Joseph? You are a counter-revolutionist, you are a spy, but are you are Joseph or not Joseph?”
They tried to drive him mad. Day and night. He felt he would lose his mind. At certain moment, he got an illumination. “I have now met unmitigated evil. If Communists torture a Christian, it is not absolutely evil because Communist believe that they will construct an earthly paradise. Christians hinder them, so it is right to torture Christians. But when a Communist tortures a Communist, it is torture for torture’s sake. There is absolutely no justification for it. But wait a little bit. Every coin has two sides, every electric cable has two poles. If there is an unmitigated evil, against whom does this unmitigated evil fight? There must be an unmitigated good. This is God, and against Him they fight.”
When he was called to the interrogator, he entered smiling into the room and told him that they could switch off the loudspeaker now because it had attained its result. “I have become a Christian.” The officer asked him, “How did it happen?” He told him the whole story. The officer said, “Wait a little bit.” He called a few of his comrades and said, “Please repeat the story before my comrades.” He repeated the story, and the captain told the other police officer, “I told you that this method will not work. You have overdone it.”
The devil is not all-mighty and all-wise like God. He makes mistakes. Evil torture is an excess that can used very well spiritually.
Moment of Crisis
Torture has a moment of explosion, and the torturer waits for this critical moment. Learn how to conquer doubt and to think thoroughly. There is always one moment of crisis when you are ready to write or pronounce the name of your accomplice in the underground work, or to say where the secret printing shop is, or something of that kind. You have been tortured so much that nothing counts anymore; the fact that I should not have pain also does not count. Draw this last conclusion at the stage at which you have arrived and you will see that you will overcome this moment of crisis; it gives you an intense inner joy. You feel that Christ has been with you in that decisive moment. Jailers today are now trained and refined, aware that there is a moment of crisis. If they cannot get anything you in that moment, then they abandon torturing: they know its continuation to be useless.
I have been told since I was a very young Christian to read every day; and so I also read with my son, Mihai, since he was three or four, reading a page of the Bible and of the life of a saint or martyr. I read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; read it to your children. Teach them how martyrs overcame the moment of crisis.
There are a few more points in connection with torture. It is very important to understand what Jesus said: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things” (Matthew 6:34). I had fourteen years of prison. Brother Hrapov had twenty-six, Wong Ming-Dao had twenty-eight. It seems impossible to bear long years of prison. You are not asked to bear it all at once. Do not bear even one day at a time—bear an hour at time. One hour of pain everybody can bear. We have all had a terrible toothache, a car accident – passing, perhaps, through untold anguish. You are not meant to bear pain more than this one present minute. What amplifies pains is the memory that I have been beaten and tortured so many times and that tomorrow they will take me again, and the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow I might not be alive – or they might not be alive. Tomorrow there can be an overthrow, as in Romania. Yesterday’s beating has passed; tomorrow’s torture has not come yet.
I am a professor in torturology. At first, torture is a terrible shock and a terrible pain. It does not continue to be so. Cardinal Mindszenty was not allowed to sleep for twenty-nine days and nights. After this he declared whatever they asked of him. Now, what happened? After a few days and nights and lack of sleep, or after a few days of intense physical torture comes a moment when nothing counts for you anymore. You forget about your duties toward your wife and toward your children, toward your own good name and toward God. You become absolutely indifferent to everything. This is the critical moment when the need to breathe rightly is a reality. Practice breathing right.
The art of breathing means much in the Hindu and Buddhist religions in their exercise of yoga. Read now about different kinds of breathing in the Bible. Jesus “breathed” upon the apostles. It is said that Jesus breathed upon them the Holy Spirit. So there is a certain manner of breathing which conveys the Holy Spirit. In the Orthodox Church, at baptism, the priest and the godparents breathe three times upon the child. When Jesus breathed, He breathed the Holy Spirit. It is written in Acts 9 that Saul breathed out “threats and murder.” There are murderers who breathe crime. It is written in the Book of Jeremiah of some “who neigh after other men’s wives.” It is the breathing of an adulterer. There is one breathing in high emotions. Try once to quarrel with somebody while breathing quietly, rhythmically and deeply. You will find you cannot quarrel.
