IV To a Far Shore
I write these few concluding
words on January 1, 1985. The weather is unusually mild this year in Tennessee.
December went out like a lamb, January arrived like one too. The calendar
turned to a new year, but I did not bother to get up for the occasion.
With my morning cup of coffee I stare out at the backyard and contemplate
the dead apple tree. We have been using it as a clothesline post. I planted
it as little more than a twig, many years ago. Year by year it grew, until
its branches spread and it produced lovely blossoms in spring and apples
in the fall. When it became old, its branches had to be cut off one by
one. Eventually it became a stump, useful only as a clothesline. Now its
end is near. The base is rotten and the tree will soon fall to the ground.
Such is human life, not only our little lives but the eternal and immense
universe. Even stars are born and die. Nothing lasts forever. Why watch
the turning of the clock? As Solomon said, “I have seen all the
works that are done under the sun and, behold, all is vanity and vexation
of spirit.”-- Robert Tarziers
is by way of catching up with some of the characters in the tale you just
My oldest brother Osvalds, the one who lost an eye early on, lived in
Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution. Upon his return to Latvia,
he worked in the dairy business as a livestock expert. He married Anna,
a Latvian woman he met in central Russia, a Lutheran like him. She was
a good, kind woman and they had a happy marriage. They had three children,
a son and two daughters. He retired at 65, but petitioned for continuing
work at the Agriculture Department. The local newspaper Cipa, “Struggle,”
ran a feature praising him as a good example to others. He lived to a
ripe old age and was buried in Bauska.
Osvald’s son Edgars married a Russian and settled down in Latvia.
They have one daughter. They live in Ogre, about 60km east of Riga. He
drives diesel trucks for a living, sometimes as far as Moscow. He drinks
too much and one time wrote asking me for money, fifteen hundred dollars,
but I wrote back that I didn’t have that kind of money and even
if I did, I would not dream of sending it to him—everyone has to
cover himself with his own blankets, so to speak.
My sister Anna-Otilija had a difficult time during the Stalinist purges.
She and her husband had already lost their only son, who had been drafted
into the German army and died in battle defending the triangle of Kurzeme
from the Red Army. With their three daughters, they sought refuge in the
Triangle of Kurzeme and abandoned the farm in the Druviena Pagasts. This
was to no avail, and they were arrested by Stalin’s secret police.
Janis was shipped off to Siberia, where he died. Otilija and the three
daughters were placed in a collective farm near the Caspian Sea, where
somewhat better living conditions and milder weather enabled them to survive
and return to Latvia in 1956. I corresponded with Otilija until her death
at age 86. She is buried in a cemetery in Riga. Her daughters are married
and are all professional women. One is a dentist, another a schoolteacher,
and Aina, the oldest, works as a husbandry specialist.
Murani Mama had two daughters, one of whom remained in contact with my
sister Otilija. They used to have a large farm and were pretty well off,
but the Communists put an end to that. Their farm was made into a kolkhoz,
or collective farm, and they themselves became serfs to the kolkhoz administration.
Ansis, the choir director you met in the Sunbeams story, came to a sad
end. He was quite apolitical, but the vagaries of history would eventually
cost him his life. Born in Russia of Latvian parents, he was valuable
to the occupation government for his command of Russian. When the Red
Army occupied Latvia he worked in the labor department, with the job of
recruiting unwilling Latvian manpower to chop down trees for firewood
for the city’s heating. His heart was not in collaborating with
the occupiers, and he was known to send the forced laborers off with the
sarcastic remark that “We marched them off with a brass band and
full honors.” When the Germans drove out the Russians, Schwalbe
promptly put back on his armband with the Latvian national colors. This
gesture was not enough to save him. The Germans executed him by firing
Sister Abers continued to speak in tongues. Her two sons narrowly escaped
Stalin’s death machine. They fled to Germany through Red Army lines
and eventually ended up in the United States. One son settled in Boston,
the other, Oskar Abers, in San Francisco where he pastored a church until
his retirement. Last I heard, he kept busy doing volunteer work for a
hospital in Sacramento. The two sons managed to secure the release of
their mother, and she joined them in this country, where she died a few
Oswald Blumit, my friend and colleague in Tilzha, who made the trip from
Boston to welcome the six of us bedraggled travelers to New York, was
killed by a drunk driver in Boston. I had last seen him in the summer
of 1939, as he boarded the Berlin express on the first leg of a trip to
America to attend the Baptist World Alliance Congress in Atlanta. It turned
out to be a timely trip for Blumit, because World War II broke out in
September, and his way back to Latvia was cut off. But his good luck ran
out in Boston.
