Saturday, April 30, 2016

Ten Years in Russia; 1913-1923 CONCLUSION

From Ten Years in Russia; 1913-1923
Karl Larsson 
Translation: SEL

A teahouse singer’s tale

Marusja - every time I hear that name my thoughts are brought to a house located at  Petergovskij Prospectus 22. 

It was a late on Marus Monday evening, named after Avraham Marek Klingberg, known as Marcus – reputed to have saved the world from the Nazis, in November 1917. A group of Petrograd Salvation Army officers from Finland working in Russia had gathered together to spend their free evening. Among them were also some Russian Salvationist, and there was one that especially by her genuine Russian character was different from the others. 

Despite her natural vivacity there was the essence of a 
prayer for indulgence because she was wrapped in a striped scarf and a white cloth on her head, she sat near the steaming tea kitchen at the lower end of the table. It was Marusja. Her early years she had spent in the teahouse world. She grew up in a Russian slum home and had as a child been thrown into the street, where she as a barefoot little beggar managed to get by, singing their country's melancholy folk songs. 

As she grew older, she moved eventually from the street into the tea houses, and soon she became the city’s well most celebrated teahouse singer. 

So began the trek from the tea house to tea house night after night for years. Evenings and a part of the nights she spent among beer bottles or tea glasses, often into the early hours of the morning. A part of the day she dozed away in the corner of one of her friends.

These teahouses became her world, and as long as she had a voice and the ability to adequately fill the boisterous crowd's requests.
She was welcomed everywhere by the city’s countless numbers.
But then her voice broke. 

One evening she sang her swansong. Only a hiss remained of her voice and it fell to only whispers. Her star had gone out. 

The Teahouse World was closed, and only begging remained, on which thousands of Russian relied. 

Then came The Salvation Army – the blessed Army. With many of the city's many unfortunates one evening she came to the Prospect Petergovskij where the Army’s hall was located. A new world opened up to her! 

How different were not these songs to those she had been used to! They penetrated to the former teahouse singer’s hardened heart, enlarged it and made it open to the divine love which so far has been altogether foreign.

"Sister dearest," she interrupted in the middle of the story of her life story and made the sign of the cross, "then I must go there," she opened the door and pointed to the Mercy Seat. "Well, you know, my dove, when the sister, who prayed with me urged me to pray by myself, my heart was about to burst. Sister consoled me, saying that the Lord hears our heart cry. Well, then, then came the miracle." Once again she made the sign of the cross.. "It was as if the heavenly Father himself touched me and said: 'You are free,' and then, for the first time in my life, I thanked God in my own words.  He placed a new song in my mouth praising God.”

The narrator fell silent. On the other side of the street the convent bells peeled the time for the midnight church service. After having made the sign of the cross before the painted icon of Christ, whose holy lamp spread a faint sheen, Marusja swept her shawl tighter around herself, and tied her headscarf firmer, and then she kissed me on the cheek. She left the house at Fetergovskij prospectus 22.

Later I met Marusja at our meetings. We became
good friends. Equally modest and praylike she came night after night to our meetings with her Bible under her arm. 

Of the former teahouse singer was transformed a Salvationist singer. She had in her mouth," a new song, a hymn of praise to our God.

Samojeden - A Siberian from the nomadic people

He was a short, middle-aged man. No one had paid any particular attention to him. He came to our meetings and left, just like all the other people did with the difference only that his place on the bench by the window was empty every other week. He was the shift workers.

But one Sunday, when the meeting was over and the people left the hall, he remained behind and asked to speak to the meeting leader.

"Do you know what it is that draws me to your meetings?" he said. 

"It is your Mercy Seat. It has exercised a strong attraction for me, but it's only for Christians, and I, I'm a heathen, a Samoyed. I have a crime on my conscience. 

Samojeden – “About ten years ago I committed what was deemed one of our most horrible crimes. The punishment for this was that my nose and ears were to be torn loose and my jaws crushed. Our fathers’ law said so.”
 They cast lots to decide who would enforce the judgment. The lot fell on me, but I could not bring myself to carry out the punishment.

Before the appointed day dawned I ran away from my father’s hut, pursued by my tribe's curse. I can never again tread on my native land, Siberia's icy strands.

