Georgian Field

By Sergo Namoradze

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Sergo Namoradze, Ph.D. (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, Silang, Cavite, Philippines). Namoradze served as a pastor and education department director at the Transcaucasus Union Mission, Tbilisi, Georgia. He has published a number of articles about Protestantism in the Caucasus region and contributed to the Seventh-day Adventist International Bible Dictionary (forthcoming). Currently, he is an applied theology professor at Ukrainian Humanitarian Institute, Bucha, Ukraine.

 

First Published: April 12, 2022

Georgian field,1 formerly Georgian Mission, was established in 2001. This Adventist church administrative unit functions within the state borders of the country. The headquarters is located in the capital city, Tbilisi. In the country with a four million population, the Adventist As of June 30, 2021 Church had 338 members, gathered in 8 churches (this does not include the self-declared territories, so called Abkhazia and South Osetia where the jurisdiction of the state government is limited).

The Beginning of Adventism in Georgia

One of the first known Christian missionaries in Georgia, who actively preached about the Second Advent and thus could be regarded as the precursor of Adventism in this country, was Joseph Wolff (1795–1862).2 Thereafter, in the late 1800s, the Adventist message reached Georgia through Russian emigrants in the United States, who sent letters and tracts about Adventism to their relatives.

Dr. Vagram Pampaian, the first official Seventh-day Adventist missionary in Georgia, was an American medical doctor with an Armenian background. He arrived in Tbilisi with his wife and brother in 1904.3 Being fluent in Armenian and Turkish, he spent around two years in Tbilisi giving out pamphlets and working with the people who spoke these languages. He converted five people but managed to baptize only one because of persecution from the clerical authorities.4

At that time, in Sukhumi, West Georgia, Pastor Tsirat, who was not yet an ordained Adventist minister, began colporteur ministry. As a result of this work in 1906 six people of German origin were converted.5 In 1911 he was sent for mission work in Tbilisi. He stayed there until the spring of 1912.6

Further Development of Adventist Mission Work in Georgia

Pastor Albert Ozols (1878-1916), a talented young man of Latvian origin and a medical doctor, upon graduation from Friedensau Seminary arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, in 1907.7 His earliest missionary endeavor in Georgia among German speakers and Latvians was fruitful. He organized evangelistic seminars attended by an average of over forty-five people.8 Yet, success was not without sacrifice; in 1907 and 1908, his missionary work faced resistance from the local population and suspicion from government authorities. However, at the end of 1908, there were already 23 church members in Tbilisi.9

In 1908 and 1909 Pastor Heinrich Löbsack visited Tbilisi and conducted evangelistic meetings. Recalling the event, he wrote, “Here we see how Europe encounters Asia. In spreading the Good News, this city in Transcaucasia has the same importance as Jerusalem had for spreading the Gospel during the life of our Savior.”10 In the same document, he recalls that in 1909 Pastor Conradi visited Tbilisi twice in order to meet Dr. Pampaian and discuss the work among Armenians.11 In 1912 the Caucasian Conference was divided into two parts because of the difficulty in visitation. This division made Transcaucasia into a separate mission field of eight congregations with 226 members under the leadership of Pastor Ozols.12 This decision was finalized on January 1, 1914, when the Transcaucasia Mission Field was attached to the European Division.13

The ministry of Pastor Ozols was fruitful among the local population,14 but irritated the clerical authorities, who orchestrated his arrest.15 In 1914 Pastor Ozols was arrested and sent to Siberia. On his way to exile, as a medical doctor, he treated patients among the prisoners. One day in 1916, he contracted a deadly disease, and at the age of 38, the man with a “golden heart” died.16

On October 8 to 10, 1925, the first constituency meeting in the Transcaucasia Mission Field marked the beginning of a new period of Georgian Adventism. Due to the lack of finances, only 20 delegates were able to attend the meeting. At the meeting Pastor Alexei Galadžev (1925-1939) was elected as a chair of the committee to oversee Transcaucasia.17 

Galadžev was able to replant the church in Georgia. Yet, the 10-year gap (since the arrest of Pastor Ozols in 1914 and Galadžev’s arrival in 1925) significantly affected the Tbilisi Adventist Church, weakening its influence and reducing its size.

