Part Two of Three
Translation and narrative: Sven Ljungholm
Ten Years in Russia pp 31-32
1913 “THE SALES OF VJESTNIK SPASENIJA (Heralds of Salvation)
Lt. Colonel Olsoni shares more of her experience….
Knowing how closely foreigners in Russia were usually monitored and the fear the church authorities harbored for all sectarianism enjoined us to focus on self-preservation and to observe every possible precaution. We weren’t to give anyone the impression that the Salvation Army existed in Russia. We were simply Salvationists from Finland who were there to sell a newspaper, that was all. The Russians were voracious readers and our weekly sales grew steadily a soon averaged between 800 and 1,000 issues sold per week. Our meetings provided a steady retail outlet with sales in trams and tram stations accounting for a good market share.
A visiting SA officer from IHQ, Commissioner Whatmore and Colonel Coles when passing through from Berlin remarked that they’d travel by tram and had been surprised at the great number of people who were ‘studying’ the SA’s only Russian language publication. He estimated that the majority of those in the tram car were engrossed in the Army’s good news. How many other minds and hearts those same publication impacted is known only by the Father.
One had to remember that anything resembling an assembly was strictly forbidden and the sale and distribution of the Heralds of Salvation served too as a vehicle for direct evangelism. In fact this was a privilege enjoyed by the SA alone. Our fluency in Russian was far from what we’d desired and as a consequences prompted many enquiries that always moved naturally in to a testimony. Hallelujah! If ten, fifteen people joined for a child baptism or wedding the event had to registered in advance with the police. Yet here we witnessed freely with little fear of vengeance.
Later, as we gained some SA soldiers, they were enrolled as members of the Helsinki No. I Corps. We knew that the sword was firmly fixed above our heads. But still we moved on. It’s remarkable how well it went. It was a remarkable work conducted by two women, two Salvationists.
The newspaper sales brought the young officers into contact with many sorts of people, not least those who lived in the slums. To illustrate the kind of people that live there we’ll share the story of one lady we met one day. She spent her time in the semi-darkness of the kitchen hovel clutching a pillow, her only belonging under her arm. And she said to the visitor, my hostess is very kind and doesn’t force me out even though I can’t pay anything. She even allows me to sleep on the stove at night- when it’s still warm.
The experiences during War Cry sales at the time was of manifold good stroke and increased the sellers’ knowledge of the people, their custom and the language. Sometimes we went from teahouse to teahouse. They were all quite different. Down in the cellars were what the (slum) sisters termed the coachman's digs.
The coachmen spent their days riding up and down the streets and could see no reason why a stop in one should matter. Especially if behind the counter was to be found a cupboard where small 6 kopek vodka bottles could be procured. With a sense of pleasure and purpose the thick, stuffed fur was tossed aside, a seat taken and the beckoning of one the attendants. The fact that the tablecloth had long since lost its white color, and the air chokingly heavy and humid from many varied sources, one didn’t notice. Life was good and if someone took the trouble to wind up the player piano there was no more serendipitous state to be had.
But suddenly the door swings open and fresh, cold air streams in and with a young lady with the red ribbon on her leather hat. She moves from table to table with her newspaper. A few whisper a question or two. Most simply stare aimlessly across the tables. Soon there is a stirring as newspapers are opened and turned toward the smoky lamp and words are exchanged as they read their newly purchased pages.
The more the sisters became acquainted with the cellar pubs, the more they came to enjoy visiting them.
End Part Two of Three