The Voice of the Martyrs was founded in the United States in 1967 by Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned and tortured by Communist authorities in his native Romania for 14 years.
While in prison, Pastor Wurmbrand envisioned a ministry that would focus on the plight of the persecuted Church, raise a voice on its behalf and provide encouragement and assistance to suffering believers.
His 1967 book, Tortured for Christ, provided a firsthand account of the brutality he and other Christians suffered at the hands of Communist oppressors, and it opened the eyes and hearts of Christians in the West who had never before heard of the atrocities happening to believers living in Communist nations.
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VOM through the decades
Richard Wurmbrand is born March 24, in Bucharest, Romania, the youngest of four boys in a Jewish family.
In a village in Romania, a godly carpenter named Christian Wölfkes prays for years to win a Jew for Christ. A young Jewish man and his wife arrive in his village. In 1938, the carpenter leads the Jewish strangers, Richard and Sabina Wurmbrand, to Jesus Christ.
Romania supports Germany in the war against the USSR and is host to German forces. Richard Wurmbrand, now a pastor, engages in evangelistic activities with the occupying soldiers. During the Nazi terror, Richard and Sabina are repeatedly beaten and arrested. Sabina's family perishes in the mass extermination of Jews in concentration camps.
Communists seize power in Romania and Russian troops pour into the country. Pastor Wurmbrand ministers to his oppressed fellow countrymen and to the Russian soldiers, printing one million Russian Gospels of John.
Richard and Sabina attend the “Congress of Cults.” As many religious leaders come forward to swear loyalty to the new Communist regime, Sabina tells her husband to “wipe the shame from the face of Jesus.” Richard, knowing the cost, steps forward and tells 4,000 delegates that their duty as Christians is to glorify God and Christ alone.
On Sunday morning, February 29, Pastor Wurmbrand leaves for church. Secret police kidnap Richard and place him in a solitary cell, designating him “Prisoner Number One."
The Communists arrest Sabina and assign her to forced labor on the Danube Canal. The Wurmbrands' 8-year-old son, Mihai, is left alone. Sabina is released in 1953 and continues to work with the underground Church. She is told her husband died in prison.
Richard is released after serving eight-and-a-half years in prison. He endured horrific tortures and was warned never to preach again, but he resumes the ministry.
Richard is turned in to the authorities by one of his own associates in the underground Church. He is arrested again and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Communism tightly grasps the East. Communist officials have little tolerance for those like Pastor Wurmbrand who refuse to deny Christ and worship the government. Many are imprisoned and tortured for years.
Pastor Wurmbrand is released from prison and resumes his work. Two Westerners cautiously make their way to the attic home of the Wurmbrands to see if the stories of Christians being imprisoned under communism are true. This is the first contact the Wurmbrands have with outside missionaries since their arrests.
Norwegian officials ransom the Wurmbrand family out of Romania for $10,000 USD. Though Romanian officials warn Pastor Wurmbrand never to speak of his prison experiences, he and Sabina embark on an international speaking tour.
In May, Pastor Wurmbrand testifies in Washington, D.C., before the Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee. His story spreads rapidly across the U.S. and the world.
Pastor Wurmbrand begins Jesus to the Communist World Inc. (JTTCW), later named The Voice of the Martyrs, in the United States and publishes his book Tortured for Christ. After reading the book, many Christians leave secular careers to serve the persecuted Church. Offices open around the world. A Dutch copy of Tortured for Christ reaches Klaas and Nellie Brobbel in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada.
Nellie hears Pastor Wurmbrand speak in Hamilton, Ontario. She begins raising awareness of the persecuted Church by organizing rummage sales, mailing proceeds to the Wurmbrands’ office in California. She arranges a speaking engagement for Pastor Wurmbrand in London, Ontario. Nellie applies for the position of secretary in Canada.
On May 6, 1971, the Canadian mission of JTTCW officially becomes a non-profit organization. Working out of a storefront, Nellie and the family babysitter process donations and receipts, while maintaining a mailing list and correspondence. The Voice of the Martyrs newsletters are mailed to Canadian subscribers. Klaas becomes the mission’s full-time director.
JTTCW missions worldwide smuggle Bibles and literature into countries and establish secret printing presses in at least six nations, as well as gospel broadcasts into several closed countries. Workers reach out to families of martyrs. The Wurmbrand missions adopt five main purposes, variations of which are still in place today.
The Canadian mission moves to a new location in Mississauga, Ontario. The fellowship of Wurmbrand missions worldwide officially becomes the International Christian Association (ICA) and continues collaborating on projects.
Mid to late 1980s
The Canadian mission finances literature translation for pastors and their churches throughout Latin America, and provides resources for the daily needs of persecuted believers. Civil unrest leads to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The Ceausescu’s oppressive regime in Romania ends, bringing peace. The ministry now freely transports aid and Christian material to Romania without threat of imprisonment. Bibles, Christian literature and newsletters reach millions and appear in at least 20 languages.
The Soviet Union dissolves. JTTCW increases aid to Eastern European countries. The mission shifts its emphasis to other areas, such as Laos, areas in the Middle East, Cuba, Tibet and Vietnam. Resources flow into Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. JTTCW is renamed The Voice of the Martyrs (VOM).
Tens of thousands of printed materials enter restricted nations. Used Bibles and books are sent to northern Nigeria, where radical Muslims destroy hundreds of churches. Eighty thousand balloons filled with Scriptures are floated across the North Korean border. Bible distribution into China increases as officials crack down on unregistered house churches. Families victimized by a guerrilla movement in Peru also receive assistance.
For the first time, some tribal villagers in Vietnam receive Bibles in their own language, and VOM workers broadcast gospel programs into the Middle East. The Mission Sudan project provides Bibles and daily necessities for displaced Sudanese Christians. The mission’s weekly email service, The Persecution and Prayer Alert, begins and www.persecution.net launches.
Work expands into Egypt and Colombia, and pastoral training courses are held in Colombia and Sudan. VOM helps widows, orphans and remote-area pastors in Nigeria, while work continues in Pakistan, North Korea, China, Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Sabina Wurmbrand passes away on August 11.
The mission sends a short-term work team to Romania and launches a microloan program in Ethiopia for young people who were driven from their homes and into poverty because of their faith in Christ. The Canadian mission moves to its current location in Mississauga. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand passes away on February 17.
Weekly radio programs directed to northern Africa, Saudi Arabia and Eritrea launch. VOM continues to help Christians who suffered for their faith in former Communist nations. Former CEO Rev. Glenn Penner writes In the Shadow of the Cross, a theological study of persecution in the Bible that is translated into 13 languages. Persecution.tv, VOM's multimedia website, launches.
Rev. Glenn Penner is named CEO. A Volunteer Ministries program begins.
2010 to present
After an ongoing battle with cancer, Glenn steps aside as CEO. Corey Odden becomes the CEO on January 4, 2010. Glenn passes away on January 26, 2010. In partnership with Seoul-USA, VOM’s Christmas Blessing Fund provides 2,000 gift packages for North Korean Christians. Sixteen VOM offices are serving the persecuted Church worldwide in more than 50 countries. VOM continues in Pastor Wurmbrand’s vision of serving persecuted Christians worldwide.