The ceremonies had ended that day in St. Petersburg, Russia, the famous, ancient city that, as Leningrad, had been under siege for 900 days during the Second World War. The new Seventh-day Adventist Church had been constructed, seating 1,500. And Peter Koolik, an Australian-born contractor and developer, sat there, with moist eyes.
Koolik, who leads the General Conference’s new Development and Construction Services as a volunteer, had built hundreds of churches in the former Soviet Union after the fall of communism. But St. Petersburg was a very personal project.
Decades earlier, a 16-year-old named Peter Maevsky, a Roman Catholic in a Russian Orthodox city, met some Adventist missionaries and decided to embrace this new faith. Maevsky’s father told the boy it was either the family or Adventism. The teen chose the latter, and was expelled, sent to Vladivostok, hundreds of miles away, never to see his family again.
Maevsky, who went to China when Soviet Communists took over in 1919, had a daughter, who married another Russian exile with the surname Koolik. The couple had a son, whom they called Peter.
And now Peter was sitting in a Seventh-day Adventist Church just a few kilometers away from where the grandfather he never met — Maevsky died at age 42 from rheumatic fever — had been exiled.
Koolik, along with associate Zukisani “Zuki” Mxoli, a successful architect from Johannesburg, South Africa, are offering their expertise to Adventist divisions around the world, helping to ensure good construction practices and successful outcomes. The pair shared their experiences at the recent Annual Council of world church leaders.
In Africa, Koolik and Mxoli have found challenging local conditions
As Koolik had seen in Russia in 1991, it’s often a challenge to build in nations where Adventists may not have managed construction projects before. In Russia, congregations met in rented halls, only to be evicted almost capriciously. In Africa, Koolik and Mxoli have found challenging local conditions — a need to connect water and power lines over substantial distances — and other issues that needed a professional resolution.
Then there’s the weather. Speaking with Adventist Review, Koolik recalled an effort to construct a church in the Mongolian city of Bulgan, which has a population of about 12,000. When construction began in May, snow was still on the ground, and workers had to use fire to create a space in which a foundation could be laid. The total time window for construction was four months — after that, winter would be back. The project was completed on time, and there was snow on the ground when the church opened.
At the other end of the world, the Pacific nation of Vanuatu, weather also had its role. Cyclone Pam, a category 5 storm that struck in 2015, destroyed 53 Seventh-day Adventist churches and nine schools. Teams of workers came in and under Koolik’s direction constructed 41 storm-resistant buildings, many of which are now official “safe houses” in their communities should another storm hit.
Among projects to which Koolik is turning his attention is an Adventist “center of influence” in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Offering health instruction and spiritual resources, these centers “are critical,” Koolik said. “Please keep these places in your prayers,” he added, since constructing a church may not be allowed.
Now retired from his construction and development business in Australia — “The Lord blessed us immensely during the time that we served,” he recalled — Koolik and his wife Nerida are happy to help other Adventist communities build lasting structures in which lives can be built for eternity.