Right breathing is one of the means of resisting torture. Betrayal means rupture with the whole Church. You are a Christian in whom God and so many men trust. You have been entrusted with secrets of the Underground Church. To betray would be a powerful emotion. You cannot quarrel with somebody and shout at them while you breathe rhythmically and deeply. Neither can you pass through deep emotion of betrayal if breathing so. Under torture, breathe as a traitor cannot breathe. Breathe rhythmically, quietly – very deep to the heel. The oxygenation gives a resistance to the whole body, which balances your reactions and gives you a poised attitude.
Another thing an underground worker must know, not with his head only, but with his fingertips: he should know that he belongs to the body of Christ. He belongs to a body that has been flogged for nearly 2,000 years. It has always been flogged, not only by Golgotha, but under the Roman emperors and by so many persecutors. It has been flogged under the Nazis and had been flogged in Russia for over seventy years. When converted I have consciously become part of a body that is a flogged body; a mocked body; a body spat upon; and one crowned with a crown of thorns, with nails driven into the hands and feet. I accept this as my possible future fate. I will never think upon Jesus Christ as only having been crucified 2,000 years ago. The sufferings of Jesus in His mystical body must become a reality for me.
The Bible teaches some words very hard to take: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). These words mean almost nothing in a free country.
You probably know from The Voice of the Martyrs literature that thousands of children have been taken away from their parents in the former Soviet Union because they were taught about Jesus Christ. You must love Christ more than your family. There you are before a court and the judge tells you that if you deny Christ you may keep your children. If not, this will be the last time you will see them. Your heart may break, but your answer should be, “I love God.”
Nadia Sloboda left her house for four years of prison. Her children were taken from her, but she left her house singing. The children, for whom the police waited with a truck to take them as she left, told their singing mother, “Don’t worry about us. Wherever they put us, we will not give up our faith.” They did not. When Jesus was on the cross, he not only suffered physically, He had his mother in front of Him, suffering. His mother had the Son suffering. They loved each other, but the glory of God was at stake and here any human sentiment must be secondary. Only if we take this attitude once and for all can we prepare for underground work.
Only Christ, the Great Sufferer, the Man of Sorrows, must live in us. There have been cases in Communist countries when Communist torturers threw away their rubber truncheons with which they beat a Christian and asked, “What is this halo that you have around your head? How is it that your face shines? I cannot beat you anymore.” It is said of Stephen in the Bible that “his face shone.” We have known cases of Communist torturers who told the prisoner, “Shout loudly, cry loudly as if I would beat you so that my comrades will think that I torture you. But I cannot beat you.” Thus, you would shout without anything happening to you.
There are other cases when prisoners really are tortured, sometimes to death. You have to choose between dying with Christ and for Christ or becoming a traitor. What is the worth of continuing to live when you will be ashamed to look into the mirror, knowing that the mirror will show you the face of a traitor?
To think in this manner is the first requisite for being an underground worker, especially an underground pastor—and what is even more important, an underground pastor’s wife. She plays an exceptional role. She has to strengthen him; she has to give him courage to do all things. If she asks him for movies and casual enjoyments of life, he cannot be an underground fighter. She has to push him to work and to fight. She must sacrifice herself.
Learn to Be Silent
Another thing we have to learn in the Underground Church is to be silent. Pastors, by their very profession, are loquacious people, people who speak. Now, a pastor is not meant to speak the whole time. Nobody can preach well unless he listens well. When I look back to my dealing with souls, I have won more souls by listening to them than by speaking to them. People have so many burdens on their heart, and there is nobody who has patience to listen to them. Even your own husband has no patience, or your wife, or your children. The latter are young and wish to go away somewhere. There is nobody to listen to you. If somebody finds a man who listens, he is won without much talk. In the Underground Church, silence is one of the first rules. Every superfluous word you speak can put somebody in prison. A friend of mine, a great Christian composer, went to prison because Christians had the habit of saying, “How beautiful is this song composed by Brother _____.” They praised him, and for this he got fifteen years of prison. Sing the song, but do not mention the name of the one who has written it.
