Stories from Paul H's Desk
Johann Pauls Went Home–Obituary
The founder and long-time leader of Bible Mission was called home on September 14, 2018. He passed away at age 86. The memory of the legendary personality of a committed believer and warrior for faith will live on, of a life for the ministry to God and the people. Johann Pauls has influenced and shaped the ministry of Bible Mission like no-one else, by establishing spiritual principles which form the basis of our organisation today. We are convinced that it was this foundation, which allowed the ministry of Bible Mission to grow and which makes it possible for us to serve to the glory of God today. We thank God for such a faithful servant! Working under his leadership was a true privilege for each of us. Good bye, Johann Pauls! We look forward to seeing you again!
– The Bible Mission team and family.
With these words, the workers of Bible-Mission said goodbye to Johann Pauls when he retired in 1996. He loved the little tablet bearing the inscription of our appreciation and gratitude. First, he kept it in his office, then he had it at the bedside. It was probably just a small token of our appreciation for Johann Pauls – and all of us owe him much – but, if in the years of illness and affliction, this little tablet was able to strengthen and comfort him by lovingly reminding him of what God has done through him, then it served the purpose it was made for.
Johann Pauls was born in 1931 in Siberia (Russia). During World War II, his family was tragically torn apart. As a German and a believer – thus, as an „Enemy of the Soviet Empire” – Johann’s father was arrested and sentenced to death by execution. Later, the death sentence was changed into 10 years prison camp. Johann’s mother was imprisoned for seven years. The house of the family was confiscated, and Johann and his brother Jacob suffered hunger and cold out on the Siberian streets. Finally, a bookkeeper from their village received the two boys. Johann came to learn the work of a bookkeeper and cashier. While Jacob came to know the Lord soon, Johann was far away from Him. By order of the communists, Johann participated in the persecution of believers. Johann’s mother prayed for her boy day and night. His father, critically ill after imprisonment, told his son: „Johann, Johann, you have to change your life, you have to make peace with God. Only He can help you. God wants to use you in His ministry.” One day, his mother gave him all the money she had put aside and sent him to Karaganda (Kazakhstan) to initiate the opportunity of a new beginning for him. Here, Johann met his wife Erika. They got married in 1960.
Through fellowship with the many believers in their village, Erika came to know Christ. In 1961, Johann accepted Jesus Christ too, and both were baptized in 1962. Johann was active in the youth and music ministry of the church in Saran, Kazakhstan. He was involved in printing Christian literature in the underground, and together with other brothers he made plans and dreamed of going and reaching out to the world by preaching the Word of God. But first, the family moved to Moldova, where Johann pastored the church of Tiraspol. Again, Johann was involved in smuggling Bibles, when Christian literature was brought from Romania to the Soviet Union.
In 1980, Johann and Erika moved to Germany to her daughter Helena, who had emigrated to Germany earlier. Johann was elected the elder of the church in Detmold, Germany. He had good contacts to the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) in the USA, founded in 1934 by Peter Deyneka Sr. At the initiative of SGA, Johann started the foundation of a missionary organisation in Germany in 1983 – called Bible Mission. These first years were true „manual work”. Johann travelled throughout the world to develop contacts for the work of Bible Mission. He was away travelling up to 220 days per year. The first mailing list showed 500 contacts of friends. The original purpose of Bible Mission was to print Bibles and Christian literature in the Russian language and to smuggle it into the Soviet Union. Worldwide paths and networks were used to smuggle the literature.
With Perestrojka and the fall of the Iron Curtain, Bible Mission was allowed to start shipments of Christian literature to an enormous extent. