May 31, 2014

May We Introduce: Michael Belina Czechowski

In 1863,
a group of Christians in North America chose to call themselves “Seventh-day
Adventist.” This name reflected their core beliefs: The Sabbath theology and
the expectation of Christ’s return. In May of 1863, representatives of this
growing community of about 125 congregations with 3,500 members met in Battle
Creek (Michigan, USA) and organized the “General Conference of Seventh-day

seemingly insignificant new denomination, amongst hundreds of others
originating on North American soil, grew within 150 years into an internationally
known church with more than 18 million adult baptized members. Today, it is
represented in most countries around the globe. However, it took a decade
before the local church leadership became aware of missions beyond the borders
of the U.S.A. It was not until 1874, that John N. Andrews (1829-1883) was sent
as the first official Adventist missionary to Europe.

In 1856 Michael
Belina Czechowski, a native of Poland and former Catholic priest, was
introduced to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and was baptized in 1857. From
1858 onward, he worked as an evangelist for the church. In 1863, he wanted to
be the first Adventist missionary sent to Europe, but his request was denied
because he was regarded as headstrong and incapable of managing the financial
resources made available to him.

Christian B. Schäffler (right, above), a journalist,
founder, and longtime director of the Adventistischer Pressedienst (APD) in
Basel, Switzerland, interviewed Jacques Frei (left), a retired pastor and recognized
expert on the life of Czechowski who currently lives in Lopagno, Switzerland.

How would you briefly describe Czechowski’s life work?
was an idealist, full of ideas and he had an entrepreneurial spirit. From an
early age, he was a political activist for the independence of Poland and since
the 1850s, a tireless gospel preacher of the crucified, risen and returning
Lord Jesus Christ. He was a writer, publisher, evangelist and the first
missionary of the Advent message in Europe. He worked in many countries, even
though he was not commissioned by the General Conference. Czechowski
contributed significantly as a self-supporting missionary to the development of
a global missionary understanding in the Adventist Church.

Was he therefore a visionary and a pioneer of global missions?
Here are two examples: First,Czechowski was a
pioneer of world evangelism to the church.Second,
as one of the first evangelists to proclaim the Advent message in a big city,
New York, he was, next to Ellen G. White, a pioneer of Seventh-day Adventist
big city evangelism. Since 2011 the mission work of the Adventist Church in big
cities has become a priority. People in 650 cities around the world are to be
reached with the Gospel message. The evangelistic outreach of NY13 last year
focused on an urban center with a population of about 19 million people and
800 different language groups.

Which were Czechowski’s areas of service?
His work
can be divided into three phases: from 1818 (birth) to 1851 (departure to New
York), he lived in Europe. From autumn 1851 to April 1864 he worked as a
bookbinder, preacher, and evangelist in the USA and Canada. From May 1864 until
his death in 1876, he was active in different European countries.

How did the amazing transformation from monk, priest, and reformed
Catholic to a herald of the “Three Angel’s Message” take place?

was born on September 25, 1818, in Sieciechowice near Krakow in Poland. At the
age of seventeen he entered the Franciscan monastery of Stopnica as “Brother
Cyprian” and on June 25, 1843, he took his sacred vows as a Franciscan monk in
Warsaw. He took part in a coup for the liberation of Poland from Russian rule.
Repeatedly he had to flee because of his political activities. He was also
troubled by the immoral conditions in the Polish monasteries. As a result he
went to Rome, and in October 1844 obtained an audience with Pope Gregory XVI.
But his petition for monastic reform written in Latin met with no interest. The
Bishop of Breslau then sent him as a chaplain to Reichtal. After working there
for thirteen months, he was arrested in August 1846 by the Prussian police, who
mistook him for a Dominican monk with the same name. After months of detention,
he went to Paris via Hamburg and London, where, as chaplain, he joined a volunteer
force fighting for the liberation of Poland. When the attempt ended in defeat
in Miroslaw, in present-day Slovakia, he took refuge in Lancy near Geneva,
where he joined the Polish Community for a few months and served as their
Czechowski left the Roman Catholic Church and was married in 1850 to Marie
Virginie Delevoet in Solothur. They went to Belgium and Czechowski worked as a
bookbinder in Brussels. On the run from the Jesuits he came to London, where he
met some Baptists. They helped the couple obtain a free passage to New York. In
Montreal (Canada), he found work as a bookbinder. In 1852, the Baptists offered
him a job as an evangelist among the French-speaking Canadians in New York. He
was so successful there that he was ordained as a pastor. In 1856 he met a group
Advent believers (that at that time had not yet organized the Seventh-day
Adventist Church), joined them and from then on, wherever his travels took him,
he taught the Advent message of the imminent return Christ

Did Czechowski intend to start organized churches?
saw his first responsibility in the proclamation of the “everlasting Gospel”
(Rev. 14:6). His goal was not to organize churches, but simply to speak to people
so that they could prepare themselves for the Second Coming of Christ.
Czechowski believed that preparation for Jesus’ Second Coming included the
believer’s baptism by immersion, obedience by faith, and observance of the
Sabbath. Naturally, as a result of the dissemination of his writings and the evangelistic
meetings he held, many small groups that resembled churches were formed.
However, nowhere did he work towards any type of organizational integration of
his newly formed groups into the larger body of North American Seventh-day
Adventist believers.

How did a connection to the in 1863 organized Seventh-day
Adventist Church come about?