You cannot learn to be silent the very moment the country is taken over. You have to learn to be silent from the moment of your conversion. A Christian is a man who speaks little and with great weight. He thinks, if he should speak a word, whether it can harm or not. In the Underground Church every superfluous word can do harm.
Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Prize winner, said in an interview that the one who had been his greatest persecutor, the one who denounced him, was his own former wife. It is written in the book of Ecclesiastes not to tell the secrets of your heart, even to your spouse. This is the Word of God. God knew that we would have an underground church, and He knew that at a certain moment a spouse might become angry against you over some question. The secretary to Solzhenitsyn was put under such pressure by the Communists (as she had been denounced by Solzhenitsyn’s wife) that she finished by hanging herself. If Solzhenitsyn had kept silent, this would not have happened.
Another point that is very important: I thank God for the years that I passed in solitary confinement. I was, for three years, thirty feet beneath the earth. I never heard a word. I never spoke a word. There were no books. The outward voices ceased. The guards had felt-soled shoes; you did not hear their approach. Then, with time, the inner voices ceased. We were drugged, we were beaten. I forgot my whole theology. I forgot the whole Bible. One day I observed that I had forgotten the “Our Father.” I could not say it anymore. I knew that it began with “Our Father…,” but I did not know the continuation. I just kept happy and said, “Our Father, I have forgotten the prayer, but you surely know it by heart. You hear it so many thousand times a day, so you assign an angel to say it for me, and I will just keep quiet.” For a time, my prayers were, “Jesus, I love you.” And then after a little time again, “Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.” Then it became too difficult even to say this because we were doped with drugs that would destroy our minds. We were very hungry. We had one slice of bread a week. There were the beatings, and the tortures, and the lack of light, and other things. It became impossible to concentrate my mind to even say so much as, “Jesus, I love you.” I abandoned it because I knew that it was not necessary. The highest form of prayer I know is the quiet beating of a heart that loves Him. Jesus should just hear “tick-a-tock, tick-a-tock,” and He would know that every heartbeat is for Him.
When I came out from solitary confinement and was with other prisoners and heard them speaking, I wondered why they spoke! So much of our speech is useless. Today men become acquainted with each other and one will say, “How do you do?” and the other answers, “How do you do?” What is the use of this? Then one will say, “Don’t you think that the weather is fine?” and the other thinks, and says, “Yes, I think it is fine.” Why do we have to speak on whether the weather is fine? We do not take earnestly the word of Jesus who says that men will be judged not for every bad word, but for every useless one. So it is written in the Bible. Useless talking in some countries means prison and death for your brother. A word of praise about your brother, if it is not necessary, may mean catastrophe. For example, somebody comes to visit you and you say “Oh! I am so sorry you were not here before—Brother W. has just left.” The visitor could be an informer of the secret police. Now she will know that Brother W. is in town! Keep your mouth shut. Learn to do this now.
You cannot do underground work without using stratagems. I know of one case that happened in Russia. The Communists suspected that the Christians were gathering somewhere and they surveyed a street. They knew that the meeting must be there somewhere. They saw a young boy going toward the house where they supposed the meeting would be. The police stopped the boy and asked him, “Where are you going?” With a sad face, he said, “My older brother died, and now we gather the whole family to read his testament.” The police officer was so impressed that he patted the boy and said, “Just go.” The boy had not told a lie.
A brother had been taken to the police and was asked, “Do you still gather at meetings?” He answered, “Comrade captain, prayer meetings are forbidden now.” To this the captain replied, “Well, it is good that you conform with this. Just go.” The brother had not said that he conformed; he had not said that he did not go to meetings.
