Tarzier Memoirs

Part III Two Decades of Freedom



In the mid-1920’s I met beautiful Olga Shoenvald, age 22, a nurse from Dundaga and Ventspils, the daughter of a railroad conductor. Along with her sister Alvine, Olga was active in Fetler’s Mission work. We were married in 1927 and would share our lives until Olga’s death in the US in 1964.

Pastor Fetler presided at the ceremony in the new Salvation Temple. Always a bit of a ham, Fetler made a circus of our wedding. We sat on the stage for almost two hours while he showed the crowd how a proper Baptist wedding should be performed. Needless to say, I was immensely relieved when the ceremony was finally over. He did authorize a wedding dinner at the Mission House and a two-week honeymoon on the Riga beaches, courtesy of the Mission.

Olga and I settled down in Ludza after the honeymoon (see On to Latgale). Our first son Janis was born there a year later, on Midsummer Day 1928. I was away in Riga when I received a telegram that mother and son were doing fine. We moved to Rezekne in 1929. Rezekne was a rail and highway crossroads in central Latgale, and thus a convenient place for our headquarters. I traveled to Zilupe on Fridays, farmers’ market day, to keep up the work we had begun. We held open air meetings and sold Bibles to the assembled populace. Peteris, our second child, was born in Rezekne in 1930.

During the Rezekne years our family experienced a trying test of our faith. Janis, our eldest, was a preschooler. This happened in March, when days get long and snows begin to melt. A southwesterly wind helped the thermometer to climb well above the freezing line. Snowmelt lined the fields with rivulets of water. Olga and I left the two boys, Janis and Peteris, alone at home while we visited a Polish Catholic family some five kilometers out of town. Without adult supervision, the boys disobeyed our orders to stay inside. After making dams and rivers for quite some time, they returned to the house, cold and wet. By then Janis felt sick enough to go to bed, where we found him upon our return. Olga, who of course was trained as a nurse, first applied home remedies. Next morning we called on a young garrison doctor who had a small private practice. His diagnose was pneumonia. Janis’ condition worsened as they days went on, despite the efforts of a team of three doctors. Both of his lungs became inflamed. The garrison doctor took us aside and said he was sorry, but they had done all they could, and he didn’t think the boy would last the night.

We stood vigil over our son. Shortly after midnight, his breathing became short and uneven. We could see our child’s life leaving, right before our eyes. In our agony, we knelt down in prayer. Olga prayed like only a mother can for her son. When she was finished, I struggled for words of my own. Suddenly, it was as if the Heavens opened and there was nothing between me and the Throne of the Lord. Words came easily now, and I could thank the Lord for hearing us. When we had finished praying, our son’s breathing became deep and easy, and he had fallen asleep. Olga set out to remove the wrappings from his chest, but I didn’t want to trouble Janis. He hadn’t slept for over a week. It was two o’clock on Sunday morning, and we let him and ourselves catch up on sleep. Next morning his temperature had come down to normal. Olga removed the wrappings around his chest and I went to church praising the Lord for saving Janis’ life. When the doctor came in later that day, he found Janis sitting up in bed. As Psalm 40 puts it, “ The Lord heard my cry. He brought me up out of a horrible pit. . . he hath put a new song in my mouth, praise unto our God.”

It was not easy to raise our children in the Baptist church environment. Years later, during my pastorate of the Golgotha Church, our two boys gave us our share of grief, as I shall relate below. But some of the congregation were rigid and narrowminded, especially the older generation. They expected the pastor’s children to behave like little angels. On account of this I may have been harsher with my boys than I should have been. With the wisdom of hindsight, I might quote Disraeli, “Youth is a blunder, manhood a struggle, and old age regret.” So it is for me.

Our two boys, Janis and Peteris, were good friends with the Feldman boys, sons of the custodian and church deacon. They were companions in pranks as well as play. I remember well one summer Sunday morning service, as Olga sat in her usual place, the choir behind the speakers’ podium. A woman walked in the main church entrance, cursing us in loud foul language. Olga got up and raced toward the entrance. Olga told me later what had happened. The woman ran a cigarette and newsstand across the street from the church. It wasn’t exactly appropriate that it operated during church services, but nobody was bold enough to confront the vice-and-news peddler. Nobody, that is, except for the four boys. They climbed through the dining room window onto the roof of the porch, their pockets full of pebbles, and from that vantage point they pelted the newsstand across the street. No wonder the woman was angry. I forget whether I punished the boys or not, but they didn’t do it again.

Something less innocent happened on another occasion, involving the four young troublemakers. Facing the eastern wall of the yard we had a wood shed and next to it a linden tree. The boys had climbed up the tree to play on the flat roof of the shed, when Peteris felt an urgent call of nature. He lowered his britches, stuck his behind out past the edge of the flat roof that faced the neighbor’s yard, and relieved himself. Unfortunately, the bearded old man who owned that house sat on a bench next to the shed, taking in the warmth of the sun after a long winter. The bench happened to be directly under Peteris’ behind. Shaking off warm smelly human dung, the old man ran around to the church entrance, where he was met by Olga. We were too soft on the boys, he sputtered—“nothing like this ever happened in Fetler’s time.” It took Olga a long time to pacify him. The boys never apologized, and I never forgave them.

Years at Golgotha Church

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