The Old Testament Heroes of the Faith were so inspiring to me. I started out studying them to find out what they had in common with each other only to discover how much I had in common with them myself!
Through the ministries of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, God exhibited his faithfulness not only to the Jewish people but also to the prophets themselves. These dedicated men were bright lights in a dark period of Israel’s history.
We also know from history the Babylonian exile wasn’t the only dark time the Jewish people would endure. Fast forward to the 20th Century around the 1930’s and 40’s known as another period of evil for the Jewish people as well as for the entire world.
But once again, God is so utterly faithful He strategically placed lights of hope throughout Europe. Through the dedication and bravery of these very special Christians, the power of love and forgiveness shown brightly.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Corrie ten Boom, and Richard Wurmbrand were just a few of the amazing Christians whose stories were full of love for people, courage for the Gospel, and defiance towards the enemy. Their lives and their ministries made a powerful impact not only in human history but also in the Kingdom of God.
Just like our OT brothers, I found myself fascinated by their overlapping stories. Each of them in different parts of Europe, all around the same time period, living out their faith in Christ despite how much it cost them personally.
It would takes pages and pages to describe their stories for you, however, you can read the summary of their lives in these blog posts on the Christian Movements Project, a project created by Whitworth University’s Christian history students and edited by Dr. Keith Beebe in Spokane, Washington.
If you’ve never heard or read about these 20th Century heroes, you can read a great summary about each of them here:
Corrie ten Boom was a watchmaker in Holland written by Lauren Trittin.
Richard Wumbrand was a pastor in Romania written by Anna Waltar.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian in Germany written by Emily Larsen.
As a German, Bonhoeffer’s story was at the heart the Nazi’s rise to power. In the 1920’s & 30’s, he saw tensions rise in the German government and in the German church long before our other heroes were aware. His convictions against what the government was doing AND what the Church was NOT doing to stand up against them was so strong he chose not to escape like so many others. He chose to stay in Germany to fight against the evil and help as many Jews and Christians as possible. Although we have the benefit of reading the wealth of books, letters, and writings from Bonhoeffer, his story tragically ended in 1944 as a martyr in a German prison.
Corrie ten Boom was in Holland quietly making watches and loving on the people around her. Her story of bravery began to unfold around the late 1930’s as she began to hide Jews in her home and peaked with her miraculous release from a concentration camp in 1944. She lived the rest of her long life preaching, teaching, and living the love of God until she died in 1983
Richard Wurmbrand was courageously living out his faith in Romania in the late 30s and into the 1940s. As a leader of a secret church, he ministered to the Romanian believers as well as evangelizing the German soldiers occupying their country. His nightmare of imprisonment, persecution, and torture began in 1944 and didn’t end until 1969. After his release from prison, he spend the rest of his life preaching and working on behalf of persecuted Christians around the world until his death in 2001.
Though they didn’t know each other, and their lives never crossed paths, their ministries held many similar themes. Each of them were driven by their love for Jesus. This passion for the Savior overflowed into these overlapping spiritual themes inspire me to want to be more like them.
They put their faith into action-
Dietrich strongly believed no person should be persecuted for being a certain type of status or ethnicity. He created his own church organization to protest against the actions or inactions of the county’s National Church. Corrie taught classes for special needs children. The ten Boom family took in orphans and helped find them homes. Richard spoke out for allegiance to Christ at a time when other pastors and leaders were bending to Nazi pressure to give their loyalty to the oppressive state.
They loved the Jews-
Dietrich Bonhoeffer couldn’t stand the thought of what his country was doing to persecute the Jewish people. Through his work with the resistance movement, he helped many Jews secretly escape Germany.
Corrie’s father had always talked about the Jews as ‘the apple of God’s eye’. When the Germans started taking over in Holland and the Jews had to identify themselves by wearing a yellow start, Papa ten Boom, even as a Christian, wore the star of David to show his support of his adopted brothers. It was this love for God’s chosen people that motivated the ten Boom family to take such personal risks in helping them escape the occupation.
Richard himself was ethnically a Jew. Although his family had Jewish blood, Richard was raised as an atheist. Once he became a Christian, he wanted to help the Jews and tell them about Jesus.
They suffered persecution-
Dietrich was put in prison, physically tortured, and endured a ‘trial’ (which was a joke), and was eventually hung for treason against treason against the Nazi government.
After being in prison for 4 months, Corrie suffered the unending hardships working in a concentration camp with cold, hunger, and sickness with hundreds of other women.
