This Week in AG History -- Feb. 24, 1974
Oskar Jeske (1902-1989) was a Pentecostal minister born in Poland to German parents. His life intersected with much of the tumultuous history of Eastern Europe in the first half of the 20th century, yet God proved himself faithful and led Jeske to a fruitful ministry, despite war, prison, and separation from family.
Prior to World War I, the Polish nation was divided among the empires of Germany, Russia, and Austro-Hungary. Jeske’s parents taught him their native tongue of German while he learned Polish, the language of the land of his birth. However, the Russian Czar was the legal king of Poland, and so education was also carried out in Russian. He would later learn English to further his education as a minister.
As a young boy, Jeske was surrounded by religion. The Polish Catholic church and Russian Orthodox church controlled much of the civic affairs. Jeske’s mother was converted to evangelical Christianity in a revival among German speakers in 1907 and began taking her son with her to the meetings, despite much persecution from the established church in their community. Jeske showed little interest in his mother’s faith until one Sunday in June 1916 when his mother was unable to attend the church meeting. Jeske did not intend to go to the meeting, but when he came upon the farmhouse where it was taking place, he heard the sound of someone in the woods crying out for God to “save the lost.” Jeske had a sudden conviction that “the lost” was himself. That day he made a commitment to follow Christ – no matter what came his way.
Prior to this, Jeske wanted to be a schoolteacher but soon announced to his mother and grandparents that he wanted to be a minister. He immediately began sharing his testimony in any meeting that would allow him. In 1924, Pastor G. Herbert Schmidt brought to their meetings the understanding of the baptism in the Holy Spirit with accompanying gifts of the Spirit. To Jeske, this teaching simply confirmed what they already knew in their meetings. Miraculous provision and healing had been the norm in their Christian experience as had heard many, particularly children, pray in languages they had not learned.
With so many coming to Christ and feeling a call to minister, it became clear that training was needed. Danzig Bible Institute was created in 1930 to train ministerial students from many of the Eastern European nations to shepherd the growing Pentecostal movement. Jeske studied under teachers such as Leonard Steiner of Switzerland, Donald Gee and Howard Carter from Britain, and T.B. Barratt of Norway. But the one that caught his eye the most was American missionary, Anna Bukczynski. Romance was strictly forbidden at the school, but Bukczynski was offering English lessons, and these lessons not only helped his studies but allowed him to be with her several times a week. They married in June of 1932, and together began working in the churches to encourage the believers. But their newly found bliss would be short-lived as Germany, under the Nazi flag, invaded Poland from the west on Sept. 1, 1939, and Russia responded with a counter-invasion from the east 17 days later.
As a German living in Poland, Jeske worked to minister to the hurting people around him. The fighting devastated the Polish land and people as they lived in the tug-of-war area between Germany and Russia. When Hitler’s forces were expelled in 1945 and the Russians took control of Poland, remaining ethnic Germans were rounded up and placed in prison camps, including Oskar Jeske. Because Anna was an American citizen, their children were considered Americans and only Oskar was sent to a labor camp in the Ural Mountains of Russia.
Loaded onto cattle cars, the prisoners taken with Jeske spent 31 days on the torturous journey east. It was six months before he would ever be allowed to change the clothes he was wearing at his arrest. For five years, he subsisted in brutal conditions, surviving beatings, forced labor under starvation conditions, and disease.
Through this, his faith did not waver, and he was able to provide spiritual comfort to his fellow prisoners and pray with many dying men while also teaching others how to live without losing hope. But after five years, when he was finally to be given a trial on the charge of being a German spy, he was placed in solitary confinement and found himself so frightened and exhausted that he could no longer pray. He felt in his spirit that God had finally forsaken him.
In this lonely, cramped cage he tried to pray in German but he could not find the right words. He tried again in Polish but could not exhaust his emotions. He tried in Russian and in English but came to the end of his knowledge of the languages. But then the Holy Spirit invaded his prison cell, and he began to pray in a language he had never learned. The presence of God so filled his heart and mind with joy and assurance that God would never leave nor forsake him – even if he received the standard sentence under Stalin’s government of 25 more years of hard labor.
When he faced the charge of being a spy at the Soviet war tribunal, he found that it was his knowledge of languages that served as the chief evidence against him. Why would anyone learn German, Polish, Russian, and English unless it was to engage in espionage? Returning to his cell, he began to pray again as he awaited sentencing. The court interpreter heard him praying in tongues and asked what language he was speaking now. Jeske replied, “In a heavenly language.” The interpreter laid her hand on him and said, “I don’t think you should be afraid. Your God will help you.”
God did provide that help. Jeske was released and returned to western Germany. While it took another six years for him to be able to reunite with his wife and children who could not leave the eastern occupied lands, Jeske was eventually reunited with Anna and their two children – after 12 years apart. The German district of the Assemblies of God paid for a trip to the United States to reunite Anna with her American family and together the Jeskes ministered in North America until Anna’s death in 1976, followed by Oskar’s death in 1989.
You can read a review of Oskar Jeske’s autobiography, Revival or Revolution, on page 7 in the Feb. 24, 1974, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Limits of Omnipotence” by Bill Popejoy
• “Qualify Yourself for Ministry” by Silas L. Gaither
• “Reasonable – According to the Spirit” by Stanley M. Horton
PHOTO: Oskar Jeske (center) with wife, Anna, and Polish workers.