Light Through the Shadows:
The True Life Story of Michael Simonivitch BeitzakharTranslated and Edited by Daniel V. Kubrock from Beitzakhar's Russian manuscript
Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1953. 184 pages.
[page 7] Preface: "For more than two years it was a privilege of the writer to be associated with Elder Beitzakhar as a fellow minister in the Russian-speaking congregation
churchin Teheran, Iran. Together we visited the believers in the village of Rahmat abad, and also journeyed to many of the places mentioned in the story." — Daniel Victor Kubrock
Summary : This fascinating story is a first-hand report of the life and adventures of Subbotnik/Adventist minister Micheal Beitzakhar, from 1914 to 1951, in Persia/Iran and Russia. The last 4 chapters (18-21) reveal a scandal among the Molokans, and a rare picture of dozens of Molokan school kids. (Chap.1) It begins with his father Simeon in his village in Persia near the Turkish border among the warring Kurds during the Russo-Turkish war. Micheal his youngest son was eight years old. A guest Russian soldier, Theodore, warns all Russians to flee back to Russia, but Simeon could not abandon his home and farm he built for 20 years. Almost killed in a Kurdish raid, Simeon was shot while the rest of his family hid. (Chap.2) All Russian survivors from their village fled with help from Persians along the way to an American Presbyterian mission fortress. Months later they returned to find their village in ruin and buried the corpses. (Chap.3) In the next year the Russians fled back into Russia assisted by the Red Cross, and the Beitzakhar family was split. The oldest son, Yourash went to Syria, and Simeon, his wife and youngest son Micheal were settled in the Northern Caucasus, in Armavir, Krasnodar province. Simeon and his wife were assigned jobs. When he earned enough to buy a horse and wagon, he did hauling. Micheal was now 10. While looking for more work, Simeon found his old friend Theodore who invites the Beitzakhars to move in and work on his farm. Soon the Russian Revolution exploded. In 1918 Beitzakhars again fled violence, following the river south 75 km (47 mi) to Otradnaia. (Chap.4) They rent a farmers hut and trade their horse and wagon for food. The revolution creates a great famine. Peasants are dying or stealing from each other causing Beitzakhars to bury their food under their floor. Beitzakhars were Assyrian Catholic Chaldeans and learn their landlord is an Sabbatarian leader. Simeon become curious about this Saturday religion which was not Jewish. (Chap.5) Young Micheal attends his first Sabbatarian meeting, later joins giving up his jewelry, smoking, and eating pork. Micheal quickly grows in the congregation
churchas the countryside famine worsens — a horse for a loaf of bread in 1918. The Sabbatarian continued to evangelize and grow in numbers, baptizing adults. (Chap.6) Now 13 years old, Micheal's parents did not know how committed he wanted to be baptised in a different faith. It would be a disgrace if Micheal left his parent's faith because he was a close relative to the congregation churchpatriarch. After 2 years, Simeon moves his family to the other side of town, far from the Sabbatarian, but Micheal continues and eventually gets baptized with others in a grand ceremony. His parents are shamed and mad, and punish him in many ways, particularly preparing all food with pork, except bread. (Chap.7) Simeon arranges for a Cossack farmer to hire Micheal and help punish him for his Saturday worship. The plan backfires when the Cossack severely injures his eye trying to whip Micheal, and he apologizes. Simeon then appeals to the Sabbatarian congregation churchto stop influencing his son. The congregation churchtold Micheal to stay at home for now, until God calls. (Chap.8) Now 18, Micheal learns of his parents plans for him to marry an Orthodox girl. He has a dream about his challenging future. During the pre-marriage meeting of the families, Micheal makes comments against the icons in the room. This infuriates the bride's mother who cancels the marriage the next day. Simeon is so embarrassed and mad that he beats Micheal who consults a Sabbatarian elder. (Chap.9) The Sabbatarian elder encourages Micheals to marry his friend Anastasia Beloysova, an orphan Sabbatarian. The wedding was very nice. Micheal's parents attended and accepted the marriage, but they would no longer support Micheal. Mickeal and Anastasia did field labor, saved, rented a hut, and opened a store. Anastasia knitted and sold clothing. (Chap.10) Micheal's business out grew the store, causing them to find a bigger location 50 miles away in Vosnesensk. After moving, on the first Sabbath, they went to find the Sabbatarian congregation church. They found a group with no building or service which met outside informally to chat and sing a few songs. They quarreled over donations (tithing) and never organized. Michael insisted on a service, and he led it. The group shaped up and recognized Micheal's leadership. He sent letters to the Adventist headquarters requesting help. In 2 weeks, chief elders visited but could provide no pastor because they had too few. They suggested that Micheal go to the ministry school in Kiev, but Micheal felt he could not leave yet. With no training, Micheal continued to lead the group, and it grew and they needed a building. Micheal found a building for 600 belonging to a Baptist. When asked to rent it, the Baptist said the first month would be free, and if he decides to convert to Saturday, he will donate the building to the congregation. He converted, and the congregation increased again. In 1925, their first child was born, daughter Luba. (Chap.11) During the first decade of Soviet rule, Adventist doubled and congregations