Dr Frederick W Baedecker

The name Baedeker brings before one’s inner vision the red covered handbooks that are the indispensable accompaniment of the tourist in Europe. But there was another Baedeker who himself was a guide to heavenly lands as well as an indefatigable traveler on earth. This was Dr. Frederick W. Baedeker, pioneer evangelist and colporteur throughout the Russian Empire and the Near East.

His father was a scientist without Christian interests. Baedeker entered the Prussian army but his health prevented a military career. Then he studied in universities, taking his doctor’s degree at Bonn. There followed travel, teaching in Australia and England, and finally conversion in one of Lord Radstock’s meetings. "I came in a proud German infidel. I went out a humble, believing disciple of the Lord. God be praised!"

With his conversion came a wonderful healing. He who for years had been in delicate health, who hardly dared to go on a walk with his wife because of heart weakness, who was thought of by all his relatives as a candidate for death, threw away his medicine, forgot his pains, and drew new strength out of service for Christ, a service uninterrupted for forty years by any serious sickness. He trusted the Lord for bodily as well as for spiritual strength. On his deathbed he was far more concerned with the spiritual state of his attendant than with his own bodily condition. He died at the age of eighty-three, but even in his last years he visited the Continent on Gospel errands. If ever there was an internationalist, it was Dr. Baedeker. He could be found preaching in the great hall of an Austrian castle; in Smyrna among crowds of Greeks, Jews, and Turks; speaking to Socialists in Munich or Zurich.

In 1877, he left England for three years of preaching and Bible distribution in Russia. By a fortunate happening he was able to secure special privileges and for eighteen years was the only person who had the right to visit the prisons of Russia – all of them – from Warsaw to Saghalien. This pass was renewed every two years, usually with some extension of privileges. When the government learned that he paid his own expenses on these journeys it made reductions on his railroad fares and Bible freights, which reductions were later given to the agents of the Bible societies. For it was Dr. Baedeker who really broke the way for the Bible colporteurs in Russia. Yet it may be added, as illustrative of the contradictions of Russian life, that he was constantly under the observation of spies in streets, hotels, and in his meetings.

Dr. Baedeker was at first associated with Col. Pashkoff, a rich nobleman and officer of the Imperial Guard, who was ultimately banished from Russia for preaching the Gospel. On one occasion Baedeker was asked to preach to a convention of Stundists that Col. Pashkoff had organized in St. Petersburg, hiring himself a large hotel to house them for a week. The traveling equipment of these saints was a comb and a spoon, both of which they put in their boots. Four hundred appeared, and there were wonderful meetings. After some days, Pashkoff went to the meeting place (it was in the Princess Lieven’s palace) but after long waiting no one turned up. The hotel, too, was found to be empty. The next day, however, one of the company appeared. He explained that the entire four hundred had been arrested and taken to the Peter-Paul Fortress and examined. They were accused of revolutionary opinions but explained that the only revolution they were engaged in was in human hearts. So the authorities put them on trains with tickets, each to his own home. One, however, had the presence of mind to take his ticket to a station near by and thus was able to return with an explanation.

Baedeker was one of the greatest distributors of the Word of all time. The extensive journeys of John Wesley were, in distance, provincial beside the vast Gospel wanderings of Dr. Baedeker. "A sower went forth to sow." One finds in his journals constant entries such as, "I have sent seventeen Bible chests by land and four by sea." The numerous and crowded prisons of Russia made an especial appeal to him. "Few have any idea of what a large proportion of the people in many lands are kept behind iron bars like wild animals and in chains." He always traveled unarmed even in sparsely settled eastern Siberia where travelers were subjected to many perils and hardships. He was ever in great danger from sickness. Yet he went uninjured in and about the crowded hospitals in which the stench of the most dangerous diseases fouled the air. He stood in the sign of the Ninety-first Psalm. He speaks of the odors, the vermin, the prison brutality which made that of Tobolsk, for example, indescribable. The head physician had had typhus sixteen times in thirteen years. Consumption and smallpox were common. "I make many a good catch in the dark stream of the prisons," he once wrote. But it was souls he caught, not sickness.