Augustus Korps, my colleague of Fetler’s Mission days, stayed in
Latvia as minister of the Agenskalna Baptist Church in the south part
of Riga. A marked man, he would soon be sent to Siberia, but God took
him in His hands. One Sunday morning, the organ already playing for the
service, the congregation waited in silence and prayer. The organist played
on and on, the people waited, and there was no sign of the pastor. A deacon
finally rose from his seat to see what was holding him up. He found Korps
sitting at his desk, his head slumped into his bowed hands, the Bible
open before him, his body still warm. He had quiety gone to his God.
We had a very rough time settling down in America. I have been wrong in
many ways, but I wonder if our children and grandchildren will ever know
the heartaches and disappointments we endured from them. We had been in
the States only a few weeks when Janis enlisted in the Air Force and gave
up a good opportunity for an education. Pastor Fetler, who knew the president
of Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, had obtained a scholarship
for Janis, and I knew that Bob Jones was a private institution with high
academic standards. But it was not to be.
A few years later, Janis made me feel deeply betrayed again. He was stationed
at the Air Force base in Biloxi, Mississippi. At that time, I was on a
speaking tour of the Memphis churches. Olga, back in Knoxville, TN, received
a letter from Janis, where he wrote that he was in surgery at the hospital
and that one of his lungs had been removed. Olga was, of course, frantic
with worry. We talked at length on the phone to figure out a way that
she could be with Janis in his time of need. She brought the little ones,
Aina and Laimon, to Memphis on the bus, leaving them in my care, and from
Memphis she took the bus to Biloxi to be with Janis.
I spent quality time with the children. We went to the zoo and had a chance
to visit just the three of us. But when Olga finally arrived in Biloxi,
she rushed to the military hospital and asked for sergeant Janis Tarziers.
No, they shook their heads, there was no one by that name in the hospital.
“Was he discharged already?” she asked.
They replied, “No, there is no record of a Janis Tarziers here any
time in the past two weeks.”
Making further inquiries around the base, she finally located him in his
squadron. When they finally met face to face, he looked rather sheepish,
she later told me. There had been no operation. He was in perfect health.
Why had he pulled such a stupid and mean trick? All we know is that he
never apologized. He never mentioned his trick again, not even after Olga’s
death in 1964. I do believe that someday we will all stand before God’s
tribunal to give account of ourselves.
When Janis got out of the Air Force after seven years, he and his wife
Virginia came to see us here in Knoxville. It was summer, and Janis and
I were sitting on the front porch, when he asked me, “Dad, what
do you think of Virginia?” I told him, “It is too late to
ask my opinion. You did not ask before, don’t ask now. As we say
in Latvia, ‘as one harnesses, so he rides’.”
I still think with gratitude of the Swedish people that treated us with
such kindness, and of good Pastor Weger who felt so deeply for the Baltic
States. I know that he helped many like us, even after the Russian takeover,
but that avenue of escape quickly closed, and many evangelists were sent
to a slow death in Siberia. The image of the golden cross fluttering in
the breeze in front of the Sundby chapel is etched in my memory. It was
the first that we saw of Sweden, desperately thirsty and hungry, too tired
to be afraid. I will be forever grateful for their hospitality.
died on February 18, 1993. A gravestone marks his resting place at the
Highland Memorial Cemetery in Bearden, TN.