A courier of The Voice of the Martyrs went to a Communist country. He was stopped at the border and was asked, “What books do you have with you?” He said, “I have the words of Shakespeare and the words of Jehovah.” The police officer did not wish to show that he was ignorant. Jehovah might be some other great British poet and to say he had not heard of Jehovah would put him to shame. He said, “Okay, okay, just pass through.” These are permissible stratagems.
If angels exist as fairy tales to be told to children, I do not need them. Angels are a reality; we each have a guardian angel. Where Christians gather there are always devils, also. We have to rely on angels and the Holy Spirit. We are not obliged to tell an atheist tyrant the truth. We are not obliged to tell him what we are doing. It is indecent for his side to ask me questions, an impertinence.
If I would simply put to you the question, “How much money do you have in the bank?” or, “How much do you earn a month?” would it not be impertinent? Such questions should not be asked. You are not meant to ask a girl, “Do you have a boyfriend, or not? Are you already in love with somebody?” She might not wish to tell you something like this. So a man is not meant to press me about my religious activity if I do not wish to tell it to him. It is mixing in my private affairs. The atheistic state has no right to ask such questions, and we are not meant to answer them.
At interrogation, they put to you all kinds of questions. The Communists told me: “You are a Christian and you are a pastor. You are meant to speak the truth. Now tell us, who are the leaders of the Underground Church? Where do you gather? Who do you meet? Who are the leaders in the different towns?” If I had revealed the truth, there would have been innumerable arrests of men who, in their turn, would have declared the truth, etc. This must be resisted. Where the results of resisting are beatings and tortures, you have to take them upon yourself, even if you die.
I know a pastor who today has experienced pains as great as I had when I was beaten, because he played rugby. Something happened to his foot and it gives him terrible pains. For rugby, I can take upon myself pains and, when the pain disappears, will again play rugby knowing that some other accident might happen. So we take upon ourselves physical pains for rugby, which is a sport, a pleasure, and healthy for the body. In the same way, you take the physical pains of torture upon yourself to protect your brethren from being arrested. The worst thing that might happen is that you will die under tortures. But to die is the most natural thing in the world.
A beggar stopped at the house of a rich man and said, “Could I please sleep one night here? I do not have a place to sleep.” The rich man said, “Go away from here, beggar. This is not a hotel.” The poor man said, “I apologize; I will go further.” Then he said, “But would you first please answer me a question? I looked to this house. I found it so beautiful. Who has made this house?” Now the rich man felt flattered somehow and said, “This is the house built by my grandfather.” “And where is your grandfather now?” “He died a long time ago.” “Who lived in the house after your grandfather?” “Well, my father.” “Is he still alive?” “No, he also died.” “And who lives in the house now?” “I.” “And will you also die?” “Yes.” “And who will live in the house after you die?” “Well, I hope my children.” Then the beggar said, “Why do you shout at me? You said that this is not a hotel. It is a hotel room. You pack your things, somebody else comes.” Your mortality is obvious; take it as your view of life in general. If God wishes me to die today, he does not need a torturer. I can die by a heart attack without a torturer. So the torturer can never shorten my life by even one day. Never can the best restaurant with the finest dainties prolong my life one day. I die when I am called by God.
Not the slightest quarrel is permitted in the Underground Church. Every quarrel in the Underground Church means arrests, beatings, and perhaps death. Our adversaries watch and listen. They have their informers in the Underground Church. Whenever there is a quarrel, there are reciprocal accusations. The one would say to the other, “When you were with Brother Smith, you did this, etc.” So the police get Smith.
Quarrels always bring up names and bring out facts. Therefore, the word is written in the Bible, “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all” (2 Timothy 2:24). I know of one town in Romania where there was a terrible quarrel between two congregations. The one was Baptist and the other was Exclusive Brethren. It was such a terrible quarrel that it resulted in the arrest of the leaders of both congregations.
It would be better to start today to be a saint. It will be too late to start to be holy when you go to heaven! You will not know how to start it. You have to start it now. Then, if in the case of a takeover it would be better not to quarrel, the best thing is not to quarrel now.
