a dangerous faith

I’ve no regrets or doubts about dropping out of the German Baptist faith community in which I was raised … a community my adult-self considered stifling, narrow-minded and judgmental. Yet right-wing evangelicals still thrive as they continue to feed people’s needs for spiritual support and I admit that my upbringing has continued to influence me. For example, I learned to study words and to read between the lines.  We would pour over literature, aka, the ‘Word of God’ and try to interpret its meanings. Pastors could deliver hour-long sermons about a single verse. So it's not surprising that I did two degrees studying literature, albeit from secular sources.

Neudorf Baptist Church in Volhynia
A hundred years ago, there were about 200,000 Germans in Volhynia and at least 50,000 were Baptists. (Volhynia is a triangular area northwest of modern Zhytomyr). In the town of Neudorf, a huge red brick Baptist church was built back in 1907. During Soviet times it became a grain storage facility. In nearby Heimtal (now Yasinuvka), 50 km NW of Zhytomyr there was a German training seminary and teacher’s college, built around the same time. Yes, a hundred years ago, the German Baptist movement was thriving in Ukraine.

By the 1930s, however, under Stalin’s collectivization, things had drastically changed. My grandfather, ex-kulak, was a homeless fugitive hiding from NKVD authorities when he was arrested one final time on June 3rd, 1937. With a Bible in his possession they had enough evidence against him to find him guilty of treason … and he was finally executed in September. 

Today there are about 100,000 Ukrainian Baptists in Ukraine. Again, they are threatened and persecuted. Their enemies are no longer Soviets with a hammer and sickle flag. Now its Russian authorities who feel threatened by this small evangelical movement that just won’t be beaten.  Recent new clips show Baptist churches being vandalized.  Being a Baptist is still a dangerous thing.

Yesterday I did a book talk with a small group of Baptists from my former immigrant church. They know little of their own family histories. Many of them were only children when they fled war-torn Ukraine, Poland and East Prussia. Their memories are small memories ... like hiding in a closet as homes are vandalized or picking maggots off of horse meat or stepping around dead bodies. They clutch their faith like a child holds a teddy bear. I can only listen and try to imagine. And pray for today's victims of war.  We can all pray.

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