churchesincreased from 180 to 605. As the Soviets were focusing on crushing the Orthodox church, other religions were ignored. The Adventists opened a 3-year minister school in Kiev in 1925. Now 20 years old, Micheal decided to study for the ministry— his class of 70 men committed to a 3-year program (music, history, spirit of prophecy, ...) followed by a 1+ year internship, assisting another minister. His only cost was for rent which he could earn during days off and summer by selling religious books. These colporteurs traveled in groups and were often attacked for heresy against the Orthodox. Near Leningrad (St. Petersburg) Micheal was hit in the head with a shovel, but his non-aggressive attitude caused the offended farmer to apologize, and later buy books. Another customer's son became Micheal's friend in Kiev, soon followed by his father who had to flee his post of Catholic deacon for his heresy of reading and discussing the Adventist books. Both son and father were baptized together. Micheal graduated in 1929 and returned home to a second daughter, Zina. He was lucky to finish just before the Communists closed the school. (Chap.12) Beginning in 1929, the goal of the Soviet Five-Year Plan was to destroy all religious organizations in the country, and collectivize peasants. Atheism was law. Ministers and successful peasants were arrested. Books and publishing places burned. Immigrants, like the Beitzakhars, must become citizens or leave the country, a difficult decision. In 1930, the entire Beitzakhar family along with 30 families from Persia chose to go back home. They counted their blessings from 15 years in Russia — sanctuary, a new language, marriage, from rags to relative prosperity, becoming a minister, and 2 girls. Micheal's parents still hope he will return to the Catholics. Entering Persia was difficult. There were thousands of refugees, like them, and the Russians were not trusted, many jailed. Micheal was separated from this wife and children. Bringing Russian money was not allowed. They survived by selling their belongings. Micheal gets a letter from Anastasia describing her poverty and that their girls have measles. Micheal's mayor allows him to escape to find his family. (Chap.13) Micheal travels alone without papers and meets a Pentecost businessman who helps him complete his journey, narrowly avoiding capture. Micheal finds his wife and daughters well, but his parents are determined to change them back to Catholics. Micheals learns that a search for him has failed because the authorities misspelled his name. (Chap.14) Simeon Beitzakhar leads his clan back to the farm he abandoned 15 years earlier. They clean and repair the ruins. Micheal's oldest brother, Yourash now a wealthy British Army captain, sends money from Syria to buy a cow, ox, plow, and barley seed to plant. Anastasia builds a Russian-style brick oven (pech). Yourash visits during his a vacation to confront Micheal about his Subbotnik-Jewish heresy. Simeon's family is shamed because his uncle is the Catholic patriarch. Micheal and Anastasia persist as Sabbatarians. Yourash challenges Micheal to either work on Saturday or he will kill him. Within minutes of death, the rage is interrupted by a visitor seeking to unite Micheal with other Subbotnik / Adventist groups in Iran. The angry family that almost killed Micheal recognizes that he was again saved by devine intervention due to his different faith. (Chap.15) Soon Subbotniki visit Micheal's village for service, which impressed Yourash and the Kurds. Micheal was invited to visit many Subbotniki villages and preach in several languages. Micheal's pacifism rubs off on Yourash, who becomes a preacher and after much study is baptized a Sabbatarian in his home village. (Chap.16) Micheal is invited to assist the head Adventist pastor, Elder Oster, in Teheran by reaching out to the Russian families. The Shah declares Persian, and in some places Turkish, to be the official language. Micheal is reassigned to a secret small Russian Adventist group in the village of Pahlevi on the Caspian Sea to replace the pastor was was sick. By 1933, Micheal's mother begs forgiveness for punishing him for his faith, and asks to also join the Adventists and is baptized. (Chap.17) Michael created a large teaching chart and his group decided to evangelize to the entire village which attracts a few Moslems and the scorn of the police. Michael is ordered to leave Pahlevi because his group has no building, is not registered, and uses the unofficial language. After moving to another town, Micheals often returns to comfort his former flock. The Moslems file charges and Micheal is arrested. On the 150 mile trip to jail the policeman is touched by Micheal's religious conversation and does not treat Micheal harshly, inviting him to his home rather than jail. The governor and 2 police chiefs examine Michel, and his chart and Bible. They clear him of any wrong-doing, but caution him against trying to convert Moslems again. Once back home, he is ordered to leave until he has an official permit to preach. In Teheran, Elder Oster meets the chief of police to get a permit. Fortunately the chief is Colonel Saif who knew Oster in another village where he was governor and respected their charity work. Colonel Saif immediately gave them a written order to deliver to police headquarters not to hinder the work of M. S. Beitzakhar. The Micheal's Pahlevi congregation was free for the first time since the started in 1911. (The next people to file charges against Micheal will be the Molokans.)
Chapter 18 - Without a Shepherd — News of isolated Subbotniki — Journey to the Russian village of Rahmatabad — meets Potopovs, Adventists — 26, mostly Molokans, flee to Persia — Baptists — meets Muriaviovs, Adventists.