Sadly, there are quarrels among organizations that work in dangerous circumstances. As far as possible they should be avoided. Even a family quarrel can mean death. I was in the same prison cell with a man who had a girlfriend. As it happens at a young age, he met another girl whom he preferred to the first girl. But to that girl he had told different secrets, and the girl informed the Secret Police. He got life-long prison. He went mad in jail.
The preparation for underground work is basic to the preparation for a normal Christian worker, only it is much deeper and it has to become much more real—a part of life. I know countries where many congregations are destroyed by a quarrel between two pastors or two elders of the church. It happens everywhere, but in an oppressive country it means imprisonment and perhaps death.
One of the greatest methods is not only physical torture, it is brainwashing. We have to know how to resist brainwashing. Brainwashing exists in the free world, too. The press, radio, and television brainwash us. There exists no motive in the world to drink Coca-Cola. You drink it because you are brainwashed. Plain water is surely better than Coca-Cola. But nobody advertises, “Drink water, drink water.” If water were advertised, we would drink water.
Some have driven this technique of brainwashing to its extreme. The methods vary, but brainwashing in my Romanian prison consisted essentially of this: we had to sit seventeen hours on a form that gave no possibility to lean, and we were not allowed to close our eyes. For seventeen hours a day, we had to hear, “Communism is good, Communism is good, Communism is good,…; Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead, Christianity is dead,…; Give up, give up,…” You were bored after one minute of this but you had to hear it the whole seventeen hours for weeks, months, years even, without any interruption. I can assure you, it was not easy. It is one of the worst tortures, much worse than physical torture. But Christ has foreseen all things because with Him there is no time. Future, past, present are one and the same: He knows all things from the beginning. Communists invented brainwashing too late! Christ had already invented the opposite of brainwashing—heartwashing. He has said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
Stephen, the first martyr for Christ, had around him hundreds with big stones in their hands to throw at him. He said, “I see…” And the wife of Stephen probably thought he saw the danger he was in and would run away. But he said, “I see Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) Perhaps she said (it is not recorded), “Don’t you see all the mob around you ready to throw stones at you?” “Oh yes! I see some little ants there below not worth mentioning. I look to Jesus.” He did not look to those who wished to kill him. Blessed are the pure in heart.
I had passed through brainwashing for over two years. The Communists would have said that my brain was still dirty. In the same rhythm in which they said, “Christianity is dead,” I and others repeated to ourselves, “Christ also has been dead, Christ also has been dead.” But we knew He rose from the dead. We remembered that we lived in the communion of saints.
We usually believe that the saints who have passed to the Lord are somewhere in the skies about the stars. The Bible tells us where they are. “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1). Why should they sit among the stars? They are here where the real fighters and sufferers are. In the world of the Spirit there exists no here and there. The notions of space and time do not exist in the world of the Spirit. We were isolated in prison, but they were around us. We felt the presence of the saints at all times. I personally had very much the feeling of the presence of Mary Magdalene. I thought during the brainwashing, “What are they telling me, that Christianity is dead? Supposing they are right, what difference does it make? Supposing there is not one single Christian in the world except me, what difference would it make? Mary Magdalene just loved Jesus. If Jesus was dead, she loved a dead Jesus. She stayed near the tomb of the dead Jesus who could do nothing for her. He could not lift a finger for her; He could do no miracle for her; He could not speak to her a word of comfort. He could not wipe away a tear—nothing. He was the Savior. So, what if you tell me He is dead? I love Him just as much as if He would be alive. If the whole Church had died or lost its faith, it is no motive for me to lose my faith.”