This curse has rested upon me in all these years, but with you, I have a feeling that there "- he pointed to botbänken -" there is something wonderful, that can reconcile everything. But that's just for Christians, and I'm a pagan. But tell me, "he continued," if there really is a force that can reconcile all crimes ...? "

The officer explained thoroughly Jesus Christ’s reconciliatory plan of salvation) which refers to all mankind - both Christians and pagans - and explained that our Mercy Seat was intended not only for Christians but also for the Gentiles, because Jesus Christ, God's Son’s, blood cleanses from all sin.

Samojeden appeared to devour every word, and gradually a light  appeared to effect him. He understood nothing of the matter, albeit vaguely. When he prayed at the Mercy Seat together with the meeting's leader, the light broke into his soul, and dissipated the devil’s darkness. Samojeden quivered at the Spirit's touch, and when he opened his mouth, exhibited a wonderful power, whose outpouring I have never sensed before. The whole man being radiant rose from his kneeling position, and said:
"I have never bowed the knee to any man, and never thanked anyone. The Creator is the first, before whom I humble myself, and he has reconciled my debt. Now I can return to my home town, because he has obliterated my
ancestral Law. "
A complete transformation had taken place.


It was Sunday December 22, about six weeks after the revolution. I had come to meet Commissioner George Mitchell, who would pass through Petrograd on the way from the East to England. World War II still raged and made other routes unsafe. But as the Commissioner’s train was several hours late, I never met him. Instead, I got to be part of the Salvation Army's first open air meeting in Russia.

About thirty officers, soldiers and recruits took part. The Band was made up of myself with my concertina. With the banner in the lead we marched up the Bolshoi Prospect (High Street) about ten minutes and then turned onto a side street, where we formed a large circle. Within minutes we had a crowd of about a thousand people around us.

My interpreter, candidate Clara Becker got up on a chair and announced the first song, where the words read;
Those who come to the cross shall receive the crown of life in the land where Jesus lives, oh, what joy eternal!

A couple of Salvationists led in prayer, and then we sang a song printed in Vjestnik Spasenija, followed by some testimonies.

Someone in the crowd objected. We understood that less friendly elements were present. One person asked to speak, but we could not give the floor to completely unknown persons, least of all in an open-air meeting. Someone shouted that we should believe in the new priests, to which another replied that we would not think of anyone other than Christ. During yet another song, we took up the collection, which amounted to seventeen rubles, after which I spoke on the words: "What a man soweth, so shall he reap.

The turmoil in the crowd appeared to be increasing. The man who had asked to speak earlier asked again with the same request, and when it was not granted, he cried: "These belong to the black hundred" (a famous reactionary group), after which he issued orders to march!

The people opened the way for us. We could not see from the front what was going on behind us, but we heard later that the comrades who came last in the march had it difficult, as the crowd pushed and appeared menacing.

The entire crowd followed us to our headquarters. Since we were not able to prepare a place for more than a maximum of seventy persons, only a fraction of the pushy crowd get into. They did not believe our assurances of the limited space, and the situation became critical.

The crowd was too upset to listen to any explanation; it could not understand why the doors must be closed and appeared to have gotten the idea that we were a secret society. They were preparing to storm the doors!

Two young Salvationists, one a female student, a lovable soul, stayed outside and did everything they could to calm the crowd. 

Thanks to these young people's persuasion our first Russian open-air meeting concluded without any serious consequences. We were completely ignorant of what went on outside and held our meeting for those who were fortunate enough to enter.

Later, after a discussion with our comrades, we agreed not to organize any open-air meetings until further notice, especially outside the city centre. We risked too much, as long as the regime remained unsettled and we were not sufficiently known and recognised.

A month later, the government issued some formal regulations for meetings and the formation of societies,

The main points were:
All Russian citizens have unrestricted right to hold meetings indoors, private or public, including open-air meetings. Streets with tram tracks may not be used for meetings, but otherwise all the streets and squares may be used provided no traffic is hampered. All Russian citizens also have, without special permission the right to form associations This meant true freedom. 

But one day harm would follow and all freedom would be strangled! 

Later in the summer, and also for a few years following we conducted open-air  meetings in several parks in the city center without any significant disruptions. Another kind of open-air meeting would also be successfully organized by sellers of Vjestnik Spasenija. They stopped at a suitable place, sang a song or two, gave an explanation of the contents of the newspaper. Twenty minutes after the meeting began the papers went on sale.

The meeting observers had become interested, and several dozen of the newspaper could be sold in minutes.

A chapter from; Return to Russia with Flags Unfurled: Sven Ljungholm with Kathie (Ljungholm) Bearcroft - Will be released late summer 2016

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