Chapter 19 - More Precious than Gold — support from Elder Oster — Simeon the Assyrian — moves to Rahmatabad, house — builds prayer hall church — membership doubles to 35
Chapter 20 - If God Be for Us — Molokans complain to police about new Adventist preacher — someone steals grain — Molokan blame Adventists for stealing — Molokan and Adventist join to catch thief, a Molokan elder! — turmoil between groups — Molokans charge Beitzakhar for Russian propaganda — Beitzakhar sentenced to 150 lashes — former chief of police protects Beitzakhar — court clears Beitzakhar of all charges
Chapter 21 - Facing the Future — Rahmatabad refugees migrate to America (Adventists, Baptist, Molokans) ... — paperwork in Teheran — Beitzakhar finally goes to continue ministry in America
[page 154] CHAPTER EIGHTEEN
Without a ShepherdTIDINGS of an isolated company of Sabbathkeepers ["Saturday worshipers". Russian: Subbotniki. English: Sabbatarians.] who lived somewhere along the Caspian coast came to the believers in Pahlevi [Now Bandar-e Anzali]. Just where they were, no one seemed to know. Michael wrote to the mission director expressing a desire to seek out these brethren. Elder Oster replied by sending him the necessary funds and wishing him God's blessing on his trip.
Packing his Bible, songbooks, and a few clothes, he went to the freight garage to find a truck that would take him in the desired direction. Roads were few and undeveloped in outlying provinces, and each traveler had to make his way the best he could. At the garage Michael already found the [page 155] truck loaded high with freight and the cab filled with its quota of passengers, but the driver crowded him in and made ready to leave. They journeyed eastward, skirting the southern coast of the Caspian, past green rice paddies, tea plantations, and fragrant orange groves. Along the way Michael made inquiries regarding the group he sought.
On the afternoon of the third day he arrived at the beautiful little town of Sari. Here he found a Russian family who invited him into their home. Upon learning that he was a minister, they asked him to preach to them that evening, saying that they would invite their friends. About twenty people came to attend the service. The sermon was on the second coming of Christ and the importance of keeping God's commandments. Near the front sat an elderly man who leaned forward in his seat and watched the speaker intently. No sooner had Michael finished his study than the old man was on his feet. Facing the audience, while pointing his finger directly at the speaker, he said:
"This is the man for whom I have waited twenty years. I have seen him in my dreams, standing as he stands before you today. You have all heard me say that a Christian would come to us who keeps the Sabbath day. Now he is here! Praise God! I am no longer alone in keeping the Sabbath."
A breath of excitement stirred the company, and a thrill like an electric current went through [page 156] Michael. In another moment the old man had grasped his hand.
"I am lawyer Magerdeech," he said. "You must come home with me tonight and meet my family." The next three days Michael spent with this dear man, his wife, and his son. From them he learned how they had become Sabbathkeepers [Subbotniki].
It was in Baku [capital of Azerbaidjan] that Mr. Magerdeech found a tract on the Sabbath commandment. He brought it with him when he returned to his home in Sari. After studying it carefully, comparing scripture with scripture, he was convinced that the Bible teaches the observance of the seventh day of the week. But he was puzzled regarding Sunday worship and its origin. Being an Armenian, he turned to his priests for an explanation. [Armenians also joined the Molokans.] Their answers did not satisfy him. Although he knew of no one else keeping the Bible Sabbath, he decided that he must do so himself — "Unless," he said to his friends, "someone can show me from the Bible that I must observe another day."
Because of these strange ideas he was considered a bit peculiar, but this did not stop him from visiting the townspeople and studying the Bible with them.
"The day is coming," he declared, "when you will see that I am not alone in keeping holy the seventh day. From America also Sabbathkeepers will come." As the people saw his sayings being [page 157] fulfilled, they began to look upon him as a prophet.
Mr. Magerdeech and his wife also observed the ordinance of foot washing. They readily accepted other points of Bible truth that Michael explained to them. When the lawyer learned that smoking is not in harmony with Bible standards, he gave it up at once.
When he requested baptism Michael told him that he hoped soon to make another visit in that area with the mission director, Elder Oster, and advised him to wait until that time.
"Then please tell him to come soon, for we love God and want to be baptized," answered Mr. Magerdeech.
Michael will never forget the three precious days spent with this conscientious family, who, although alone in their beliefs, were faithful in following their convictions of truth. They begged him to remain with them a few more days. How, ever, Michael thought of the journey still before him, and reluctantly bade them good-by, promising to return soon.
From the information gleaned in his travels from day to day, Michael had learned that some Adventists lived in the village of Rahmatabad, still a day's journey ahead. He found a truck driver who promised to take him to a place near his destination by the next afternoon.
While traveling the last few miles on foot, [page 158] Michael was overtaken by a Russian farmer driving his team of horses.
"How do I get to Rahmatabad?" he asked.
"I'll show you the way," answered the farmer, introducing himself as Mr. Potopov. "Put your suitcase in the wagon and climb up with me. Are you looking for someone in particular?"
"No, I was just trying to get to the village before dark."
"Why don't you stay with us tonight? Tomorrow we can go to the village together."
"That would be fine," replied Michael who was weary from his long trip. While the hospitable housewife was dishing up the evening meal, Michael saw the family Bible lying on the living room table. Leafing through its pages, he noticed that the fourth commandment was underlined in red. During supper he asked his host to which congregation
churchhe and his family belonged. Husband and wife looked at each other in embarrassed silence, then she smiled, "Go on, tell him what we believe."
