Tag Archives: Poland

Oskar Jeske: German Pentecostal Pioneer in Poland and Survivor of Soviet Prison Camps

Oskar Jeske (center) with wife, Anna, and Polish workers.

PHOTO: Oskar Jeske (center) with wife, Anna, and Polish workers.

This Week in AG History — February 24, 1974

By Ruthie Edgerly Oberg
Originally published on AG News, 23 February 2023

Oskar Jeske (1902-1989) was a Pentecostal minister born in Poland to German parents. His life intersected with much of the tumultuous history of Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century, yet God proved himself faithful and led Jeske to a fruitful ministry, despite war, prison, and separation from family.

Prior to World War I, the Polish nation was divided among the empires of Germany, Russia, and Austro-Hungary. Jeske’s parents taught him their native tongue of German while he learned Polish, the language of the land of his birth. However, the Russian Czar was the legal king of Poland, and so education was also carried out in Russian. He would later learn English to further his education as a minister.

As a young boy, Jeske was surrounded by religion. The Polish Catholic church and Russian Orthodox church controlled much of the civic affairs. Jeske’s mother was converted to evangelical Christianity in a revival among German speakers in 1907 and began taking her son with her to the meetings, despite much persecution from the established church in their community. Jeske showed little interest in his mother’s faith until one Sunday in June 1916 when his mother was unable to attend the church meeting. Jeske did not intend to go to the meeting, but when he came upon the farmhouse where it was taking place, he heard the sound of someone in the woods crying out for God to “save the lost.” Jeske had a sudden conviction that “the lost” was himself. That day he made a commitment to follow Christ – no matter what came his way.

Prior to this, Jeske wanted to be a schoolteacher but soon announced to his mother and grandparents that he wanted to be a minister. He immediately began sharing his testimony in any meeting that would allow him. In 1924, Pastor G. Herbert Schmidt brought to their meetings the understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with accompanying gifts of the Spirit. To Jeske, this teaching simply confirmed what they already knew in their meetings. Miraculous provision and healing had been the norm in their Christian experience as had heard many, particularly children, pray in languages they had not learned.

With so many coming to Christ and feeling a call to minister, it became clear that training was needed. Danzig Bible Institute was created in 1930 to train ministerial students from many of the Eastern European nations to shepherd the growing Pentecostal movement. Jeske studied under teachers such as Leonard Steiner of Switzerland, Donald Gee and Howard Carter from Britain, and T.B. Barratt of Norway. But the one that caught his eye the most was American missionary, Anna Bukczynski. Romance was strictly forbidden at the school, but Bukczynski was offering English lessons, and these lessons not only helped his studies but allowed him to be with her several times a week. They married in June of 1932, and together began working in the churches to encourage the believers. But their newly found bliss would be short-lived as Germany, under the Nazi flag, invaded Poland from the west on Sept. 1, 1939, and Russia responded with a counter-invasion from the east 17 days later.

As a German living in Poland, Jeske worked to minister to the hurting people around him. The fighting devastated the Polish land and people as they lived in the tug-of-war area between Germany and Russia. When Hitler’s forces were expelled in 1945 and the Russians took control of Poland, remaining ethnic Germans were rounded up and placed in prison camps, including Oskar Jeske. Because Anna was an American citizen, their children were considered Americans and only Oskar was sent to a labor camp in the Ural Mountains of Russia.

Loaded onto cattle cars, the prisoners taken with Jeske spent 31 days on the torturous journey east. It was six months before he would ever be allowed to change the clothes he was wearing at his arrest. For five years, he subsisted in brutal conditions, surviving beatings, forced labor under starvation conditions, and disease.

Through this, his faith did not waver, and he was able to provide spiritual comfort to his fellow prisoners and pray with many dying men while also teaching others how to live without losing hope. But after five years, when he was finally to be given a trial on the charge of being a German spy, he was placed in solitary confinement and found himself so frightened and exhausted that he could no longer pray. He felt in his spirit that God had finally forsaken him.

In this lonely, cramped cage he tried to pray in German but he could not find the right words. He tried again in Polish but could not exhaust his emotions. He tried in Russian and in English but came to the end of his knowledge of the languages. But then the Holy Spirit invaded his prison cell, and he began to pray in a language he had never learned. The presence of God so filled his heart and mind with joy and assurance that God would never leave nor forsake him – even if he received the standard sentence under Stalin’s government of 25 more years of hard labor.

