May 30, 2014

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

, 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.

Michał Belina Czechowski. Photo credit: Ellen G. White Estate

“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

“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

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

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

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

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

Related Link:

May We Introduce Michael Belina Czechowski