"Well," he began, "our parents were Seventh-day Adventists [originally Subbotniki]. I suppose we are too, although we have never been baptized, and there is no congregation
churchhere for us to attend."
"Are there other Adventists living nearby?" "Yes, in Rahmatabad there are four families with many children. But please tell us what is your belief."
[page 159] "I am also a Seventh-day Adventist," answered Michael simply.
The family looked at him incredulously for a moment, then began pressing him with other questions.
"Tell us, how did you ever find us?"
"The Scripture says, 'Seek and ye shall find.' That is what I have done."
"Look, children," said the mother, lifting her hands. "God has not forgotten us. He has sent us this brother, who will teach us the truth from the Bible."
"O Mother, that is good. Will we have a school too?" asked the little daughter.
"Yes, we will have a school for the children too," promised Michael.
The next morning the family and Michael climbed into the wagon and rode toward Rahmatabad. The bright morning sun soon brought their destination into full view. Nestled at the foot of a wooded mountain lay a typical Russian village of huts with grass-thatched roofs and whitewashed walls. As they rode along Mr. Potopov told Michael something of the history of the people living there.
On a dark night five years before, twenty-six families had made a dash for freedom across the Russian border into Persia [now Iran]. [Most fled from the Caucasus east across the Caspian Sea to southern Turkmenistan passing the city of Ashkhabad, then drove off the road to cross the Russian-Persian border seeking the Persian town of Meshed. From there they traveled back west, towards the Caspian Sea.] They had brought their flocks and herds and all they could manage to carry on their wagons. Most of them were Spiritual Christian Molokane and Pryguny
Molokans* [page 160], with a few Adventist and Baptist families.
*A Russian dissenter sect, said to be so named as "milk drinkers" from their habit of taking milk and food prepared from milk on the fast days when it is prohibited by the Orthodox church. The author confuses and combines the Spiritual Christian Molokan and Prygun faiths which spoils their histories here, because readers cannot be sure to which faith he is referring.
They pleaded with the Persian Government not to send them back to Russia. When the shah [King of Persia] learned that they were religious fugitives, he allowed them to settle on land belonging to him [like a national park]. However, they were kept under strict surveillance. The only place to which they were allowed to go was the nearby town of Gurgan [Gorgân, Jurjan] (Asterbad [Astrâbâd, Asterâbâd.]) [Capital of Golestân province]. At first they were cut off from the rest of the world, for they were not permitted to send out letters. As time went on, however, they showed themselves industrious and trustworthy and were gradually given freedom to come and go as they pleased.
[See a sattelite photo of Rahmat abad and region.]
Mr. Potopov urged his horses on, but the wagon wheels turned slowly in the dark, sticky mud. Beside the road flowed a pebbly mountain stream, the village water supply. On its rippling surface played ducks and geese, diving in search of food.
Passing a number of huts, the driver halted the horses in the yard of an Adventist family named Muriaviov.
"Who do you think has come to our village today?" joyously shouted Mr. Potopov to the family, who had already come out to the wagon to greet the newcomers.
"An Adventist minister!"
Muraviov family and friends
[page 161] "Thank God!" exclaimed Mrs. Muriaviov reverently. "Our prayers are answered at last!"
Quickly the news of the visitor's arrival spread from home to home. Soon the yard was filled with excited men, women, and children, all eager to catch a glimpse of Michael. Some wept for joy as they saw a minister for the first time in more than five years. All were eager for him to come and visit in their homes.
"I shall be happy to visit each and every one of you," Michael assured them, "only you must give me time."
The Adventist believers [both Subbotniki and Adventists] remained after the others had left. [In Russia, the Subbotniki who lived in larger cities that had foreign Adventist missions, identified themselves as "Adventist". Those in rural kolkhozes still called themselves Subbotniki. Here the translator/editor combines the two groups as "Adventist" for the American reader.]
"How thankful we are that you have come," they exclaimed to Michael. "Our children are growing up without a proper knowledge of the truth. They do not know how to keep the Sabbath, nor has there been anyone who could baptize them."
Here was a field ready for the harvest. Michael announced that he would hold a preaching service each evening. In spite of rain, mud, and pitch-black darkness, all the villagers attended these meetings. Their spiritual hunger and thirst for the Word of God was a great inspiration to Michael. During the day he visited in the different homes, studying and praying with each family and getting acquainted with the young people. In true Russian [page 162] style these humble villagers opened wide their hearts and homes.
One very beautiful custom observed by these Russians was that of singing during their meals. Before starting the meal, all stood and asked God's blessing first on the food and then on the host. Between the different courses they sang Bible verses to minor tunes of their own invention.
For three weeks Michael remained in Rahmatabad, preaching, teaching, and visiting, until he had made the acquaintance of everyone in the village. He had helped the Adventist believers organize regular Sabbath services and had promised to send them the Sabbath School Lesson Quarterly.
As a final gesture of friendliness and good will, the entire village went with him to the main road to bid him Godspeed on his journey home.
