A New Open Door
By James A. Stewart
Pastor Malof had many mighty spiritual struggles in his lifetime. The way that lay ahead of his pilgrim pathway was not always a smooth one. It also was not a road on which he could see the end from the beginning. There were the doubts and the difficulties, there were the pains and the problems. I have been with him during some of these dark nights and days when the doors seemed to have been slammed in his face – when it was very difficult to understand even the ways of his loving heavenly Father.
His banishment from his beloved country and people was one of these trying experiences. Now in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, even though surrounded by a mighty host who loved him, it was difficult for him to accept his trial as part of God’s plan for his life. Had not God called him to evangelize Russia? Had he not been mightily used of the Lord for this task? Why then should he be cast out and his work interrupted? He did not want to be in Sweden. He wanted to be in St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Riga.
It is true that in Sweden and Norway he was witnessing once again mighty movements of the Spirit, when as many as 4000 people were gathering to hear him. But this was not Russia, and he was not a called evangelist to Scandinavia; he was only here because of circumstances. And it was very difficult in these circumstances to keep praising the Lord.
Mrs. Boardman, the American sister whose teaching was instrumental in the founding of the historic Keswick Convention, went through a similar dark experience after the death of her husband. The Lord said to her, "I want you to praise Me for the way in which I have taken your loved one."
"How can I, Lord?" she asked. She repeated the word "Praise," but her heart gave no response.
Then she said, "Lord, I will praise Thee if Thou wilt give me the spirit of praise."
In a moment she was filled with praise!
So it was now with Basil. Joyfully he sang. Joyfully, he believed that God had a plan and purpose even now in his banishment. God had given to him also the spirit of praise, and the darkness was lifted. And suddenly, to his astonishment, a new and effectual door of ministry was open to him.
Ivan Yakovlevitch Urlaub, a former associate of his in Russia, came to Malof and told him the disturbing, but challenging news that great numbers of Russian soldiers had been captured by the Germans on the eastern battle front. In one battle alone in the Masurian Lakes of Eastern Prussia, Field Marshall Hindenburg had captured a whole army of 100,000 Russian soldiers. World War I had broken out and the whole of Europe was in an upheaval.
No sooner had the pastor heard of the miserable conditions of the Russian prisoners of war than he seemed to hear the voice of the Lord saying to him, "See, they drove you away from your congregations in Russia; now I am bringing a congregation to you out of Russia to Germany!" Heretofore he had been ministering in the capitals of the Russian Empire, cities of some two and one-half million inhabitants. Now he was faced with the task of evangelizing about two and one-half million war prisoners, coming from every part of the empire. They had come from the farthest provinces of the north, Archangelsk and Vologda to the most southern domains of the Czar – Caucasus, Crimea, and Turkestan; from the borders of western Poland to the far-eastern regions of Vladivostok and Kamchatka.
So among the two and one-half million were men from the various races of the great Empire such as Poles, Latvians, Tartars, Turkestanis, Ukrainians, and last, but not least, the Jew.
All of these should now be reached. Burdened by the material and spiritual plight of these war prisoners, he turned his thoughts to the United States of America. His desire now was to organize a work for the evangelization of his countrymen in the war-prison camps.
In the month of April, 1915, accompanied by his wife and son, Daniel, he arrived in New York Harbor. Because the newspaper reports had preceded his arrival, in a few hours’ time he was brought to the headquarters of the Northern Baptist Home Mission Society in New York. He was invited to become the superintendent of their Russian Department for the whole of North America, and soon he was busy evangelizing the Russian communities. Souls were saved and, before long, he organized the Russian-Ukrainian Baptist Union of America.
