Part III Two Decades
YEARS AT GOLGOTHA
The Fetlers’ bitter departure from Golgotha Church left the congregation
in shambles. His brother Robert, who had taken over the pastorate in 1924,
told the people that they would be left without a pastor, the building
to become a warehouse. The congregation was urged to follow him to the
Salvation Temple, and about a hundred did so. Not content to leave, this
group actively worked to bring the rest of the congregation with them,
going so far as to stand on the front steps during the services, to urge
the members to move their allegiance to the Temple Church across town.
As an aside, the old Golgotha temple, a former Russian military chapel,
continues to house the Baptist church to this day, while the Salvation
Temple, built at the cost of approximately one hundred thousand dollars,
was converted into a komsomol (communist youth) movie theater and site
of propaganda meetings.
Following the departure of the Fetlers, I was invited to become its next
pastor. But all was not clear sailing yet. A recently enacted law governing
Baptist churches gave the Executive Committee of the Baptist Church veto
power over pastoral nominations. So I had to be endorsed by this committee,
but they had already chosen someone for the post, and it was not me. One
of the committee members then approached our deacons and convinced them
to call in the entire Executive Committee for an official meeting to discuss
the matter of the new pastor. The spokesman for the Executive Committee
was Peteris Lauberts, a very aggressive and outspoken man.
His speech was recorded in the minutes:
Lauberts— “Brethren, why do you call in a lieutenant from
the moon [Tarziers, that is]? I am sixty five years old and I do not know
Deacon Geste, a retired sea captain and a man of high moral fiber and
Geste—“Brother Lauberts, I am sixty eight years old and I
do know Brother Tarziers—we all do. He is our spiritual son. We
sent him to England to prepare for the ministry. We welcomed him back
from England and sent him to Latgalia on Mission work. The church is calling
him back to be our pastor.”
Lauberts had to report to the Union’s Executive Committee that he
had been unable to change the minds of the stubborn congregation. However,
they still had not given up. According to the bylaws, a candidate had
to be voted in yet another time in a formal business meeting involving
the whole congregation. The emissary they appointed to conduct the meeting
was my old buddy Augustus Korps from Revival House days, who, even though
he was a friend, had no idea how to conduct the meeting. Korps almost
failed to confirm me. In the end, he bumbled through and I was spared
a rejection by the confused congregation. So at last I took over as pastor
of the Golgotha Church. I would serve at this post until August 1944,
when the church gave me sabbatical leave—“until I shall return,”
which never happened.
Three Church committeemen presented a problem as I assumed the pastorate
of Golgotha. Angered over irregularities in church finances, they wanted
to take the Fetlers to court. They may have had a case. Church money was
being diverted to the mission run by the Fetlers. The Fetlers were adamant
on one point: all church money should go directly to the Mission, which
would then pay Robert Fetler’s salary for his services as pastor
of Golgotha. But if so, the church would have no way of knowing how much
money came in and who gets it, and how much Robert Fetler was paid for
The idea was to compel the church to deed the property to the Mission.
The committe objected. They wanted to know how much money was collected
and where it went. This was one reason the Fetlers had to leave the church.
I arrived as the new pastor into this angry situation . It took all my
mediating skills to persuade the committee to drop their charges of misappropriation
of church funds. I felt that such a lawsuit would be a disgrace, that
it would harm the work we were trying to do, such as the Sunbeam effort.
Besides, William Fetler had an international reputation as missionary
and evangelist. I believed, and still do, that legal action against him
would do immense harm to the Lord’s work.
Gradually, reason took over and the clouds began to dissipate. I could
relax and channel my energies to other problems of the church. It was
a year or so later that the problem was solved in a quite unexpected way.
During a full committee meeting in which we discussed financial matters,
I noticed that Beninsh, one of the three angry committee members, was
especially quiet and withdrawn. He excused himself and left around 10
PM, before the meeting was over, and walked the few blocks to his house.
I was getting ready for bed that night, around midnight, when the phone
rang. It was his mother. Benninsh had just died. I hurried through the
deserted streets to her two room apartment in the basement of the building,
meanwhile trying to figure out how to comfort a woman whose son had just
died. As I entered the room where the body lay, she simply looked at me
and said, “Let us pray.” I did not have to utter a word. In
a humbling lesson for me, she praised the Lord and thanked the Holy Spirit
for the comfort and consolation given her.
A year later I walked past her son’s burial plot one summer afternoon.
She was sitting on a bench, surrounded by the flowers she had planted
on the grave. I sat by her side. After a long silence, I asked her the
question that had been etched in my mind: “How was it possible to
remain so calm and composed when your son had just passed away?”
She told me the story of that evening a year before:
“When my son came home, he said he was very tired and wanted to
stretch out in bed but could not even lift his feet. He asked me, ‘Please,
Mother, lift my feet onto the bed’—that was all he said. When
I did, he just laid back and stopped breathing.”
“When I saw that he was dead, my mind stopped functioning. I slid
down to my knees next to his body. The Holy Spirit overpowered me. It
filled my soul with such vivid reality of God’s Presence that I
was unable to cry or be sad. I could only praise the Lord. That was all
I could do.” I left after a few minutes, leaving her to her memories
by the gravesite.
Mrs. Beninsh’s other son took her to live with him after the death.
He did not share his mother’s beliefs, but he did not object to
her spiritual practice. As far as the church was concerned, the two other
committee members slowed down after Beninsh was gone.
Mrs. Beninsh was a remarkable woman in another way. She and Minna Abers
had the gift of prophecy. Mrs. Beninsh displayed her gift mostly during
our annual business meetings. After records and finances and plans had
been discussed, we held a session of prayer in which we thanked the Lord
for the blessings of the past year and for His protection against evil
and danger. Sister Beninsh always took the opportunity to present her
message. It usually consisted of two parts—one part directed to
the congregation, the other to me as the under-shepherd of God (Jesus
being the chief shepherd). The parts referring to me made me very uneasy.
She always revealed matters known to no one except myself, and I never
knew what to expect. All I could do was to beg the Lord to keep her mum
on the most embarrassing events of the year.
Minna Abers took active part in the church. She was in charge of the Lord’s
Table. She baked unleavened bread and set up the table of bread and wine
for the memorial of Jesus’ death. This monthly observance was the
culmination of the blessings experienced during the past weeks, with deep
meaning for the congregation.
Minna Abers’ gift was not quite as deep, usually only a message
of encouragement. It dated back to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in
Lidere. At that time, Minna received the gift of foreign tongues. No one
understood this phenomenon. Minna kept a garden plot in the city commons,
where she grew vegetables for her family. She discussed theology with
the old Jew who tended the plot next to hers, and did her best to show
him that the Messiah had already come.
One day, as she
saw him approach, shovel in hand, she thought to ask for his help, rather
than correcting his theology. The fact that he was a God-fearing man who
could read the Hebrew Bible, she hoped, would enable him to enlighten
her regarding her gift of tongues—which no one had been able to
do. So she silently prayed: “Lord, if it is from Thee, let me say
those strange words.” No sooner had she asked, a power from above
filled her mind and seized her tongue and she spoke words she did not
understand, right in front of her Jewish neighbor. Meanwhile, he stared
at her wide eyed, as though paralyzed. When she finished speaking, he
regained his composure and asked, “Do you understand what you were
just saying?” She replied, “No, this is what happens during
our prayer meetings. I have no idea what is going on.” He continued,
“Well, I understand one thing. You were speaking ancient Hebrew.”
He then translated the message, which was intended for him: Christ will
soon come back to take over the kingdom, every eye shall see Him and every
knee shall bend before Him.
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