Basil Malof: Apostle To Eastern Europe (Part 2)
By James A. Stewart
In the early twentieth century, Basil Malof (a native of Latvia) was called of God to spread the Gospel among the Slavic people. After graduating from Spurgeon’s “Pastor’s College” in London, Malof began his ministry in St. Petersburg, Russia. Once that work was well established, he began ministering in Moscow where he met growing opposition from the Orthodox Church. Malof was eventually arrested and banished from Russia for life. The following is James Stewart’s account of one of the ways the Lord continued to use Brother Malof to reach the Slavic people for Christ even from outside of Russia’s borders.
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 4,000 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, an 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.
A New Open Door
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 also the Jew.
All of these should now be reached. Burdened by the material and spiritual plight of these war prisoners, Malof 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.
Arrival in the United States
In the month of April 1915, accompanied by his wife, Barbara, 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 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. J. H. Jowett, of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church of New York, received a Sunday morning offering for this work of $3,000. R. A. Torrey of the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, James Gray of Moody Bible Institute, and 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 5,000, 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.”
(To be continued)
– From A 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 for $9.00 including shipping and handling. Revival Literature, P.O. Box 505, Skyland NC 28776.