It is noteworthy that as early as 1926 a Georgian Bible worker, Shavadze,18 was hired for reaching out the locals. Unfortunately the information about him is limited, and we don’t know his name, nor the details of his ministry.

After the imprisonment of Pastor Galadžev in 1939, the 18-year gap was continued because the church had to survive without a minister.

In 1957 Pastor Pavel Pančenko was commissioned to Tbilisi from Rostov. The time between the Galadžev’s arrest in 1939 and Pančenko’s arrival in 1957 became a period of struggle for the Adventist mission in Georgia. Not much is known about this period, except that the lay members did not give up and took charge of the work.19 In 1959 the rise of persecutions continued, instigated by the premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev. Many religious workers were deported from their cities of ministry in Caucasus and Transcaucasia, causing Christians to suffer again. Within 72 hours Pančenko and his three small children were deported from Georgia.20 The following 18-year gap left the Tbilisi Adventist Church without a leader and caused it to almost disappear.

Apparently, there were other Georgian ministers whose names became known based on oral reminiscences of the elderly church members. 21 For instance, the 1925 graduation photo of Harbin Bible School in China22 depicted the faces of the graduates, where Georgian ministers, such as Karalashvili and Matikashvili are mentioned. However, very limited evidence has been found about them that could shed the light on their life story.

The New Beginning and the Modern Development

The Adventist Church in Georgia was reestablished in 1977. Two ministers arrived in Tbilisi at the time, the Dreiling family from Armenia and the Lagutov family from Azerbaijan. They began to replant the church, and worship resumed at Glazova’s house.23 Toward the end of the 1980s, the Soviet system began to fall apart, and religious interest could no longer be suppressed by the civil powers. In 1980 the congregation was able to obtain registration from the government and started building the church, utilizing the land that had been purchased a few years earlier. By the end of 1990, there were 73 church members in Tbilisi, with a few Georgian converts among them.24

The period after the dissolution of the Soviet Union saw a wave of spiritual awakening that resulted in a rapid church growth. Church structure has been reorganized several times from the Transcaucasian Union Mission to the Georgian Mission, from the Transcaucasian Union of Churches and then to the Georgian field respectively. Since 1990 a number of churches were planted in the major cities, such as Tbilisi, Batumi, Kutaisi, Telavi, Akhmeta, and Rustavi. During the last decades local ministers began to study at Zaokski Seminary and upon graduation started engaging in leadership and pastoral ministry. In 2020 the Georgian Mission was reorganized into a Georgian field and is being administered by the field secretary Pr. Boris Charaia.

List of Presidents

I. I. Velgosha, 1994-1998 (Transcaucasian Union Mission); V. I. Sazhin, 1998-2001 (Transcaucasian Union Mission); P. P. Lagutov, 2001-2003 (Georgian Mission); A. V. Stepanov, 2003 (Georgian Mission); G. G. Tsamalashvili, 2003-2006 (Georgian Mission); V. I. Grubi, 2006-2009 (Georgian Mission); A. F. Schwarz, 2009-2015 (Georgian Mission); B. M. Charaia, 2015 to 2016 (Georgian Mission); V. F. Kovtyuk, 2016-2020 (Transcaucasus Union of Churches); B. M. Charaia, 2020-Present (Georgian Field)

Sources

Heinz, D. et al., Photochronics of Adventist Church in Tsarist Russia-USSR-UIP in 1882–2012. Riga, Latvia: European Archives of History of Seventh-day Adventists, 2012.

Heinz, D. Souls under the Altar. 2nd ed. Riga: European Archives of History of Seventh-day Adventists, 2015.

Löbsack, Heinrich J. Великое Адвентистское Движение и Адвентисты Седьмого Дня в России [The Great Adventist Movement and Seventh-day Adventists in Russia] (2nd ed.). Rostov, Russia: Caucasus Union Mission of Seventh-day Adventists, 2006.

