J.N. Andrews Was First Adventist Missionary? Think Again
The legacy of Michael Belina Czechowski and the role played by independent-minded Adventists take the spotlight at an international conference.
, reporting from Podkowa Lesna, Poland
hile J.N. Andrews may be recognized as the first Adventist missionary to Europe, the distinction actually belongs to Michael Belina Czechowski, a former Catholic priest who set out on his own a decade earlier after failing to secure church support.
As the pastor of an Adventist church in New York, the Polish-born Czechowski appealed to church leaders in the early 1860s to send him as a missionary to Italy, where he hoped to reach the Bible-believing descendants of the Waldenses. But Adventist leaders had found it difficult to work with Czechowski, and they declined because he tended to independent actions and financial misjudgments.
So Czechowski raised money from a Sunday-keeping church in Boston and departed for Italy in 1864. His trip occurred exactly 10 years before J.N. Andrews sailed from the U.S. to Switzerland as the first official Adventist missionary in 1874.
“Despite his character flaws, Czechowski allowed God to use him in an innovative way, pioneering many new methods of outreach,” said Łukasz Romanowski, instructor at the Polish College of Theology and Humanities in Podkowa Lesna, Poland. “We Europeans are especially indebted to that courageous man, but so is the entire church.”
Czechowski’s legacy and the role played by independent-mind Seventh-day Adventists took the spotlight at a recent international conference co-organized by Romanowski at the college, which is also known as the Czechowski school.
Timed to coincide with the 150th anniversary of Czechowski’s trip, the May 18-20 conference reviewed the latest research on his life and mission.
“We did not only want to reaffirm Czechowski’s position among the pioneers of the church, but also reconceptualize his service for the church and his independent first mission in Europe,” Romanowski said.
Some Adventist historians and theologians have harshly criticized Czechowski in the past, while others have glorified him as a heroic figure. Therefore the conference organizers wanted to foster “a more truthful, unbiased view of Czechowski within Adventist historical studies,” Romanowski said.
Czechowski, who was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, left the priesthood in the mid-1840s amid worries that the church was corrupt. After stints in Italy, Switzerland and Belgium, he befriended Baptists in London who helped him travel to the U.S. He first met Adventists at a camp meeting in Ohio in 1855, and he joined the church two years later.
Eventually ministering to a church that he founded in New York, he longed to return to Europe and preach about Jesus’ second coming. Rebuffed by Adventist leaders, he got the needed funding from Boston’s Advent Christian Church and spent a brief period in Italy before working in Switzerland and Romania.
The congregations he founded in Switzerland and Romania became the nucleus of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe.
Czechowski was “a human being who made many mistakes but who was used God,” Galina Stele, research and program evaluation assistant of the General Conference Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, said at the conference.
His actions also raise an important question, Romanowski said: How does the church deal with people who are more independent and who relate to God differently from us?
“We can blame Czechowski, or we can blame the church,” he said. “But we should realize that the results were positive.”
A highlight of the conference was the unveiling of a plaque in memory of Czechowski by Jacques Frei-Fyon, a retired minister and one of the contributors at the first conference on Czechowski’s life in 1976. At the latest conference, 12 people from nine countries presented their research and findings in documents that the college will compile into a volume for public release in English and Polish.
Polish-born Rajmund Dąbrowski, who co-organized the 1976 conference and is a former communication director for the Adventist world church, said the pages of Adventist history are filled with people like Czechowski — mavericks whose mission knew no borders.
He also said both Czechowski and Andrews played important roles in the planting and growing of the church. “Andrews was the office successor of Czechowski,” he said. “The fact that Jiří Moskala, the dean of the Theological Seminary at Andrews University, serves as the patron of this conference here at the Czechowski school should inspire us.”
Andrews University, founded as Battle Creek College in 1874, the same year that J.N. Andrews set sail to Europe, was renamed in his honor in 1960.
Moskala, speaking at the conference, said that Adventists needed to remember their history to understand their place in it, as well as to have a future filled with hope, gratitude, obedience, and faith. Quoting church co-founder Ellen White’s words that Christ’s love for us was manifested on the cross and “his sacrifice is the center of our hope,” he said, “Czechowski will be remembered for the extent to which he kept this central truth alive in his life.”
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