Tarzier Memoirs

Part III Two Decades of Freedom



The Fetlers’ bitter departure from Golgotha Church left the congregation in shambles. His brother Robert, who had taken over the pastorate in 1924, told the people that they would be left without a pastor, the building to become a warehouse. The congregation was urged to follow him to the Salvation Temple, and about a hundred did so. Not content to leave, this group actively worked to bring the rest of the congregation with them, going so far as to stand on the front steps during the services, to urge the members to move their allegiance to the Temple Church across town.

As an aside, the old Golgotha temple, a former Russian military chapel, continues to house the Baptist church to this day, while the Salvation Temple, built at the cost of approximately one hundred thousand dollars, was converted into a komsomol (communist youth) movie theater and site of propaganda meetings.

Following the departure of the Fetlers, I was invited to become its next pastor. But all was not clear sailing yet. A recently enacted law governing Baptist churches gave the Executive Committee of the Baptist Church veto power over pastoral nominations. So I had to be endorsed by this committee, but they had already chosen someone for the post, and it was not me. One of the committee members then approached our deacons and convinced them to call in the entire Executive Committee for an official meeting to discuss the matter of the new pastor. The spokesman for the Executive Committee was Peteris Lauberts, a very aggressive and outspoken man.
His speech was recorded in the minutes:

Lauberts— “Brethren, why do you call in a lieutenant from the moon [Tarziers, that is]? I am sixty five years old and I do not know Tarziers.”

Deacon Geste, a retired sea captain and a man of high moral fiber and determination, replied:

Geste—“Brother Lauberts, I am sixty eight years old and I do know Brother Tarziers—we all do. He is our spiritual son. We sent him to England to prepare for the ministry. We welcomed him back from England and sent him to Latgalia on Mission work. The church is calling him back to be our pastor.”

Lauberts had to report to the Union’s Executive Committee that he had been unable to change the minds of the stubborn congregation. However, they still had not given up. According to the bylaws, a candidate had to be voted in yet another time in a formal business meeting involving the whole congregation. The emissary they appointed to conduct the meeting was my old buddy Augustus Korps from Revival House days, who, even though he was a friend, had no idea how to conduct the meeting. Korps almost failed to confirm me. In the end, he bumbled through and I was spared a rejection by the confused congregation. So at last I took over as pastor of the Golgotha Church. I would serve at this post until August 1944, when the church gave me sabbatical leave—“until I shall return,” which never happened.

Three Church committeemen presented a problem as I assumed the pastorate of Golgotha. Angered over irregularities in church finances, they wanted to take the Fetlers to court. They may have had a case. Church money was being diverted to the mission run by the Fetlers. The Fetlers were adamant on one point: all church money should go directly to the Mission, which would then pay Robert Fetler’s salary for his services as pastor of Golgotha. But if so, the church would have no way of knowing how much money came in and who gets it, and how much Robert Fetler was paid for his services.

The idea was to compel the church to deed the property to the Mission. The committe objected. They wanted to know how much money was collected and where it went. This was one reason the Fetlers had to leave the church. I arrived as the new pastor into this angry situation . It took all my mediating skills to persuade the committee to drop their charges of misappropriation of church funds. I felt that such a lawsuit would be a disgrace, that it would harm the work we were trying to do, such as the Sunbeam effort. Besides, William Fetler had an international reputation as missionary and evangelist. I believed, and still do, that legal action against him would do immense harm to the Lord’s work.

Gradually, reason took over and the clouds began to dissipate. I could relax and channel my energies to other problems of the church. It was a year or so later that the problem was solved in a quite unexpected way. During a full committee meeting in which we discussed financial matters, I noticed that Beninsh, one of the three angry committee members, was especially quiet and withdrawn. He excused himself and left around 10 PM, before the meeting was over, and walked the few blocks to his house. I was getting ready for bed that night, around midnight, when the phone rang. It was his mother. Benninsh had just died. I hurried through the deserted streets to her two room apartment in the basement of the building, meanwhile trying to figure out how to comfort a woman whose son had just died. As I entered the room where the body lay, she simply looked at me and said, “Let us pray.” I did not have to utter a word. In a humbling lesson for me, she praised the Lord and thanked the Holy Spirit for the comfort and consolation given her.

A year later I walked past her son’s burial plot one summer afternoon. She was sitting on a bench, surrounded by the flowers she had planted on the grave. I sat by her side. After a long silence, I asked her the question that had been etched in my mind: “How was it possible to remain so calm and composed when your son had just passed away?” She told me the story of that evening a year before:

“When my son came home, he said he was very tired and wanted to stretch out in bed but could not even lift his feet. He asked me, ‘Please, Mother, lift my feet onto the bed’—that was all he said. When I did, he just laid back and stopped breathing.”

“When I saw that he was dead, my mind stopped functioning. I slid down to my knees next to his body. The Holy Spirit overpowered me. It filled my soul with such vivid reality of God’s Presence that I was unable to cry or be sad. I could only praise the Lord. That was all I could do.” I left after a few minutes, leaving her to her memories by the gravesite.

Mrs. Beninsh’s other son took her to live with him after the death. He did not share his mother’s beliefs, but he did not object to her spiritual practice. As far as the church was concerned, the two other committee members slowed down after Beninsh was gone.

Mrs. Beninsh was a remarkable woman in another way. She and Minna Abers had the gift of prophecy. Mrs. Beninsh displayed her gift mostly during our annual business meetings. After records and finances and plans had been discussed, we held a session of prayer in which we thanked the Lord for the blessings of the past year and for His protection against evil and danger. Sister Beninsh always took the opportunity to present her message. It usually consisted of two parts—one part directed to the congregation, the other to me as the under-shepherd of God (Jesus being the chief shepherd). The parts referring to me made me very uneasy. She always revealed matters known to no one except myself, and I never knew what to expect. All I could do was to beg the Lord to keep her mum on the most embarrassing events of the year.

Minna Abers took active part in the church. She was in charge of the Lord’s Table. She baked unleavened bread and set up the table of bread and wine for the memorial of Jesus’ death. This monthly observance was the culmination of the blessings experienced during the past weeks, with deep meaning for the congregation.
Minna Abers’ gift was not quite as deep, usually only a message of encouragement. It dated back to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Lidere. At that time, Minna received the gift of foreign tongues. No one understood this phenomenon. Minna kept a garden plot in the city commons, where she grew vegetables for her family. She discussed theology with the old Jew who tended the plot next to hers, and did her best to show him that the Messiah had already come.

One day, as she saw him approach, shovel in hand, she thought to ask for his help, rather than correcting his theology. The fact that he was a God-fearing man who could read the Hebrew Bible, she hoped, would enable him to enlighten her regarding her gift of tongues—which no one had been able to do. So she silently prayed: “Lord, if it is from Thee, let me say those strange words.” No sooner had she asked, a power from above filled her mind and seized her tongue and she spoke words she did not understand, right in front of her Jewish neighbor. Meanwhile, he stared at her wide eyed, as though paralyzed. When she finished speaking, he regained his composure and asked, “Do you understand what you were just saying?” She replied, “No, this is what happens during our prayer meetings. I have no idea what is going on.” He continued, “Well, I understand one thing. You were speaking ancient Hebrew.” He then translated the message, which was intended for him: Christ will soon come back to take over the kingdom, every eye shall see Him and every knee shall bend before Him.

The Sunbeams

Back to Contents page