What would you do if you received a book with a strange but convincing message quite different from your own beliefs? Would you accept the message? Would you share it?
That’s what happened in 1885 to Heinrich J. Loebsack, a 15-year-old German Lutheran living near the Volga River. Fortunately, he chose to believe and the triumph of the three angels’ messages in his life began.
When Loebsack became a Seventh-day Adventist, there were no Adventist congregations in the Russian Empire. There were individuals who had embraced the Adventist message, mostly through literature sent from German emigrants. But they were scattered over a vast area and were unaware of each other.
Loebsack met his first Adventist preacher, Jacob Klein, in 1890 when Klein visited German colonies on the Volga River. Loebsack and his wife, Maria-Katerina, had studied the tracts they had received and now decided to become Seventh-day Adventists. Their choice, embarrassing to their parents, resulted in their being disinherited. It was the first of many hardships they would suffer for their faith.
After his conversion, Loebsack attended an Adventist mission school in Hamburg, Germany, where he was baptized. Then, wanting to share his new beliefs, he sold literature and held evangelistic meetings with his cousin in the Donskaya region of Russia and Crimea.
Two years later, Loebsack and his cousin planned to spend Christmas with friends in Crimea when they were arrested. A law prohibited proselytizing to native Russians who were members of the state church, and someone had reported them. They were sent to jail, but even there they witnessed. After 11 days, they were transferred to another prison while their books were scrutinized. Finally, they were released and given permission to distribute their literature. Several people even joined the church as a result of their ministry during this time.
Loebsack’s contribution to the church is astonishing. He became the first ordained minister in Russia at the age of 24. He was one of the first Russian delegates to attend the General Conference Session in 1909. He was a powerful evangelist, prominent administrator, and prolific writer who edited several Adventist journals and authored the first book on Russian Adventist history.
When World War I started, foreign missionaries were forced to leave the country. The responsibility of church leadership was laid on Loebsack, in part, as an associate and translator to the church leader Otto Reinke, and then fully in 1920, as the first president of the newly organized All-Union Council of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Soviet Union. From then until 1934, he led the Adventist Church for the entire Soviet Union.
Russian church leaders were concerned that many of their ministers had little knowledge of the origin of the church so in 1917 they asked Loebsack to write a book. While Loebsack conducted his research, civil war raged in the streets of Kiev where he lived and worked. He recollected that street battles were the most terrible thing and that dead bodies lay on the road in the thousands. One day a bullet flew through a window and hit the tiled stove by his desk. Fortunately, he had just taken a short break. His daughter, Marta, said that an angel had led him away.
Loebsack called his book The Great Adventist Movement and Seventh-day Adventists in Russia. He completed it in 1918; but due to the political and economic situation, the original manuscript was never published. It was kept at the Adventist publishing house in Germany, which was destroyed by bombs during the war. In 1920, it was translated into Russian and church leaders distributed typewritten copies to ministers. They also tried to publish it in a church publication, but the government intervened.
Finally, 88 years later, the book was published in 2006. The Euro-Asia Division was planning its 120th anniversary celebration of the church in Russia and leaders of the Caucasus Union Mission were researching Adventist pioneers, including Loebsack. Two hard-to-read typewritten copies of two translations of his manuscript were submitted by a retired church historian, and several chapters were found that had been published in Voice of Truth. Tremendous work began and the anniversary was celebrated with the publication of Loebsack’s book.
Loebsack was faithful to God to the end of his life. He was arrested on March 21, 1934 during Stalin’s repression. By then, many Adventist pastors and members had been arrested and some churches had been closed. According to church leader and eyewitness G. A. Grigoriev, Loebsack turned while being arrested and said, “Brothers, work and do not get discouraged. God’s cause is like a river, nobody can stop it!” He was then punched in the face. Bleeding, he repeated these words that would become his will to the church in the former Soviet Union. He was imprisoned until his death in 1938.
Members of Loebsack’s family shared in the joys and sorrows of his ministry. According to church historian Daniel Heinz, Loebsack’s daughter Rachel was elected treasurer and secretary of the West Russian Union and died in her 20s from typhoid contracted while visiting sick church members. His daughter Amalie Galladshev preached to a group of believers and was arrested and shot. His two sons-in-law, both ministers, underwent arrests; one died in prison.
Maria-Katerina learned of her husband’s death 20 years later. She settled in Almaty, Kazakhstan, with her daughter Marta and granddaughter Ruth.
Yes, Loebsack’s life ended tragically. But God’s work, to which he was passionately devoted, continues to flow like a river toward the glorious triumph of the second coming of Jesus.
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