Soon Malof was invited to address the annual conventions of both the Northern and Southern Baptists. This opportunity opened up a vast door of utterance for him to earnestly proclaim his vision for his destitute countrymen in the prison camps in Germany. On February 1, 1916, a committee was organized with the help of the president and chief editor of The Christian Herald, which at that time had a circulation of over 2 million copies. Dr. J. H. Jowett, of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church of New York received a Sunday morning offering for this work of $3000. Dr. R.A. Torrey of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, Dr. James M. Gray of Moody Bible Institute, and Dr. Courtland Myers of the Tremont Temple Baptist Church of Boston, either became members of the Board or warm supporters and friends of the new work of The Gospel Committee for Work among Russian War Prisoners. Over $120,000 was soon raised.
Gospel tracts by Spurgeon, Moody, Haldeman, Torrey, F. B. Meyer, and many others were translated by Barbara Malof into the Russian language and published by the Baptist Tract and Publication Society. Tens of thousands of these tracts were printed. Distributors and evangelists were engaged to visit the prisons and distribute thousands of New Testaments with the tracts. These were Baptists and Mennonite preachers in Germany who knew the Russian language. As the prisoners could not read the German literature in their confinement, they grasped greedily at the literature in their mother tongue.
The finger of God can be traced in this work. It was computed by all concerned that at least 30,000 or more of these war prisoners were converted! Pastor Malof received a written report, for instance, that in one prisoners’ camp of some 5000, in six months’ time 872 men had been converted and baptized on confession of their faith. So the First Baptist Church in a war prison camp was organized with vital New Testament doctrine and practice.
The peace treaty of Versailles (1918) gave the opportunity for the return of these prisoners of war, each to his own home. God’s watchful servant hovered over the work prayerfully day and night, never for a moment slacking in his prayers, efforts, and vision. The great cry to God now was, "Oh God, anoint all these young converts as they go back home to their cities, towns, and villages with the Gospel literature and use them mightily to the salvation of their loved ones and their neighbors."
Hallelujah for Victory!
The devil had banished from Russia one missionary. Now God was sending in his stead many hundreds. That is how God works; when the enemy thinks that he is at his best, God causes him to be at his worst. The devil’s "Calvaries" result in God’s "Resurrections."
Pastor Malof told me about one letter from Russia which he received from the southern province of Harkoff telling that through the witness of the returned war prisoners, over 800 new Baptist churches came into being! Hallelujah! And this in spite of the fact that it was no longer then Czarist Russia, but Communistic Russia.
Mighty revivals broke out all over the country, so that Lunacharsky, the Communist Commisar of Education under Lenin stated, "Since the Bolshevist Revolution, the evangelicals have grown from about 100,000 to over 6,000,000 in ten years’ time!" What a triumph was this for the Gospel! What glory God had brought to Himself and to His dear Son through the pastor’s banishment! As Basil himself said, "God foresaw the coming of Communism, and in good time built a mighty bulwark against it through the holocaust of bloody war, plucking out thousands of war prisoners as brands out of the fire, and transplanting them as fruitful plants of righteousness into the orchard of the Church of God."
Colonel F. J. Miles, former chief chaplain to the Australian and New Zealand forces in First World War, who worked intimately with Pastor Malof for twenty-five years, stated that he believed that the work among the prisoners was the greatest chapter in the pastor’s life work.
"The fierceness of man shall turn to Thy praise;
And the fierceness of them shalt Thou refrain."
– Psalm 76:10 Prayer Book Version.
What otherwise would have been fraught with almost insurmountable difficulties with respect to evangelizing Russia, now became the easiest of problems. Those who know something of the Russia of those days will also know how difficult it was to receive permission to hold a Gospel meeting. Permits as a rule were not granted. Meeting halls could not be obtained, and in the few cases where one succeeded in securing a hall, the village priest would do his utmost to hinder the people from coming – even standing at the door of the hall taking names. Let the banished apostle himself describe to you what actually did happen.
"A Converted Prisoner’s Return"
"He has been away a long time. He has fought for his country; he has suffered long years of imprisonment by the enemy of the land, and returns in consequence a hero. He may even have the cross of St. George, the highest Russian military decoration, or some other medal on his breast. He is welcomed by everybody. He embraces his wife, he kisses his children, while tears of joy flow copiously at the happy reunion.