When he faced the charge of being a spy at the Soviet war tribunal, he found that it was his knowledge of languages that served as the chief evidence against him. Why would anyone learn German, Polish, Russian, and English unless it was to engage in espionage? Returning to his cell, he began to pray again as he awaited sentencing. The court interpreter heard him praying in tongues and asked what language he was speaking now. Jeske replied, “In a heavenly language.” The interpreter laid her hand on him and said, “I don’t think you should be afraid. Your God will help you.”

God did provide that help. Jeske was released and returned to western Germany. While it took another six years for him to be able to reunite with his wife and children who could not leave the eastern occupied lands, Jeske was eventually reunited with Anna and their two children – after 12 years apart. The German District of the Assemblies of God paid for a trip to the United States to reunite Anna with her American family and together the Jeskes ministered in the German Branch of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada until Anna’s death in 1976, followed by Oskar’s death in 1989.

You can read a review of Oskar Jeske’s autobiography, Revival or Revolution, on page 7 in the Feb. 24, 1974, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.

Also featured in this issue:

• “The Limits of Omnipotence” by Bill Popejoy

• “Qualify Yourself for Ministry” by Silas L. Gaither

• “Reasonable – According to the Spirit” by Stanley M. Horton

Click here to read this issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: https://ifphc.org/


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Gustav H. Schmidt Describes the Horror of Soviet Persecution of Pentecostals in the 1930s

This Week in AG History–August 4, 1934
By Darrin Rodgers

Also published in AG-News, Mon, 04 Aug 2014 – 4:26 PM CST.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the newly-formed Soviet Union launched a campaign to eradicate Christianity within its borders. It relentlessly pursued a policy of militant atheism. Clergy were imprisoned or murdered, churches were demolished or converted to other uses, and an intensive propaganda campaign sought to convince people that Christianity was a harmful superstition. It was in this context of persecution that the Pentecostal movement among Slavs formed its identity.

The Pentecostal movement found fertile soil in Russia. Early evangelists, impacted by the Welsh Revival (1904-1905) and the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909), first brought the Pentecostal movement to Russia a decade before the 1917 revolution. Prior to the revolution, the Orthodox church occupied a favored place in society and cooperated with the czarist government to persecute both political insurgents and religious minorities, including Pentecostals.

Following the revolution, communist government officials began persecuting their former persecutors, seeking to stamp out the Orthodox church. The government soon targeted other churches, including Baptists, Mennonites, Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostals.

While the Soviet Union ostensibly guaranteed its citizens the “freedom of religion,” this freedom only allowed individuals the right to believe and not the right to practice their faith. If Christians practiced their faith, they became lawbreakers and were subject to fines, imprisonment or exile to Siberia.

Laws forbade Christians to hold church services, to provide religious instruction to their children, or to share the gospel. The government further marginalized Christians by excluding them from professional and government positions.

Gustav H. Schmidt, a pioneer Assemblies of God missionary to Poland, wrote a series of three articles, published in the Pentecostal Evangel in 1934, which described the suffering endured by Pentecostals in the Soviet Union.

Slavic Pentecostals developed a deep faith burnished by persecution. Schmidt wrote, “In those prisons and places of exile matured that heroism for Christ which shrinks from no difficulties.” The communists mistakenly believed they could quash the Christian faith by destroying church buildings and imprisoning pastors.

Prisons became the proving grounds for Christian leaders. According to Schmidt, “there were many thousands of true believers who had been trained in the school of suffering and persecution.”

These Pentecostals, Schmidt wrote, became “a valiant army of gospel workers through whose testimony and preaching a mighty revival soon swept over the vast plains of Russia.” By 1930, approximately 500 Pentecostal churches had been organized in Russia and the Ukraine. Each convert to Christ knew that their decision would cost them dearly.

One of the most insidious Soviet plans, according to Schmidt, was the insistence that the government, and not the parents, be in charge of the education of the youth. Government schools, hostile to Christianity, attempted to undermine the faith of the parents.

Schmidt wrote, “A mother who sends her children to school knows that they will be taught to hate God, and Christianity will be presented to them in such a way as to make it appear ridiculous to them and this in an endeavor to cause them to despise the very idea of religion.”

Laws prohibited parents from providing religious teaching to their own children. But many Christian parents obeyed a higher law. Schmidt suggested that “a mother in Russia who loves Jesus Christ will, in spite of such rules, teach her child to pray and to live a life of respect and godliness.”

Teachers would ask young students, who were likely to tell the truth, whether their parents taught them about religion. In this way, many students unwittingly let the government know that their parents were committing treason.

