There have been many times in my life when I’ve seen that God is real: real in the church, real in the lives of people I know, and real in my personal life. One such occasion happened when my husband and I participated in the 50th celebration of a Russian-speaking church in Glendale, California, United States.
I had been asked to present several seminars on Adventist history that weekend, and I had selected biographies of several Adventist pioneer workers in Russia, including the story of a pastor named Alexander Gritz.**
Alexander Gritz (Grietz) was born on November 23, 1900. He spent his childhood in Warsaw, Poland, at that time part of the Russian Empire, where his parents became acquainted with Adventism and joined the church when Alexander was 10 years old.
Alexander’s father was an educated man, fluent in French, German, and Polish. In 1913, the church sent him to serve as a Bible worker in the town of Lublin, where there was no Adventist presence at the time. Alexander and his siblings often helped their father, especially with distributing literature.
The Gritz family was later sent to Ukraine, where they lived in the city of Simferopol during World War I. At that time, the Russian government was closing Protestant churches because many of the members were of German heritage and viewed as potential traitors to the state. The Adventist church in Simferopol was no exception. Alexander’s father conducted worship services in the privacy of members’ homes while Alexander and the other children stood guard.
Alexander’s father often sent his children to the military barracks to share Adventist literature because adults weren’t allowed inside. As a result, many of the mariners began attending church, and some of them were baptized by Alexander’s father.
When Alexander was 22 years old, he returned from obligatory military service to discover that his father, a conference president at the time, had died three days before. His father’s legacy of ministry inspired Alexander to follow in his footsteps. He was baptized in 1923 and eventually became an Adventist pastor in Ukraine. He often traveled great distances by train and foot to visit scattered believers. Once he walked about 31 miles in winter, looking for a church member living on a remote farm. He almost froze that day in the severe cold.
In 1928, Alexander married Olga T. Tarasenko. They had four children, one boy and three girls.
During the time of Stalin’s repressions, Alexander was arrested, as were many Adventist pastors and lay members. Before he was taken away, he told his wife, who was pregnant with their fourth child, “Name our baby Nadezhda if it’s a girl.” Nadezhda means “hope” in Russian.
Alexander was sentenced to five years in a prison camp in Siberia. He continued to preach, organizing a worship group with the inmates. For that crime, he was sentenced to five more years and was sent to a more distant and colder place in the north—Magadan.
Alexander continued to be faithful under difficult circumstances. He refused to work on Sabbath and was regularly punished for that. One of his regular punishments consisted of being taken outside in severe cold without clothing and having cold water poured on his body. One day, that punishment took his life.
Nobody knows the exact date of Alexander’s death or the place where he was buried. According to documents sent to his wife, he died in 1944. He never saw his little girl, Nadezhda, but he died with the hope of seeing her at Christ’s return. His wife and children kept as priceless treasures his Bible, diary, and hymnal, which miraculously were not confiscated.
Nadezhda grew up and married a man who trained for the ministry. I met her at a conference for pastors’ wives and learned that she had a daughter named Viktoria. I happened to know Viktoria, who by that time had become a well-known singer in the Adventist Church. But I didn’t know that they were related to Alexander Gritz; neither did I know his story.
Later, when I was researching Seventh-day Adventist history in Russia, I came across his story. Given some facts, I thought he was Viktoria’s grandfather, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to see Viktoria again to confirm it.
When I saw Viktoria’s name on the guest list for the celebration in Glendale, California, I was thrilled to realize that I would finally have my chance!
I was scheduled to share the story of Alexander Gritz on Sabbath afternoon. Several minutes before my presentation, I stepped out into the church hall eager to find Viktoria and almost ran into her. I told her that I would be giving a presentation about Alexander Gritz in several minutes and asked whether she was his granddaughter. She said that she was indeed. And then, to my amazement, she told me that she was scheduled to sing right before my talk.
No one knew the content of my presentation, and no one knew that Viktoria had some connection to the main character of my story. But by God’s providence, she was scheduled to sing right before I shared the story of her grandfather. Viktoria’s song became a tribute to him.
Needless to say, I was moved. I felt that God honored his faithful servant Alexander Gritz that day. He scheduled Viktoria, a daughter of Nadezhda, who never saw her dad, to sing before his story was told. Truly, there are no unknown solders in the army of the Lord!
*Title taken from “No Unknown Soldiers,” by Gloria Gaither and Lari Goss. Recorded by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound, Dream On: Live From Chicago, Gaither Music Group, 2008.
**D. Heinz, A. A. Oparin, D. O. Yanak, and A. Pešelis, Dushi pod Zhertvinikom [Souls Underneath the Altar] (Kharkov: Fact, 2010), 95–100.