"Soon at the news of his arrival, the whole village is astir. His native hut is quickly crowded by neighbors and even strangers, and as the home folks sit around the steaming "samovar" (tea self-boiler), the villagers inquire as to his experiences, where he has been, what he has seen, what new things he has learned in the far-away German lands. Naturally he tells it all while his own home folk and the villagers listen with eyes and mouth wide open. Every gaze is riveted on the speaker who appears to them now so clever and above everything they know themselves as many of them had never seen a railway or a steamer.
"When the returned war prisoner has told all they have asked him, we can imagine him getting up at the end of the table. Everyone notices that he is about to say something of importance. And so it is. He begins slowly to tell them of the most wonderful of all the experiences he has had while away in the strange land. He puts his hand in his pocket and pulls out a copy of the New Testament. He holds it reverently in his hand, lifts it up and says,
"‘This is the most remarkable thing I found in the war prison camp – it is the Book of God. This Book has made a new man of me. Before I went to war, I heard from the priest that there was a God; now I have experienced what it means when God comes very near to us and dwells within our hearts.
"‘You all know what a bad man I was before I went to war; how I used to get drunk, and how often I was causing trouble in the village by fighting and noise. You know, my dearest wife and children, what a bad husband and father I was when drink got the better of me. But now, praise God, Jesus Christ has become my personal Savior. He has saved me from the penalty and power of sin which made me a new creature. I will never ill-treat you again, my darling wife. I will never be cruel to you again, my beloved children, nor be a bad neighbor to you, my beloved neighbors.’
"One can imagine what effect such words would produce on his listeners. His very demeanor seems to lend force to his words. They feel that what he says is not empty talk. He opens the Word of God and reads a passage, expounds it as well as he can, and then suggests that they all kneel and pray."
Such instances were multiplied in hundreds of villages and towns hitherto totally unreached with the Gospel. No wonder Pastor Malof, with deep feeling, could say in America as the results of the campaign came filtering through:
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm."
Following the end of World War I, Malof’s story continued through the founding of a training school in U.S.A., where young Russians students came to prepare for service in Eastern Europe. The Russian Missionary Society was formed. In Russia itself, a Communist revolution had overthrown the Czarist government and the power of the Orthodox Church had been broken. But there was not evangelical liberty, for the government was atheistic. Numbers of God’s people were put to death. But through the Russian Missionary Society, evangelists were smuggled into that nation, and hundreds of mission stations and scores of churches were opened in Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. Of these brave evangelists Stewart writes: "They went everywhere preaching the Word. They were mocked. They were stoned. They were beaten. They were robbed. They were tortured. They were imprisoned over and over again. They risked their lives week after week as they crossed the frozen lakes and braved the mighty forests infested with wolves and robbers, moving forward by horse and sledge. They entered into hostile villages and towns knowing that before them lay the danger of possible – or certain – imprisonment. They paid the price to evangelize!"
Malof himself was used of God for a mighty work in his native Latvia. While he was speaking in America, World War II broke out and the Communists overran Latvia. The church buildings in which they were experiencing glorious revival were confiscated. Malof’s own brother, an associate in the ministry, was sent to Siberia and killed by the Communists. In the United States, Basil formed the Russian Bible Society which printed many Russian Bibles and had them carried in where the Gospel could no longer be freely preached, knowing that souls would be saved through the reading of God’s Word. The Russian Bible Society was later incorporated in Sweden. After fifty years of devoted service, Basil Malof went to be with his Savior in 1957.
– From Man In A Hurry, by James A. Stewart. Copyright Revival Literature, 1965, used by permission. This 149 page hardback book is available from Revival Literature to U.S. addresses. Revival Literature, P.O. Box 505, Skyland NC 28776. revivallit.org