[page 163] CHAPTER NINETEEN
More Precious than GoldELDER Oster was so impressed with Michael's enthusiastic report of his visit in Rahmatabad that he was anxious to see the believers himself. He wrote to Michael in Pahlevi [Now: Bandar-e Anzali], asking him to meet him at the town of Shahi, on the railroad line from Teheran to Bandar Shah. From there the two men journeyed together to the Russian village [Rahmatabad], where they were received with the same eagerness and shown the same warm hospitality that Michael had enjoyed before. Again they held evening preaching services and visited in the homes during the day. This was the first time the villagers had ever seen an American, and they looked on Brother Oster with great interest. When he prepared to return [page 164] to Teheran at the end of a week, they begged him instruct them and their to send them a teacher to children in the gospel.
On his return from this second visit to Rahmatabad, Michael came down with a severe case of malaria and was advised by the brethren to spend several weeks in Teheran, resting and recuperating. During this time he found many Russian families who were seeking for truth. They invited him to their homes, and soon he was busier than ever, visiting and holding Bible studies with these refugees.
With the discovery of this company of Sabbathkeepers in Rahmatabad, a new problem confronted the mission committee. There were now three companies of Russian believers, widely separated, and only one pastor among them all. It was finally decided to ask Michael and his family to move to Teheran [Also: Tehran]. While Carrying on work in the capital city, he could make periodic visits to the prayer meetings church in Pahlevi and to the group in Rahmatabad.
While many seekers after truth were eagerly pressing into the congregation
church, a decided change was also taking place in the life of Simeon. He had quit smoking and was attending the congregation churchservices regularly with Mary. At home he studied the Sabbath school lessons, looking up the texts in his own Assyrian Bible. His troubled countenance revealed that an inward struggle was taking place, a struggle [page 165] that had begun nearly twenty years before, when Michael had first left the congregation churchof his fathers.
Simeon had loved his congregation
churchand was proud of her long, eventful history. Hidden in the inaccessible mountains of Kurdistan, she had been the refuge against hostile Turks, Moslems, and Kurds. Through dark centuries she had been the guardian of the Peshitta (the standard Syriac Bible), and was the preserver of the language and customs of the Assyrian people.
But more than this, Simeon took an additional pride in his own family traditions, for Mar Shimoon, the patriarch of the congregation
church, was a near relative. According to a long-standing custom, this office was hereditary, passing to the nephew of the patriarch. For these reasons Simeon felt closely bound to his own congregation church, and was careful lest he offend his brethren in anything.
But "the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Through the pages of the Book, which his congregation
churchhad guarded through the ages, God spoke to Simeon. He spoke to him by His providences in the lives of Michael, Youarsh, and Mary. At last Simeon heeded that voice, and found peace of mind and heart. The long conflict was over. The truth of [page 166] God had won its way against fable and tradition. In the pool of the mission compound at Teheran, Simeon was baptized by F.F. Oster. It was a most wonderful occasion for the entire congregation church. Even members of a neighboring Baptist congregation churchcame to witness the service, and to participate by rendering special music.
"Who would have thought that things would turn out this way!" Simeon exclaimed to his family. "For a long time Mary and I knew that this was the truth, but we did not accept it, for we did not want to offend our brethren. But see how wondrously God has worked! I sent my four older sons to a Christian school and expected great things from them. The youngest was sickly as a child. His twin died in infancy, and we did not expect him to live either. But God planned differently. He has brought salvation to our house through him whom we counted the least."
The following spring Elder Oster again accompanied Michael on a visit to the village of Rahmatabad. They found the interest among the Adventist believers growing and the need for a worker more urgent than ever. Encouraged by this visit, the congregation
church membersbegan to gather materials to erect a prayer hall church building. They begged Michael to come and be their pastor.
As they jogged along the bumpy road on their return trip, Brother Oster turned to Michael, [page 167] "Would you and your wife be willing to move to Rahmatabad to live? In these dear believers we have material for a good strong congregation
This suggestion did not take Michael by surprise. He had also been turning the matter over in his own mind. He had thought of the primitive conditions and the sickness in the village, of the small mud huts with their leaky roofs and dirt floors. He had also noticed that there was not a vacant hut in which he and his family might live. But — if that was where he was needed —
"If it is God's will that we move to Rahmatabad, then we shall be willing to do so," was Michael's reply.
That night Michael had a dream in which he saw a beautiful prayer hall
church buildingin the village of Rahmatabad.
"Who built this prayer hall
church?" he asked one of the villagers.
"We have built it," replied the man, "so that the Moslems will know that we are Christians. Do you know of what material it is made?"
"I do not."
"It is made of pure gold!"
"But where could you have gotten so much gold?" exclaimed Michael in surprise.
"We brought it with us on our wagons when we fled from Russia."
Still not believing the man, Michael took his [page 168] handkerchief and began to rub the dull metal of the building. The sunlight touched the burnished spot with a flash of fire.
"You see," exclaimed the man, "it is real gold, but it has become dusty because there is no one to look after it."
The dream brought to Michael the conviction that God had a work for him to do in Rahmatabad. After he had related the unusual dream to his traveling companion, Brother Oster said, "Yes, I am sure your labors in that place will not be fruitless, for there the Lord has His own who shall come forth as gold."