Another attempt to destroy families and the freedom of conscience, according to Schmidt, was the collectivization of agriculture. Eighty percent of Russians lived on farms, so when the government took over all farms, it made farmers into slaves of the state. This was an attempt to “destroy the (peasant’s) home and rob him of his privacy.” Agricultural workers were forced to live in communal buildings, their children were taken away, and it was difficult for people to practice their faith without being noticed.

“In Russia the follower of Christ is constantly beset with trouble and is always in danger,” Schmidt recounted. “He has to be ready to be torn away from his loved ones any time, Bolshevik police will break into a home during the night, after twelve o’clock maybe and bid the husband, father, or son to accompany them, and with a bleeding and broken heart they bid their loved ones a hurried last good-by.”

Prison sentences, consisting of hard labor, frequently lasted 10 or 20 years. Many died within several years due to malnutrition and disease.

Persecution separated consecrated believers from nominal Christians. Schmidt wrote, “Anyone who is zealous for Jesus in Russia is marked for arrest and this makes Christian activity hazardous. Therefore we find no half-hearted Christians in Russia…Such who are not fully consecrated will not be able to stand the strain for any length of time but will step over into the enemy’s camp.”

Despite great dangers confronting Christians, the Slavic church saw no shortage of leaders. Unpaid elders led the congregations, which met in homes. Elders took turns preaching and, when one was arrested, another took his place. Congregational leaders did not receive qualification from a Bible college (there were none), but from their willingness to suffer and die for Christ.

Soviet authorities predicted that every church would be destroyed by May 1, 1937. But Schmidt responded that the true church does not consist of buildings. There are “real Christians in Russia,” he wrote, and they “are dying for their faith…We know that the Bolshevists will never be able to destroy Christianity.”

Communist persecution not only failed to destroy Christianity; it helped to create a very strong and vibrant Pentecostal movement in the former Soviet Union. Today, there are over one million Pentecostals in the former Soviet Union in churches that are in a fraternal relationship with Assemblies of God World Missions.

Beginning in the late 1980s, when Mikhail Gorbachev began to allow persecuted religious minorities to emigrate, many put down roots in America. An estimated 300,000 Slavic Pentecostals from this recent wave of immigration now live in the United States. While most are in congregations that are either independent or loosely affiliated with one of several Slavic Pentecostal unions, many are deciding to join the Assemblies of God.

In 2002, several Slavic Pentecostal churches in California joined the Assemblies of God and formed the Slavic Fellowship, which provided both a structure for Slavs to organize themselves within the Assemblies of God and also representation on the Fellowship’s General Presbytery. In September 2008, the leaders of the Slavic Fellowship, in addition to other Slavic Pentecostals interested in affiliating with the Assemblies of God, came together in Renton, Washington, and organized the National Slavic District. The district gives greater strength and visibility to Slavic Pentecostals, both within the Assemblies of God and within the broader society.

The Slavs, with deep faith burnished by decades of persecution, are poised to provide leadership to the broader church. And their leadership could not have come at a better time, as they have already proven their mettle in a culture that is hostile to biblical values.

Read the series of three articles by Gustav H. Schmidt, “Bolshevism Battling Against Christianity,” in the following issues of the Pentecostal Evangel:

Click here now for the July 21, 1934, issue.

Click here for the July 28, 1934, issue.

Click here for the August 4, 1934, issue.

Also featured in the August 4, 1934, issue:

* “The Merry Heart,” by Donald Gee

*  “The Secret of an Abiding Pentecost,” by Leonard Gittings

*  “Spoiled Christians,” by E. F. M. Staudt

And many more!

Click here to read the August 4, 1934, issue now.

Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center. For current editions of the Evangel, click here.

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: Archives@ag.org

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Review: The Suffering Body

The Suffering Body

The Suffering Body: Responding to the Persecution of Christians, edited by Harold D. Hunter and Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. Waynesboro, GA ; Milton Keynes, UK : Paternoster Press, 2006.

“Suffering with Christ was not only the experience of the early churches but is that of many churches today. This volume presents up-to-date, global reflections on the different ways in which Christians suffer: from class discrimination to government persecution; from inter-religious conflict to tensions between different Christian groups. With a special focus on Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, but also bringing perspectives from other Christian traditions into the discussion, this book provides both theological and practical insight.” — Samuel Kobia, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches

“An important and timely publication, the more so because it is edited by leading Pentecostal academics from the USA, where the role of suffering in Christian experience is often ignored and sometimes denied. A comprehensive theological, historical, and socio-political analysis of the role of suffering internationally, this is an important corrective to ‘health and wealth’ gospels and ideologies of power.” — Allan Anderson, Professor of Global Pentecostal Studies, University of Birmingham Continue reading

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