We have to arrive at a certitude of faith. I have told you that the words “to doubt” do not exist in Hebrew. This phrase does not exist in the Old Testament. May I point out to you another word that does not exist in Hebrew? I was often accused by leaders of the World Council of Churches. They wrote against me: “Wurmbrand paints the situation behind the Iron Curtain in white and black. It is not so. There exists the gray.” I reply that I accept this if they show me from the whole Testament the word “gray.” There exists in the New Testament many colors—“gray,” a mixture, does not exit. A thing is true or untrue; it is right or it is wrong. It is white or it is black. You have to go with the world or you have to go with Christ. So the Old Testament, the Hebrew, does not have the words “to doubt.” We must be sure in these problems of faith as we are sure about the table of addition or multiplication. Two and two are four. This is true. If my family is alive or has been killed, if I have enough or if I starve, if I am free or if I am in prison, if I am beaten or if I am caressed, the truth of mathematics does not change. Two plus two caresses are four caresses, and two plus two beatings make four beatings.
The certainty of Truth and a love like that of Mary Magdalene enable you to resist brainwashing. Resist to the extreme.
I do not wish to pose as a hero. I am a man, and as every man, I have my flaws and my weaknesses. Therefore, we exist as a Church to encourage each other in moments of weakness. Under such terrible pressure I, at a certain moment, whispered to a brother near me—a Presbyterian minister and a very good Christian—“Brother, I believe that I have lost my faith. I don’t think I am anymore a believer.” He, with a smile that never left him, asked me, “But did you ever believe?” I said, “Yes, surely I did.” He said, “Then remember one verse of the Bible. When the virgin Mary came to Elizabeth, Elizabeth told her, ‘Blessed is she who believed.’ It is the past tense. If you have believed in the past, you are blessed. Live on in this blessedness.” I cannot tell you what those words meant to me under those circumstances. I do not know how sound the theology is, but we did not live on theology at that time. We lived on past memories. Therefore, the Bible teaches us that we should bless the Lord and not forget his past blessings. Remember the past blessings even if you pass through a dark night of the soul.
One of the greatest problems for an underground fighter is to know how to fill up his solitude. We had absolutely no books. Not only no Bible, but no books, no scrap of paper, and no pencil. We never heard a noise, and there was absolutely nothing to distract our attention. We looked at the walls, that was all. Now, normally a mind under such circumstances becomes mad. Read great books about prison life (Papillon and other such books that are very valuable to read for a future underground worker) just to catch the atmosphere of prison as much as a free man can catch it. You will see the maddening influence of being alone for years with nothing to distract the mind. I can tell you from my own experience how I avoided becoming mad, but this, again, has to be prepared by a life of spiritual exercise beforehand. How much can you be alone without the Bible? How much can you bear to be by yourself without switching on the radio, or a record player, etc.?
I, and many other prisoners, did it like this. We never slept during the night. We slept during the day. The whole night we were awake. You know that a pslam says, “Behold, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who by night stand in the house of the Lord” (Psalm 134:1). One prayer at night is worth ten prayers during the day.
All great sins and crimes are committed during the night. The great robberies, drunkenness, reveling, adultery—this whole life of sin is a night life. During the day everyone has to work in a factory, college, or somewhere. The demonic forces are forces of the night, and therefore, it is so important to oppose them during the night. Vigils are very important. In the free world, vigils are largely unknown. In my country, even before the Communist takeover, we had vigils. My son, Mihai, when he was three and four years old, knew of vigils. The whole night we would pass in prayer. Small children of three and four, while we would pray, would also pray a little, then they would kick each other. We would scold them a bit, then they would pray again a little, and then they would fall asleep under some tables. That is how they were brought up with vigils.
In solitary confinement we awoke when the other prisoners went to bed. We filled our time with a program that was so heavy we could not fulfill it. We started with a prayer, a prayer in which we traveled throughout the whole world. We prayed for each country, for where we knew the names of towns and men, and we prayed for great preachers. It took a good hour or two to come back. We prayed for pilots, and for those on the sea, and for those who were in prisons. The Bible tells us about one of the great joys we can have, even in a prison cell: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15). I rejoiced that there were families somewhere who gathered with their children, read the Bible together, told jokes, and were so happy with each other. Somewhere there was a boy who loved a young girl and dated her; I could be happy about them. There they had a prayer meeting; and there was someone who studied; and there is somebody who enjoyed good food, etc. We could rejoice with those who rejoiced.