A few weeks later Michael and his family arrived in Rahmatabad to live. The only available place for them was a thatched lean-to where cows, goats, and chickens had been kept. This temporary shelter was hardly suitable even in the summer months. One day Anastasia found a snake curled up under one of their beds. A few days later a large scorpion fell onto the table from the straw ceiling overhead. This drove them outdoors entirely, where they slept under the stars.
Under these circumstances Dr. Hargreaves, who was now the mission director, sent a sum of money with which they began to build a home of their own. The whole family, Michael, Anastasia, Simeon, Mary, and even the children, worked together mixing mud for the sun-dried bricks.
[page 169] Unlike the temporary two-room huts built by the villagers, this was a substantial home with four rooms. When the immigrants saw how well it looked, they began gradually to enlarge and improve their own huts.
Meanwhile, the work on the prayer hall
church buildingwas also progressing steadily. Some of the men brought timber from the mountains, and others made bricks for the walls. By fall the meeting house was ready for use. Michael could now devote all his time to preaching and visiting. Three nights a week he held evangelistic services in the new prayer hall church building. The Lord blessed his labors, and soon the congregation church membershipdoubled — from eighteen to thirty-five. Michael was reminded of his dream of the golden prayer hall church. He had found treasure that was far more precious than gold.
Prayer hall Churchfinished.
[page 170] CHAPTER TWENTY
If God Be for USTRUTH seldom advances without stirring up prejudice and opposition. Thus it was with the preaching of the gospel in this small Russian village on the Turkoman steppes of Persia. The hearts of many of the young people had been completely won by the message they had been hearing at the Adventist meeting
church. Because of this, the Molokan leaders became very bitter toward the work that Michael was carrying on. Fearful lest they should lose more of their members, they went to the police headquarters in Gurgan [Gorgân], informing them that Michael was engaging in political activities.
It was under these circumstances that an event occurred which shook the entire village. A thief had [page 171] been stealing grain from the umbar (Russian: storehouse) of Jacob, one of the Molokan members. The head, man of the village went to Michael and told him that he suspected some of the Adventists.
"Don't judge before the time," replied Michael. "When the thief is caught, then we will identify him."
When news of this affair reached the ears of Vacilli Muriaviov, an Adventist, he immediately went to the home of Jacob, who was his brother-in, law.
"Is it true that grain is being stolen from your umbar?"
"Yes, already several hundred kilos have been taken."
"Who do you think the thief could be?"
"It must be one of your new congregation
church members! When there was no Adventist meeting churchin the village, there were no thieves."
"Don't worry, Jacob," replied Vacilli [Also: Vasili]. "You are a Molokan, and I am an Adventist, but we are also relatives. Let us watch together tonight by your umbar, and try to catch the thief. In that way we will be able to get the truth of the matter."
ChurchSchool Children in Rahmatabad
Shown are 61 faces of all groups — Molokane, Pryguny, Baptists, Adventists...
The teacher, Valentina Sulomani, is right of center in 2nd row holding a baby.
The two men hid near the storehouse and watched until midnight. They were on the verge of giving up when they saw a shrouded form approaching the grain umber. He climbed the short before the open door and bent over to fill [page 172] the sack he carried under his arm. Vacilli and Jacob quickly ran toward the ladder. They seized the thief by the legs and pitched him headlong into the grain bin. Vacilli scrambled up after him and held him down while Jacob ran for the lantern. Returning excitedly, he held the lantern to the face of thief. Jacob drew back in astonishment. It was the head elder of his own congregation
Stunned, he suggested they let the thief go and forget about the matter. "Oh, no, not yet," answered Vacilli [Vasili]. "I'll tie his hands and feet while you go and bring some witnesses to identify him."
Reluctantly Jacob went. Half an hour he returned with a number of people, including Michael and the wife of the thief. There was a gasp of surprise as each in turn stooped down in the smoky lantern light to identify the thief. The elder's wife overwhelmed him with bitter reproaches. When it was all over, the man and everyone went home.
In the morning the village was jarred as though shaken by an earthquake, The Molokan prayer hall
churchwas thrown into confusion. The members rose up one against the other. The elder was dishonored, moved from office, and the members scattered. As a result of this incident, many sought to unite the Adventists or Baptists.
Ashamed and defeated, the remaining members [page 173] went to the police and complained still more vigorously against Michael, claiming that he was engaged in political activities under the cloak of religion.
One day Michael received a call from the police authorities in Gurgan. On his arrival he was told by the chief that he would need a written permit from Teheran in order to continue his work in Rahmatabad. He returned to the village, and after explaining the matter to the congregation
church, left for Teheran, promising to return in a few days.
With high hopes Michael immediately went to the office of, the chief of police in Teheran. He expected to see his friend, Colonel Saif, who had helped him before. With consternation he learned that Colonel Saif was no longer in this position, but was now minister of foreign affairs. The new chief greeted Michael very gruffly.
"In what place are you now scattering foreign propaganda under the cloak of religion?" he demanded angrily.
This unexpected accusation left Michael speechless for the moment.
"Come on, now, where are you working?"
"Near Gurgan [Gorgân], in the village of Rahmatabad," replied Michael regaining his composure.