Of the 3 Heroes we are discussing, Richard suffered the most for his faith. After speaking up for his allegiance to Christ at the Communist led rally, he was arrested and imprisoned by the police. He was held in an underground, secret prison for 14 years. Through this living nightmare, he endured horrific beatings, solitary confinement, and brainwashing torture. It only deepened his resolve and commitment to Christ.
They continued ministry even in persecution-
While in prison, Dietrich wrestled deeply with questions about God, theology and faith. We have the benefit of reading his many writings and letters that came from such personal searching and refinement.
Corrie and her sister, Betsie, held Bible studies and prayers meetings with the women in their quarters in the concentration camp. Corrie proclaimed “Jesus is Victor” to all the women.
Richard would preach and share the Gospel with other Christians in the prison. Often when a prisoner was taken away to be beaten for preaching about Jesus, he would return only to pick up preaching where he left off.
They did what was ‘wrong’ in order to do what was right-
Dietrich spoke out against the rising Nazi government and against the National church for succumbing to the Nazi pressure to conform. He eventually became part of a resistance group to obtain secret intelligence and possibly even try to overthrow Hitler.
Corrie hid Jews in her house and helped them to escape during the German occupation. She obtained ration cards in order to feed everyone under her roof. She miraculously smuggled a Bible into the concentration camp.
Richard lead a secret church in his home and helps others organize secret church meetings. No matter how hard they beat him and tortured him, Richard never stopped praying and preaching even in his dark cell underground.
They forgave their enemies-
Dietrich never gave up hope that Christians in his beloved Germany would eventually stand up and do the right thing.
Corrie recalled a time when she had the opportunity to forgive the man who had turned her family into the Germans for helping Jews. She admitted to feelings of hatred and resentment, but through the power of God’s love, she was able to forgive him.
Richard would be repeatedly beaten when he was found praying in his cell. One time a guard asked him why does he keep praying. Richard responded, “I am praying for you”. Even in the depths of his own suffering, Richard interceded for the guards who were in spiritual prison even as they tortured Wurmbrand.
They had passion for the Gospel-
Dietrich served the church in many ways. After one trip to America, he realized his love for Jesus as more than just academic and intellectual thinking, and his faith became a living relationship with Jesus. Although his life was cut short, Dietrich made a powerful impact that we still feel today with his writings on Christian theology and discipleship.
After being miraculously released from the concentration camp by a clerical error, Corrie lived out the rest of her long life passionately telling people all over the world about the power of God’s love and forgiveness.
After his horrific 14 years in prison, Richard Wurmbrand didn’t go into retirement feeling he deserved time off. Instead, he went around the world talking and preaching on behalf of other persecuted Christians which lead the the development of Voice of the Martyrs.
How does this affect me today?
I know this brief summary of the lives of these amazing Heroes is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s no way I could adequately tell all there is to tell about them and do it justice. But, when I read their stories and watch the movies and documentaries about their lives, I am amazed at the stamina and persistence of their faith. Their determination to stand for Christ overflowed from a deep well of love and devotion to Christ. Just like a lump of coal under pressure turns into a diamond, so were these Heroes’ faith refined into its purest form.
Their physical bodies withered from the neglect, pain, and torture, but their spirits flourished from the presence of Christ coursing through them! They poured out their lives on the least and the worst, and God grew something beautiful and eternal in the darkness. They were evidence….proof…..that allowing their lives to be planted like a seed, even dying for the sake of Christ, would reap a harvest for the Kingdom many times over!
Why do I feel compelled to reach back into the Scriptures and into history to study these Heroes of the Faith? Other than learning about their fascinating lives, why does it matter to us?
It matters because we are going to be called upon to have this kind of faith TODAY and in the LAST DAYS.
It matters because in our cushioned, easy, first-world existence we need to be ready to stand up for our faith. The foreshadow of persecution is already growing over our nation with the legislation to control our behavior, the eroding of our religious liberty, and the shouting down of our voices in the public square.
It matters because brothers and sisters in Christ already experience severe and deadly persecution all over the world as the enemy attempts, as he’s always done, to stamp out the light of Christ.
Seeking to understand these Heroes will help us see that not only is survival under difficult circumstances possible, but the mission to build God’s Kingdom will grow and thrive under this pressure. If we can comprehend that powerful ministry is possible even during exile, that God will reveal His Glory and Majesty even in the darkest of prisons, and that true love can triumph over pure evil, then we can know it’s possible for us too.
Just like all the other Heroes of the Faith, let’s do what Hebrews 12:1-2:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the [a]author and [b]finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
What can you do to be more like these Heroes of the Faith?