After having traveled through the whole world, I read the Bible from memory. To memorize the Bible is very important for an underground worker.
Just to make us laugh also a bit, I will tell you one thing that happened. Once while I lay on the few planks that were my bed, I read from memory the Sermon on the Mount, according to Luke. I arrived at the part where it is said, “When you are persecuted…for the Son of Man’s sake, rejoice in that day and leap for joy” (Luke 6:22,23a). I remembered it written like this. I said, “How could I commit such a sin of neglect? Christ has said that we have to do two different things. One, to rejoice, I have done. The second, to ‘leap for joy,’ I have not done.” So I jumped. I came down from my bed and I began to jump around. In prison, the door of a cell has a peep hole through which the warden looks into the cell. He happened to look in while I jumped around. So he believed that I had become mad. They had an order to behave very well with madmen so that their shouting and banging on the wall should not disturb the order of the prison. The guard immediately entered, quieted me down and said, “You will be released; you can see everything will be all right. Just remain quiet. I will bring you something.” He brought me a big loaf of bread. Our portion was one slice of bread a week, and now I had a whole loaf, plus cheese. It was white. Never just eat cheese; first of all admire its whiteness. It is beautiful to look upon. He also brought me sugar. He spoke a few nice words again and locked the door and left.
I said, “I will eat these things after having finished my chapter from St. Luke” I lay down again and tried to remember where I had left off. “Yes, at ‘when you are persecuted for My name’s sake, rejoice…and leap for joy because great is your reward.’” I looked at the loaf of bread and the cheese. Really, the reward was great!
So the next task is to think of the Bible and to meditate upon it. Every night, I composed a sermon beginning with “Dear brethren and sisters” and finishing with “Amen.” After I composed it, I delivered it. I put them afterwards in very short rhymes so that I could remember them. My books With God in Solitary Confinement and If Prison Walls Could Speak contain some of these sermons. I have memorized three hundred and fifty of them. When I came out of prison, I wrote some of them down. Some fifty of them have been published in these two books. They were sermons I just uttered to God and to the angels. Angels have wings, and they take the thoughts to somebody else. (Now these sermons are published in many languages and are used.) We filled our time like this. I composed books and poems. I thought about my wife and children. Every night I told myself jokes, but always new jokes that I had not known before so that they were all optimistic. They showed how I felt then. One of the jokes was: A woman said to her husband, “Peter, what should I do? I sat on my false teeth, and I broke them.” The husband said, “Be happy, imagine how it would be if you had sat on your natural teeth.” So I saw the good side of things.
Out of bread I made some chessmen, some of them whitened with a little piece of chalk and the others gray. I played chess with myself. Never believe that Bob Fisher is the greatest chess master of the world. He won the last match with Spassky. He won eight games and lost two. I, in three years, never lost a game; I always won either with white or gray!
I have told you all these things because they belong to the secrets of the underground worker when he suffers. Never allow your mind to become distressed because then the Communists have you entirely in their hands. Your mind must be continually exercised. It must be alert, it must think. It must, everyone according to his abilities, compose different things, etc.
The Underground Church is not something new. After having worked in the Church underground I read the New Testament with new eyes. I read in the Acts of the apostles examples where apostles and disciples bore “other” names than formerly, and there are many examples of this throughout the New Testament (Revelation 2:17 being a sublime example).
Ø “JOSEPH, called BARNABAS, who was surnamed JUSTUS” (Acts 1:23).
Ø “JOSES, who was also named BARNABAS by the apostles” (Acts 4:36).
Ø “SIMEON who was called NIGER” (Acts 13:1).
Ø “JUDAS who was also named BARSABAS” (Acts 15:22).
Ø “JESUS who is called JUSTUS” (Colossians 4:11).