"You are receiving money from the Soviet and are getting people ready to go to the Union!" the official shouted loudly.
"I am not carrying on that type of work," [page 174] replied Michael quietly, "I am doing only religious work, for which as an Iranian subject, I have received proper authority from the government."
This answer only angered the man more.
"Come back to see me after three days. By then your police record will be here, and I will put an end to your work," he snapped.
Three days later, when Michael returned to police headquarters, he was shown into a room where several officers were sitting around a table. They began to question him; then they took out and read to him a document undersigned by a number of persons from the Molokan congregation
churchin Rahmatabad. It was precisely the same accusation that the chief had brought against Michael three days before.
Just then the chief of police walked into the room. The officers stood at attention. After he had taken his seat, the document from Gurgan was read again in his presence. He immediately rang a bell, and an officer appeared with a whip in his hand. Pointing to Michael, the chief said, "Give this man seventy lashes with the whip."
"But why am I to be whipped?" Michael asked.
"Because you have gone to the shah's province without my permission, and there you have worked against the government."
"But the former chief of police gave me permission," Michael protested.
[page 175] The official stopped short and looked at Michael.
"I'll phone him this minute," he said, "and if what you say is true, I'll let you go. But if it is not true, instead of 70 lashes you'll get 150!"
After several attempts, he was able to reach Colonel Saif.
"Yes, it is true." Declared the voice over the phone. "Moreover, send Mr. Beitzakhar to me." Greatly provoked, the chief banged down the receiver. He issued some orders, and then sent Michael to the office of the foreign minister with several armed guards.
Colonel Saif dismissed the guards and courteously asked Michael to tell him the whole story.
"You leave all this matter in my hands," he said reassuringly. "I'll answer these charges against you. But you will not be able to return to Gurgan until the court has made final disposition of the case. You will be free to go wherever you please here in Teheran; however, a secret agent will follow you."
"How long before my case will come up?" Michael asked.
"It will take a long time, since it is under the special jurisdiction of the shah's province, It may be a year or even two. This was a grievous disappointment to Michael. The thought of not being permitted to return to [page 176] the congregation
churchin Rahmatabad for that long was bitter indeed. To all appearances the adversary of truth had triumphed!
Michael was advised by the mission director to send for his family to join him in Teheran while waiting for his case to come to court. He was not allowed to return to the village to help them move. Sadly Anastasia gave away her ducks and chickens, packed the household goods, and prepared to leave the home and people she had learned to love. With heavy hearts and with much weeping the villagers bade the family farewell.
In Teheran, Michael was not idle, but continued in the work of visiting homes, holding Bible studies, and preaching. Although not permitted to visit the prayer halls
churchesin Pahlevi and Rahmatabad, he kept up regular correspondence with the members, answering their questions and encouraging them to be faithful. He also made sure that they received their Lesson Quarterlies and other literature.
After waiting for nearly two years, Michael was called one day to police headquarters. Upon his arrival he was taken to the court and put on the defendant's stand. When the judge and other officers came into the room he was greatly relieved to see with them his friend Colonel Saif. After the hearing was over, Michael was told to stand while the decision was read. It was as follows:
[page 177] "The decision of the political court of Iran, in the city of Teheran, concerning the case of M. S. Beitzakhar: The defendant has upon several occasions been accused of carrying on espionage work among the Russian-speaking people of the frontier cities, under the pretense of religious activities, thereby causing the Iran Government to hold him in a state of suspicion. For the past several years the government has carefully investigated his work in every detail, and finds that he is not guilty of the above charges. He is a minister in good standing in the Seventh-day Adventist congregation
churchin Iran, and is occupied only in fulfilling spiritual duties of his office. Holding this to be true, the decision of this court is as follows: Mr. M. S. Beitzakhar is henceforth to be. free from all suspicion, and he is hereby granted permission to work in all the cities and villages of Iran without hindrance."
As Michael listened to this decision the words of the text flashed into his mind, "If God be for us, who can be against us?"
While the enemies of truth had sought to hinder the work in one village of Iran, God had so overruled their plans that Michael now had liberty to work in every city and village. Whereas heretofore it had taken hours and even days to obtain a traveling pass, he was now able to receive one in a matter of minutes. With joy in his heart he returned home and told Anastasia to begin preparations [page 178] for a visit to the brethren in Rahmatabad.
Upon their arrival in the village a few days later, the members greeted them with great surprise and rejoicing. But his former accusers looked upon him with visible consternation.
"Are you planning to come here and live again?" they asked incredulously.
"If God sees fit," replied Michael. "We always stand ready."
Later Michael and his family did move back again to Rahmatabad. This time, with the help of the congregation
church members, they were able to erect a school building, the only one in the village. With Anastasia and his two older daughters as assistant teachers, Michael conducted a religious churchschool for the village children — about ninety in all. This more than anything else helped to erase feelings of envy or bitterness among the members of the various religious groups and to bring about a spirit of brotherly love in the village.
The Beitzahkar Family in 1947. From left to right: Micheal, Florence,
Anastasia, Zina, Liza, George, Luba
[page 179] CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE
Facing the FutureFROM the mission office in Teheran, Michael one day brought home with him a pretty new calendar. Turning over the picture cover, he hung it on the wall and looked at the date — January 1, 1951.
