LHF Executive Director Publishes Books About the Persecution of Russian Churches

Before accepting the Call to serve as executive director of the Lutheran Heritage Foundation, Rev. Dr. Matthew Heise was an LCMS missionary in Russia for over 13 years. During that time, he was captivated by the stories of brave and suffering German-Russian Lutherans who lived in the atheist, communist Soviet Union of the mid-20th century.

During those years, Lutheran pastors were executed, imprisoned or sent to work camps in Siberia. Sunday school teachers were also imprisoned, churches closed and religious books burned (see book excerpt below).

Over the past decade, Rev. Heise gathered their stories and is now sharing them in his new book, The Gates of Hell, a compilation of dozens of stories highlighting ordinary Christians who remained faithful to death.

“As we see from current events, our Russian and Ukrainian Lutheran ancestors still have much to teach us today,” reflected Rev. Heise.

The book will be officially released in May from Lexham Press and is available from major booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

THE LUTHERANS IN Marxstadt could not reconcile themselves to the fact that they had lost their church. At first, they protested at government gatherings, but to no avail. People then started gathering in small groups on the streets. Whenever they became too obstinate, the police would drive them away. Their numbers grew larger as the ladies gathered on the streets to meet their husbands when they finished work at the main factory, Vozrozhdeniya (“Rebirth”). Scattered groups of the irate began to linger on the streets after work. On June 5, a typical warm, summer workday, a group attempted to reclaim the church. At a signal, some men began running toward it. The crowd got larger and larger. A key was produced, but no one could open the door. However, a small window was partially open, and a young boy was lifted up to the window and slid through into the church. Other boys followed him, and soon the door was opened and people streamed into the church.

The news spread to the villages, and more people flocked to the church. Some ladies began to break up the stage that had been constructed in place of the altar, tearing it apart without hammers or axes. Others went to the kitchen to prepare food. Pictures of the members of the Politburo of the Communist Party were ripped off the walls and banners with quotations from the works of Stalin were torn down. A woman touched the keys of the organ and a familiar sound rang out and soon died away. It is likely that this was none other than Rev. Kluck’s wife, Bertha. She had been the church organist, and her daughter remembers her saying she wanted to see what the Communists had done to the organ. Some of the children set about dismantling the red star from the church’s cupola, as well as taking away the red flag from the church tower.

The building soon began to look like a church again, as the altar was restored while the objects for the palace of culture were taken away. But many began to ask each other why the horn for the factory had not sounded. They could use the help of the workers, and yet they had not come. Had they been detained? While they wondered, a group of youth came into to church, shouting, “They’re coming! They’re coming!” But it was not the factory workers who were coming. It was the militia on horseback, with many armed Communists behind them. The troops closed off the central square where the church was located. Soon cars came and arrested some of the men. More cars continued to stream in, this time with soldiers.

The Communist Party had its spies well placed, and apparently some had informed them of the plan to retake the church. That accounted for the troops arriving quickly as well as the fact that the factory workers were barred from leaving the plant on time. In their anger, the workers did break down the gates of the factory and push the militia guarding it aside, but when they got to the square they ran into the horsemen and armed Communists. The horsemen and Communists guarded the square all night while the Soviet authorities rounded up hundreds. Many were not guilty, but they were all imprisoned with at least a sentence of five years.