"Mother, mother! Why did she have to die? Is she in purgatory, right now?" Tears streamed down his cheeks, turning into icicles almost instantly. The biting winds stung his face. He stumbled over a hard lump of snow. Jamming his hands into his pockets, he clutched his woolen coat closer. With gloves on, he fumbled to open the lock on the massive gates of the private parkland where he was a gardener. He closed it behind him. He had had to work that Tuesday, as heavy as his heart felt; as much as he missed his mother. She was gone now. Gone from that dreadful TB. She had died that very morning.
The year was 1911. Peter was 14. And this was St. Petersburg, Russia, in the cruel face of winter. Heavy clouds dropped snowflakes endlessly. Even the sun hid for the sorrow of it all.
"Ivan. Stanislav. My brothers! They died only last year. Now mother too?
Where is she?" he wondered and cried.
The funeral didn't help him know any better. The priest sprinkled holy water constantly, it seemed. Did he even know where she was? At one time, he said she was asleep in the grave. But only minutes later, he said she was in heaven. He also said she was in purgatory, and waved some incense on her coffin. Where, oh where, was she really?
He traipsed home through the snow. There would be his stern father, home too, from his job of dispatching goods at the railway station. But mother would not be there! Even if she had been so sick and on the verge of the shadow of death for a while, he missed her quiet presence so much! At least there was still Elena, dear beloved sister! The thought cheered him for a moment. But then, she had taken it hard too. His heart sank again.
But wait. "Music?" he gasped quietly. He stopped, listening. Yes, it was music. It was singing! Where was it coming from? He scanned the landscape. He could see the majestic, golden domes of the St. Petersburg cathedral in the near distance. But over there, on the snowy slope was the source of the music. Huddled under a great big canvas tent was a small group of people. He felt himself drawn to them. Soon he was there, among the growing group of curious spectators. There was a man playing a piano accordion. Another was playing a violin. Others were singing hymns. They were missionaries--Seventh-day Adventist missionaries.
He hurried home. Father was not happy to hear about it, however. He was a patriotic Pole. Nothing but the Catholic religion would be right in his home.
Peter kept returning to that tent, whenever he got a chance. He made friends with the missionaries. He learned about their beliefs. Conviction burned within him. There was something more in what these people had, that he hadn't seen before.
"Do they have the truth?" He pondered it often.
The missionaries gave him a Bible. He studied it earnestly. He struggled with conviction, but finally came to an answer. If he was to follow God with all his heart, he was going to keep His commandments. Including the Sabbath.
"Peter, we are Catholic. I do not want you going to those Seventh-day Adventists across town, son!"
Marcel was very disturbed with his only and last son's disloyalty to his heritage. The tension grew. Peter learned more and more. Mother was not in hell, purgatory, or heaven, he discovered. She was asleep in the grave. He became increasingly convinced that it was the truth, that the missionaries had brought. It was with difficulty that he kept the Sabbath. Neither the country, nor his father approved.
The tension mounted and climaxed in 1913.
"Peter!" his father shouted angrily one day, "you either leave home NOW or abandon your foolish beliefs."
"I will go then, Father." Peter's mind was made up. He had come to treasure the truth. Nothing mattered more to him, than being faithful to God.
"Go then! And go far away! I don't even want to breathe the same air as you."
Peter packed his few belongings. Elena looked on in silence. Father had tried to get her to talk him out of his beliefs. But she didn't even try. She knew she could never change his mind.
The two siblings looked at each other for one last moment. Their eyes filled up and tears streaked their faces. Peter gave her a quick hug, and ran. How could have guessed he would never, ever see his precious sister again?
The next moment he was at the train station. He was so familiar with the place. He and his siblings had come and helped their father here many times. But now wasn't a time to remember. A ticket was purchased with a few coins from the scant amount of rubles he had. He hauled in his small suitcase. There was little in there. A few clothes. A Bible. His dear Bible - the reason he was making this trip. The scenery was whizzing by. The miles clocked up, taking him further away from his home, his dear sister, the place of his birth. The train took him Far East. One thousand miles away.
Alone, the teenager had to find work. Work? Not anything would do. Who would let him keep the Sabbath? He first tried to get a good job. Flowers. It didn't last long. He was promised leave on Sabbath, but his boss would try and get him to plant.
"You agreed that I wouldn't work on Sabbath but would make up for it on other holy days," he would reply.
The manager began pleading with him saying that he had taken a silly position. "Your ways don't suit me," the boss stated.
"I'll talk to you further on Sunday, today I cannot do my own pleasure by discussing this any further," Peter said.
He lost that job. Next he was a fire stoker at the jail. But he was told there would be no work for him if he wouldn't work Saturdays. He got another job at the water board, only to be given the same ultimatum after a month of working there.
"I guess, I'll stop looking for good jobs now," he decided finally.
He took a shovel and became a trench digger for pipe installations. He worked hard along with Chinese labourers. He was the only white worker, no other Europeans would do such work. They had to dig a trench 3.5m deep, 1m wide and 2m long to earn 3 roubles. He wrote his sister letters.
"Often before the sun rose I would already be working like a mole," he told her.
That job didn't last forever either. He supported himself in other ways too. Coach driver. Farm and factory worker.
The years slipped past. He experienced a lot of hardship and pain. But God blessed him amazingly. He was baptized, along with a few others. Eleven years after that bittersweet winter's day, he met and married his young sweetheart. They moved south to Harbin. Here a one-off Bible school was run by two American Adventist ministers. Peter was one of those who graduated as a Bible teacher.
Their firstborn little girl was born during that period, Nadia. Two years later she had a little sister. Over the years, two more little girls were born and lastly, a boy.
They had many hard times. One time, their home was inundated due to major flooding. They had to be evacuated. Other times, they had to live in a single room in a central part of a city.
Peter kept up correspondence with his sister. She stayed in Russia. She married too. They went through the Bolshevik revolution; the Stalinist purges, where 20 million were killed; the communist oppression. She and her husband were not able to have any children. That is, until they adopted a little girl. Very soon, they were expecting their own little one. They however, were not Christians. Elena had had a negative experience with a priest and decided to never follow any religion. Her life is a stark contrast to her brother's.
The sibling’s lives provide an amazing illustration. They show two lives, one disregarding of God and the other with God as Supreme.
· Suffered through the Bolshevik Revolution.
· Divorced after 8 years of marriage.
· Had one biological child.
· Her descendants are still in Russia under the Soviet Union, and are poor.
· Has only a few posterity, of whom little is known.
· Escaped the revolution and purges, which most-likely would’ve been his end.
· His daughters all say that they have never seen as happy marriage as their parents had.
· He had five children.
· God blessed him with great wisdom, so that he was able to prepare his family to move to Australia after his death. When they arrived, they were able to put a deposit on a house immediately.
· He has over 100 descendants, including doctors, ministers, lawyers, nurses, teachers, barristers, missionaries and more.
His posterity are God-fearing, comfortably-situated, well-respected citizens.
Peter was my great-grandfather. As I look back, I see a bigger picture than he would've been able to. How God led him to those missionaries. How that choice to follow God, whatever the cost and inconvenience, affected the rest of his life and the lives of his posterity. I and all his descendants are where we are today, 100 years later, thanks to great-grandfather, Peter.