The most desperate prisoners were those of the great eastern Asiatic island of Saghalien, branded on the forehead and cheek, with head half-shaven, and loaded with chains. These criminals he evangelized, preaching to twenty in one room while the chains clanked incessantly. In Kicheneff, he visited the underground dungeons, damp, cold and verminous. In the Kabarowka prison he discovered a Christian brother who had been there for two and a half years and whose only offense had been that of speaking against ikons. Dr. Baedeker sought such out in the dark holes and corners, easing their chains and pouring in oil and wine. He wrote of two Christians who, when they were arrested, had their own clothes taken from them. The prison warden pointed out to them a pile of old prison garments, foul with seat and lice and stench which they were ordered to put on. One old Christian grandmother whom Baedeker met had been sent through eleven prisons! Some were sentenced for life for not having accepted absolution from the priests. Others, having served out a five-year term, expressed their joy that it was now up. They were ordered to remain another five years "because they appeared not to have been changed by their first five years of internment."

Baedeker went hundreds of miles through Siberian forests without meeting a single face. On these journeys, tea and bread were his diet for weeks, with now and then an egg or a little milk. Of one remote place in Siberia, he said: "Hard treatment and isolation have turned the unlucky exiles into veritable demons. They shoot without notice any whose clothing or few pence they may wish. They say, ‘It pays better to shoot a man than a guard. Kill the guard and you get a few coppers; kill a man and you get his clothes.’" The guard told Dr. Baedeker that they had twice raised their guns to shoot him. His only answer was "These people need the Gospel terribly, and I am going to them." And go he did and had successful meetings.

On another occasion he was lost with his Armenian guide in the forests of the Caucasus and barely escaped. He had other Pauline experiences. Once he was chased by a ferocious dog and fell. The dog sniffed him from head to foot, finally leaving him unbitten. This dog was of a specially fierce breed and was used to keep off strangers from a piece of land. Even in the cultivated cities, his life was endangered. In Zurich, the Freethinkers threatened to throw him into the Lake of Zurich; in Dresden-Alstadt he nearly lost his life when preaching. In Basel he was stoned when speaking on the streets; in Gernsbach he was mobbed.

At times there were large ingatherings of souls following meetings. In the Caucasus people came to Christ by the hundreds. At times he would be awakened from his sleep, or even called from a sick bed, to speak. In a village near Schemacha, when those who wanted Christ were asked to stand, the whole meeting arose and the people looked at each other in astonishment. On one journey from the Urals to the Pacific, he distributed twelve thousand copies of the Word of God and preached the Gospel to more than forty thousand prisoners. When he had finished this tour he sailed down the Amur, which divides China from Russia. "Four days I had China on my right and Russia on my left and sent up many prayers for China and Russia.

"Yesterday we had ‘hard labor’ in the great prison," he wrote on one occasion. "We worked as long as we could, went through all the cells, talked with everybody, and gave a book to every prisoner who could read."

For fifteen years he toiled incessantly in this prison visitation. The mere labor of walking through these long corridors, the drain on his sympathies, the many conversations, would have worn down any who had not meat to eat which most men know nothing of. "To visit prisons and serve the poor souls who are in the terrible night of sin and darkness is truly better for me than angels’ food."

Count Tolstoi knew of Dr. Baedeker’s ministry in the prisons and caricatured it in his novel, Resurrection. Tolstoi was in the first part of his life, as he tells us, a worldling, gambler, and indefatigable debauchee. Then came a change which at least made him decent. But it was a change that did not reach the heart of the Gospel. Naturally then the great writer had little sympathy for the great evangelist offering a great salvation. When the two met, Tolstoi asked Dr. Baedeker his purpose in coming to Russia.

"To preach the Gospel in the prisons," replied Baedeker.

"There should be no prisons," retorted Tolstoi.

"So long as there is sin in the world there will be also prisons," was the evangelist’s quiet answer.

"There should be no sin in the world," returned Tolstoi.

"What do you mean?" asked Dr. Baedeker.

"I mean that if people were rightly taught there would be no sin," replied the Count.

Dr. Baedeker quoted Luke 11:21-22: "When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace; but when a stronger than he shall come upon him and overcome him, he taketh from him all his armour wherein he trusted."

"What is that taken from?" inquired Tolstoi with curiosity.

"From the Scripture," came the reply. "There is one stronger than we – the evil one – against whom we are helpless. My message to the prisoners of Russia and to sinners everywhere is that there is a Stronger One still Who is able to free the prisoners and slaves of Satan and to change them into holy and beloved children of God."

From The Book, Protestant Saints, By: Ernest B. Gordon