When speaking of Poland one generally thinks of that part of Poland which is now a part of the Russian Empire, but formerly what is now the Province of Posen, and West Prussia, of the Prussian Kingdom and Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire were part of the Kingdom of Poland with Warsaw for its capital. In these provinces some of our brethren are at work. Thus there is Bro. Massier in Saiatyn, Galicia, and a number of brethren in the Prussian Provinces. With these we are however not now concerned, but only with the Poland of Russia.
In Poland the population consists of Slavs or Poles, Germans, Jews and Russians. The latter do not concern us, since it is positively forbidden by the laws of Russia to preach the Gospel to Russians, i.e. people belonging to the Greek church. To preach among the former, the Russian authorities do not object. Up to the present time, however, there is very little done among the Slavs on the part of the Baptists. One reason has been the inability on the part of most workers to preach to them in their own language. Therefore the work was thus far chiefly confined the Germans. It was my priviledge [sic] during the past summer to pay a visit to some of these churches and of this I would like to write a few lines.
As early as 1850 the Spirit of God to work among the Germans in Poland. One G. F. Alf, a school teacher, was converted about this time. He immediately began to hold meetings with children and adults, which caused no little commotion, so that he was deposed from his position as teacher and otherwise persecuted. But this did not prevent him from continuing in his way. Later on he became acquainted with a certain Osmann, an East Prussian, who traveled in Poland on business. Though he at the time was no Baptist himself, he told Alf of the Baptists. The consequence was that Alf and a number likeminded were induced to study the Bible still closer, and finally they were convinced that it was their duty to subject themselves to Bible baptism. Pastor Weist, of Stolzenbarg, was invited to come over to baptize them and on Sunday, the 28th and Monday, the 29th of November, 1858, the first 9 and 17 respectively were baptized by him.
This was the beginning of the work in Poland. Ten years afterwards the number had increased to just 1,000. Progress was not unobstructed. The trials, imprisonments and banishments were many. In all this the Lutheran clergy played a rather inglorious part. But all this did not check the gradual advance. The story of the Baptists in Poland for the first 25 years written by Bro. Liebert, now deceased, is a very interesting one and deserves to be read.
The first church was organized in Klein in 1861. Then followed the one in Kurnwek, in 1870 and Zezulin in 1873. These three churches had 1570 members in 1874 scattered over an extensive territory. Now they report 4,281 members, 15 churches and 54 preaching stations. An association was organized in 1877. This [association] celebrated its 25th anniversary last June. A short while ago the minutes of this meeting were sent to me. What astonished me more than anything else was to see that while in 1866 they reported 19 ministers and 12 churches, in 1901 they report only 15 ministers and 21 churches, showing that while the membership and the churches had increased in numbers, the number of ministers had decreased. If they had increased at the same ratio there ought to be about 29 instead of 15. Surely there is reason enough to pray, "Lord, send laborers into thy harvest."
During my visit in Poland, I had the pleasure of looking into 6 churches. Two of them were country churches. Though the weather was highly unpleasant and the country roads not in as good a condition as a traveler might wish, still there were, on the Sunday which I spent with the church at Rodanzyk, very many present at the services; some of them from a great distance. The four other churches were at Warsaw, the capital, Zyrardow, Lodz and Zdunskawola. In Warsaw the work suffers greatly for want of a suitable place of worship. The best way to solve the problem would be to buy or build. They are, however, numerically and financially too weak to undertake anything of the kind, unless they receive help from elsewhere.
The three other churches are, in this respect, better off. The first two have large and commodius houses, the third is building and will probably see it finished ere the year closes. The work done in these churches is, as far as I could observe, good. The societies found elsewhere are also found here, Sunday schools likewise; and church choirs are not wanting either, but not paid ones as is the case in too many churches elsewhere, but voluntary: two, three and four of them in one church, and they sing well. The Sunday schools are large, well supplied with a good corps of teachers who have their weekly preparation classes.
Had our brethren more ministers to do the work in Poland, I have no doubt the results would be still larger. But these should be men born in Poland able to speak and if possible to preach also in the language of the majority of the people. For as the younger generation grows up it learns to speak Polish better than German and these want, as do many descendants of foreigners in the United States, to hear preaching in the language they are better able to understand.
If I have not said anything about the difficulties connected with the work it is not because they have none, but rather because these are at this time not much different from those found in many parts of Germany where they have the Lutheran clergy for their opponents. These have at the present time however not the power they had some forty years ago. One thing perhaps deserves mention here, that not only in Germany but also in Poland where the German element is strong as is the case in Lodz, they have their conventicles which are indeed in some cases spiritual centers, "the hope of the State church and of the nation," as Dr. McGlothlin says; but not in every case. They are frequently organized, too, in mere opposition to the free churches. Such is the case in more than one instance. They have in Poland to my knowledge however in no instance gone so far as to adopt immersion. But even if all these conventicles were full of spiritual life there would still be room enough for the Baptists. All they want is more men to work, consecrated men, well prepared for the work the Lord has to do for them and who are willing to endure self-denial and in some instances do pioneer work.
Our prayer should therefore be with our brethren in Poland: "Lord send laborers into thy harvest field." Call them as thou hast called Isaiah and make them say, "Here am I, send me."
[From The Baptist Argus, October 23, 1902, p. 2; Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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