Matsanov, A. G. and Matsanova, P. A. Through the Thorny Path. Kaliningrad: Iantarni Skaz, 1995.

Namoradze Sergo, “Church Growth Theory and the Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Mission in Georgia: A Case Study.” Ph.D. diss., Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 2018.

Pančenko, P. G. Look Who Are You the Called! Nizhni Novgorod: Diatlovi Gori, 2007.

Yunak, D. O. “Возвожу очи мои к горам. История Церкви Адвентистов Седьмого Дня в Закавказье” [“Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The Seventh-day Adventists History in Transcaucasia”]. Tula, Unpublished manuscript, 2012.

Zaitsev, E. V. The History of Adventist Church. Zaokski, Russia: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008.

Zaitsev, E. V. История Церкви АСД [The History of Adventist Church]. Zaokski, Russia: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008.

Zhukaluk. Remember Your Mentors (The History of SDA by Individuals). Kiev, Ukraine: Dzherelo Zhitia, 1999.

Notes

  1. This article largely draws on the author’s doctoral dissertation. See Sergo Namoradze, “Church Growth Theory and the Development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Mission in Georgia: A Case Study” (Ph.D. diss., Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies, 2018). Also interviews with Pastor Panchenko, Mrs. Glazova, and Mr. Dragan in Tbilisi, Georgia in 2016. These interviews as well as the interview with Konstance Mayevskaya, who personally knew Pastor Kote Karalashvili, provided important information and preserved much valuable oral tradition.

  2. Heinrich J. Löbsack, Великое Адвентистское Движение и Адвентисты Седьмого Дня в России [The Great Adventist Movement and Seventh-day Adventists in Russia] (2nd ed.) (Rostov, Russia: Caucasus Union Mission of SDA, 2006 [1st ed. 1918]), 152; Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 10, 11; Zaitsev, The History of Adventist Church, 113.

  3. Heinz et al., Photochronics of Adventist Church in Tsarist Russia-USSR-UIP in 1882–2012 (Riga, Latvia: European Archives of History of SDA, 2012), 11, 12. Zaitsev, The History of Adventist Church, 214.

  4. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 84.

  5. Heinz et al., Photochronics of Adventist Church in Tsarist Russia, 10; Löbsack, The Great Adventist Movement and Seventh-day Adventists in Russia, 228, 229; and Zaitsev, The History of Adventist Church, 214.

  6. Heinz et al., Souls under the Altar, 2nd ed. (Riga: European Archives of History of Seventh-day Adventists, 2015), 166.

  7. Heinz et al., Photochronics of Adventist Church in Tsarist (2012), 10; Löbsak, The Great Adventist Movement, 11.

  8. Yunak D. O., “Возвожу очи мои к горам. История Церкви Адвентистов Седьмого Дня в Закавказье” [“Lift My Eyes to the Hill: The SDA History in Transcaucasia”] (Tula, Unpublished manuscript, 2012); E. V. Zaitsev, История Церкви АСД [The History of Adventist Church]] (Zaokski, Russia: Istochnik Zhizni, 2008), 27–28.

  9. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 83.

  10. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 85–86.

  11. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 85.

  12. Löbsak, The Great Adventist Movement, 285; Yunak, Lift My Eyes to the Hill, 216.

  13. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 217.

  14. In 1905 Maslina magazine began to be published in Russian and record first hand mission reports.

  15. As cited in Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 30; Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 83-85.

  16. Heinz et al., “Souls Under the Altar,” 55; Löbsack, The Great Adventist Movement, 296; Zaitsev, The History of Adventist Church, 238.

  17. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 90-93.

  18. Yunak, “Lift My Eyes to the Hill,” 91.

  19. Dragan, interview by author, Tbilisi, Georgia, 2016.

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Namoradze, Sergo. "Georgian Field." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 12, 2022. Accessed May 23, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=3GSC.

Namoradze, Sergo. "Georgian Field." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 12, 2022. Date of access May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=3GSC.

Namoradze, Sergo (2022, April 12). Georgian Field. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 23, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=3GSC.