"Twenty years since we have come from Russia!" he exclaimed to his wife. "How fast the time has gone!"
For the next half hour the two engaged in thoughtful retrospect. First and foremost, they were happy in the assurance that God had been with them through the years, and was with them still. He had blessed their home with five healthy children, four daughters and one son. The two oldest [page 180] daughters had attended the Middle East College in Beirut, Lebanon; from there they had gone on to America to prepare for future service. The other three were studying in the Iran Training School in Teheran. Simeon was still living, but had returned to his beloved village Kallah. Dear mother Mary had gone to her rest, stanch and faithful to the end.
The last ten years had brought many important changes in the work among the Russian congregations
churches in Iran, as a result of conditions arising from World War II. Shortly after the beginning of the war the members of the Pahlevi congregation moved to Teheran, where the two congregations churches consolidated. For the following decade Michael divided his time between the Teheran and Rahmatabad congregations churches.
After the war the immigrants began leaving Iran in large numbers. America had opened its doors, especially to those fleeing Soviet domination. This was exceedingly good news to the Russian refugees in Iran. Although there was now more freedom than before, the villagers were dissatisfied with their uncertain status, and were afraid to live so near Russia. They eagerly applied for American visas. Those who had relatives or friends in America wrote for money and affidavits. Among the refugees there was a stir of excited activity. In Rahmatabad they made arrangements to sell their homes, their cattle, and their harvest of grain.
See Berokoff: Chapter 8 — Aid to Brethren in Iran — in February 1946 American Spiritual Christians learn of 300 Spiritual Christians in Iran and helped them to immigrate to America. Also, see 2 petitions written in 1947 from American and Iranian Spiritual Christian elders to President Truman, and the reply from the State Department.
As families were notified of the arrival of their [page 181] visas, they left the village and went to Teheran to make final preparations for leaving. Weeks and often months were spent in trudging wearily to government bureaus, doctor's offices, and custom houses before the final papers were cleared. During this time the Adventist members made their headquarters in the pastor's home. Entire families, with grandfather and grandmother, moved in and took up the available space in [the] dining room, living room, and hallway. At night they unrolled their bedding and slept side by side on the floor. To make it easier on the Beitzakhar budget, the villagers brought provisions of butter, honey, and large sacks of homemade zwieback. (sukhary, dried bread). Occasionally some of the American missionaries would come in for a visit. The peasants would crowd around and ply them with innumerable questions regarding America. In other parts of town there were similar scenes of eager anticipation in the homes of Baptist and Molokan believers. Day after day the transportation offices in Teheran were crowded with bustling passengers, their anxious faces turned toward America, the land of opportunity. Planeload after planeload departed, carrying half-frightened peasants who had never been in an airplane before.
Within a few years nearly the whole colony of Russian refugees in Iran had emigrated to America. They settled in California, together with thousands of other Russian-speaking refugees from Europe.
[page 182] Among them were the Adventist believers from the congregations
churches in Iran. Only a few families remained behind, and these planned to follow the others as soon as possible.
The emigrants began sending back glowing reports of the wonderful America they had just discovered. They wrote of America's great abundance and of almost unlimited opportunity for employment. Only in one respect was the Adventist group unhappy: they could not speak the English language, nor did they have a shepherd for their flock. They wrote to Iran, begging Michael to come and be their pastor. He brought the matter before the mission brethren, who gave him the opportunity of making his own decision.
Thus it came to pass that Michael and his family also turned their faces toward America, a land of which they had heard much but never really expected to see. What awaits them there, only a kindly Providence can tell. His aims and hopes for the future are best expressed in a letter written just before leaving Iran:
"DEAR READER:"Thanks be unto God for His wonderful truth which He has given to us as a light shining in a dark place and to lighten the pathway to the Father's house above. This pathway of truth has been consecrated by the footsteps of our blessed Redeemer. [page 183] By experience we have found that those who have chosen to follow Him will become the targets for the bitterest attacks of the adversary. But even though distressed and wounded by the enemy, we must press on in faith with this watch, word on our lips, 'Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.' Deep within our hearts my wife and I reverently cherish these experiences through which God has led us, for in them we see His hand of mercy. We have recounted them not for any personal reasons, but that they may bring glory to God through our Lord Jesus Christ to whom alone belong praise and glory and honor.
"We dedicate this story to you with a prayer that it may increase your faith and love for Christ, our mighty Captain, and inspire you to stand boldly on the side of truth, lifting high the banner of prince Emmanuel. May it lead you to dedicate your life to that greatest, noblest of all tasks — seeking the lost and bringing them to Jesus, as trophies of His cross.
"If, in the performance of this task, you are called upon to suffer for the sake of the truth, know for a certainty that all your sufferings are most precious in His sight. I commend to you these inspired words of Paul:
"'For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.' 'Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye [page 184] steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.'
"May God bless you and keep you till at last at His feet we may lay all our trophies down.
M. S. BEITZAKHAR."
[NOTE: In 2002, Michael Beitzakhar today lives in the LA area and is over 90 years old.]
Spirtual Christians Around the World