Why should James and John be termed “sons of thunder” and a Simon be called “Peter”? I have never known an explanation of this. We find so many names changed in the New Testament. Now this is exactly what happens in the Church underground. I had many names. When I went into a town or village, they would never say that Brother Wurmbrand had come. In one town it was Vasile, in another it was Georghescu, in another it was Ruben, etc. When I was arrested, I was Richard Wurmbrand, called so-and-so.
I believe in the literal inspiration of the Bible, not only in the verbal inspiration. Why then does it contain seemingly “useless” words? It was written in Luke, “Jesus prayed in a certain place.” (Luke 11:1) You have to be somewhere when you pray. Then why these words, “in a certain place?” It is written, “He came to a certain city.” Every city is a certain city, but this is exactly the language of the underground church. When I came back from a journey I would tell my wife, “I was in a certain city and a certain place where I met a certain brother. We decided that at a certain hour we would meet in a certain house.”
Jesus wished to have supper with His disciples (Luke 22:7-13). Now, the normal thing for Him would have been to say, “Go on to that-and-that street at number so-and-so, ask about Mr. XYZ, and there prepare a supper.” Instead of this He says, “When you are entered into the city, there shall a man meet you, bearing a pitcher of water; follow him into the house where he entereth in.” (Luke 22:10) (It would be a rare thing at that time for a man to “bear a pitcher of water” since women were those who went to the well.) This is exactly how we do it; when we have a prayer meeting we do not give an address because we do not know who is the informer. We say, “Stand at the corner of ‘that’ street, or sit there in a public park and you will see a passing man with a blue necktie or other sign. Go after him.” If anybody asks the other, “What is your name?” then we know he is an informer of the Secret Police.
The Underground Church is something that existed already in the time of the writing of the New Testament. We have critics who say that what we do is unlawful before God because a Church should not work underground. We have to obey the authorities. The World Council of Churches accuse us, but they give money to guerillas who do not obey the authorities. In the Bible it is written that he who has authority is a ruler who punishes evil and rewards good. An authority that forbids the Word of God puts itself outside of any human sphere. No Bible verse applies to it. Every authority has its laws and has its injustices and abuses because no government consists of saints. It consists of sinners. Every authority does right and wrong things. The principal thing is that they should not hinder a caterpillar from becoming a butterfly. They should not hinder a bud from becoming a flower; they should not hinder a sinner from becoming a saint. As long as they allow me this, I do not expect from them to be saints dropped from heaven. I expect from them that they do some good things and should sometimes have wrong laws which they can change after two or three years. I will respect them as an authority. But if they take away the very sense of my life, which is to prepare myself for a more beautiful existence in heaven, I do not feel any duty toward this authority. Our Mission just continues its underground work to help the Underground Church in Communist and Muslim countries.
I have given you just a glimpse of the problems which this Underground Church has so that you might, somehow, have an image of what it looks like.
May God bless you.
 In 1973, Solzhenitsyn wrote a controversial novel called The Gulag Archipelago. In this novel, he mentioned several individuals by name and, for their safety, was afraid to publish it. But the authorities somehow found out about this. Tradition says that it was Solzhenitsyn’s wife who told the authorities about this novel.
 The Exclusive Brethren are a branch of the Plymouth Brethren, a protestant sect of Christianity. They follow the teachings of a man named John Darby.
 Papillon is a novel written by Henri Charrière and published in 1969, about a man who is wrongly convicted of murder. He is sentenced to life in prison. When the protagonist of this movie attempts to escape prison, he is sentenced to solitary confinement. The guards starve the protagonist to learn the name of his co-conspirator. He never tells them.
 The World Council of Churches was originally quite skeptical of Rev. Wurmbrand’s claims of the suffering of Christians in communist countries. They listened instead to the reports of churches affiliated with the communist governments. These reports claimed that Christians in communist countries experienced full freedom of worship. The World Council of Churches also disliked Wurmbrand’s concept of an Underground Church. They considered it to be unethical since it did not operate with government approval. As more and more information became available about Christian persecution in communist countries, the World Council of Churches began to change their opinions about Rev. Wurmbrand.