It was a coincidence
through which this connection was established. In 1867 Albert Vuilleumier
(1835-1923), leader of the Tramelan congregation in Jura (Switzerland),
discovered a copy of the Adventist magazine
and Herald
in a side room used by Czechowski in their small chapel.
Vuilleumier understood that the magazine came from an organization of Adventists
in the U.S.A. and wrote to the editor in Battle Creek, Michigan, that he was
the leader of a small group of fellow believers in Tramelan. After Czechowski’s
departure, Vuilleumier asked for the deployment of a missionary. However, it
took until October 16, 1874, for John N. Andrews (1829-1883), as the first
official missionary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to arrive in Neuchâtel,
accompanied by Vuilleumier.

founding of many other congregations of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in eastern
Europe can probably be traced back to the missionary work of Czechowski.

Where did he work in Europe after his return from the U.S.A.
in 1864?

He was
primarily active in Italy, Switzerland, Germany, France, Hungary, and Romania.
In 1876 he died on a journey to Vienna due to exhaustion.

On June
6, 1864, Czechowski arrived with his family of six in London together with a secretary
who also helped in the household. From there he traveled on to Torre Pelice in the
Waldensian valleys of northern Italy. Despite opposition from the local clergy,
his evangelistic work was relatively successful. Sometimes he preached with
permission in the Waldensian churches or rented a hall for his lectures. But he
also just preached on the street.

His monthly
reports indicate, for example, that he preached 36 sermons in August of 1864
and held 18 lectures in September of 1864. He sent these numerous reports to his
sponsors in the U.S.A. without mentioning to them that he actually proclaimed
the beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, including the Sabbath message.
On the other hand, he did not share with his audience the existence of Adventists
back in America. After a year, the first group of Sabbath-keeping Christians
was established through Czechowski’s proclamation. In 1865 he undertook short
mission trips to Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, Saxony, and Prussia.

September 1865 he left the Waldensian valleys and moved with his family and his
secretary to Switzerland where he stayed in Grandson, in the Canton of Vaud. He
left the recently established group in Italy in the care of his new co-worker
François Besson.

Did the Waldensian town of Torre Pellice attract Adventists?
The main
town of the Waldensian valleys, Torre Pellice, played an important role in the
early history of Adventism. Ellen G. White, one of the movement’s co-founder,
visited the small town three times after Czechowski’s death, and one could say
that she harvested the seeds that he had sown there. But also Czechowski’s
sponsors, the First-day Adventists were eager to harvest his mission seeds. So
it happened once that Ellen G. White was giving lectures on the ground floor of
a house, while the First-day Adventists were holding meetings on the first
floor of the same building. First-day Adventists had also arisen from the
Millerite movement and proclaimed important parts of the Advent message.

Adventist history of Italy is closely connected with Torre Pellice through names
like François Besson, Joseph Jones, and Oscar Cocorda. Furthermore, Catherine
Revel was baptized there—the grandmother of Adventist theologian Alfred Vaucher—and
also Jean-David Geymet who later became the first Adventist literature

What did travel from the Waldensian valleys to Switzerland
look like in these days?

For the
Czechowski family this trip was certainly not a “picnic in the park:” The tunnel
through Mont Cenis was still under construction and there was not enough money for
a trip with horse-drawn carriages over the 2084 m high mountain pass. They managed
the crossing on foot with luggage and young children (the youngest was just 8
months old). Then they continued by train to Yverdon where the railway line ended.
When they got there they were invited into a farmhouse to enjoy a warm soup and
spend the night sleeping on straw. The next day Czechowski was able to rent an
apartment in Grandson. From there he traveled from village to village, renting
a hall or asking permission to speak in the local church.

In Switzerland, Czechowski had mixed experiences of success and
bitter disappointments. Share some of them with us.

after his arrival in Grandson, Czechowski, wanting to better disseminate the Adventist
teachings, began the publication of his magazine “L’Évangile Eternel” (The Eternal Gospel). In October
1866 he moved to Cornaux near Neuchâtel, and founded the “Mission Evangélique
Européenne et Universelle de la Seconde Venue du Sauveur” (European and Worldwide Mission of
the Savior’s Second Coming) and established a printing press in the “Le Buisson”
house. From there he disseminated his magazine not only in Switzerland, but
also in Italy, France, Holland, Germany, Poland, and Hungary. He also published
French and German pamphlets, some of which had been written by American Adventist
authors. Furthermore, Czechowski traveled throughout Switzerland, gave lectures,
baptized, and formed small groups of Sabbath-keepers who believed in the Second
Advent. One of these groups was established in Tramelan, which later became the
first official Seventh-day Adventist Church in Europe.

In 1867 Czechowski faced great financial
difficulties, since he spent more on spreading the Gospel than he received in
donations. In addition to his debt, the publishing house in Cornaux burnt to
the ground in the spring of 1867. After the fire he went to Hauterive, where he
took out a large mortgage and moved into a house. His income, however, was not
enough to pay the interest due.

Did he continue as an itinerant traveling preacher despite his

In early
1868 the American Missionary Society who had been supporting Czechowski, found
out that in addition to the message of Christ’s Second Coming, he was also
teaching the “Jewish Sabbath” and so they ceased their payments to him. In the
same year Czechowski left Switzerland without having paid his debt, and
embarked on extensive missionary journeys that took him to Freiburg,
Baden-Baden, Karlsruhe, and Stuttgart (all in Germany), as well as to France,
Hungary, Romania, and the Ukraine. His wife, whom he left behind in
Switzerland, died on July 22, 1870, and was buried in St. Blaise. Czechowski
spent his last days in Vienna. On February 2, 1876, he collapsed on the street,
and was admitted to the Poor- and Invalid house, a division of today’s General
Hospital of Vienna, where on February 25, at the age of 57, he died of

Saint or Rebel?
Belina Czechowski was neither a saint nor a rebel, but he was the first
Adventist pioneer missionary in Europe.

Related link:

J.N. Andrews Was First Adventist Missionary? Think Again