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A Prison Code

Pastor Wurmbrand’s prison

“Jail is no hindrance to a useful Christian life” — Pastor Richard Wurmbrand

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was arrested in the mid-20th century in Romania for his Christian witness and activities. The story below tells about something that happened when he was in prison. Read the story, then tell how your name would be tapped in the improved code used by the prisoners. (For example, if your name is John, the first letter of your name would be signaled by 2 taps, then 5 taps.)

The Code
Tap. Tap. Tap. One day Pastor Wurmbrand heard a faint tapping on the damp concrete wall of his solitary cell. “What could it mean?” he wondered.

Tap. Tap. Tap. The noise continued. Pastor Wurmbrand tapped back. Suddenly a burst of taps erupted by his bed. He realized that the prisoner in the next cell was trying to teach him a code.

A = 1 tap
B = 2 taps
C = 3 taps
And so on.

“Who are you?” was the first message Pastor Wurmbrand’s neighbor sent him. “A pastor,” Pastor Wurmbrand replied.

It took a long time to send a message. The prisoners improved the code so it wouldn’t take so long. In the new code, one tap stood for the first five letters of the alphabet, two taps for the second group of five, and so on. Another tap told whether the letter was the first, second, third, fourth, or fifth letter in its group. So “B” was a single tap, followed by a pause, then two more taps.

The Improved Code
A = 1 tap, pause, 1 tap
B = 1 tap, pause, 2 taps
C = 1 tap, pause, 3 taps
D = 1 tap, pause, 4 taps
E = 1 tap, pause, 5 taps
F = 2 taps, pause, 1 tap
G = 2 taps, pause, 2 taps
And so on.

Morse Code
Then his neighbor, who had been a radio engineer, used this code to teach Pastor Wurmbrand Morse code. After that, they used Morse code to tell jokes, spread news, and even share chess moves. (Pastor Wurmbrand sometimes played chess with himself using tiny bits of bread as chess pieces.) Pastor Wurmbrand also taught prisoners Bible verses and shared the gospel with unbelievers using the code.

The Torchlighters: The Richard Wurmbrand Story

Pastor Richard Wurmbrand saw an opportunity when the Communists came to his homeland of Romania. He wanted to show them the love of Christ. But preaching the word of God and refusing to bow down to Communist leaders gave him a one-way ticket to prison. Watch the video clip to see what happened when his son visited him in prison.

Find out more about Torchlighters DVDs here.

Student and leader guides for The Torchlighters: The Richard Wurmbrand Story DVD are also available in the Downloads section of this site.


Food was scarce in Romania during Richard Wurmbrand’s time in prison. “Our staple diet was maize meal, of which we made a kind of porridge called ‘mamaliga,’” said a friend of the Wurmbrands. “So we had mamaliga for breakfast, dinner, and supper, if we were lucky enough to have three meals a day.”

Try this mamaliga recipe.
(Photo from The Torchlighters The Richard Wurmbrand Story Leaders Guide)

1. Boil 2 cups of water in a small saucepan.
2. Gradually pour in ½ cup of yellow corn meal and ¼ tsp. salt, stirring constantly with a wire whisk.
3. Reduce the heat to low and continue stirring for about 3 to 5 minutes until thick.
4. Pour into a bowl or rectangular dish about 6 by 9 inches.
5. Cool. Cut into strips or squares.

How Pastor Richard Wurmbrand Got in Trouble — Again

Pastor Wurmbrand and his wife, Sabina, sat in a concert hall filled with pastors, priests, and bishops. One by one, they stood up and praised not God, but a government leader who hated the church. Sabina leaned over and whispered, “Richard, so many pastors are afraid to stand up for God.”

“If I take a stand, I may be arrested,” said Richard. “This is not the time to be afraid,” replied Sabina.

Richard stood up and walked to the stage. “How can we obey a government that closes our churches and won’t let us own a Bible? We must defend our God!”

The crowd stood up. Some shook their fists and yelled at Richard. Others cheered his courage to stand up for Christ. Richard knew that the police could arrest him any day.

Pastor Wurmbrand was arrested, and he spent a total of 14 years in Romanian prisons before he and his family left the country. He started The Voice of the Martyrs 50 years ago in 1967. He wanted VOM to help the families of persecuted Christians, because he and his family had been persecuted for standing up for Christ. The story above tells about just one of the many times he and Sabina refused to dishonor God.

How Pastor Richard Wurmbrand Got in Trouble

In Pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s country of Romania in the mid-1900s, Christians had many enemies. Iron Guard terrorists scared Christians, and both the police and the Iron Guard worked with the German Nazis, who occupied the country. The policed arrested many Christians. Pastor Wurmbrand was arrested and questioned, just because he was a pastor. Each arrest became a lesson that prepared him for harder times to come.

Pastor Wurmbrand’s Story
I was standing at the pulpit one Sunday when the terrorists appeared. They filed silently into the back of the church and sat down. No one else saw them enter. The congregation waited eagerly for me to begin my sermon. Then I saw the guns in the strangers’ hands. I thought to myself, “If this is going to be my last sermon, it should be a good one.”

My sermon told about the hands of Jesus, who wiped away tears and fed the hungry. His hands blessed children and healed the sick. “But you!” I raised my voice. “What have you done with your hands?”

The congregation stared in amazement. Their hands held Bibles! They didn’t know I was preaching to the terrorists. “You hurt innocent people with your hands!” I thundered. “Clean your hands, you sinners!” The terrorists whispered to one another and scowled. They clutched their guns while I said a closing prayer.

The puzzled church members began to leave. I came down from the pulpit, quickly stepped behind a curtain, slipped through a secret door, and locked it. Footsteps pounded behind me as I raced through hidden hallways, found my way to a side street, and escaped.

Later, after the Nazis lost power, a million Russian communist soldiers marched into Romania. They made the problems during Nazi times seem easy. But I loved the Russians! I had asked God to send me to Russia to be a missionary. But instead, he brought the Russians to me! Their leaders didn’t want them to learn about God, but to me, it was worth the risk to preach to them.

Pastor Wurmbrand was later arrested, and he spent a total of 14 years in Romanian prisons before he and his family left the country. He started The Voice of the Martyrs 50 years ago in 1967. He wanted VOM to help the families of persecuted Christians, because he and his family had been persecuted for standing up for Christ.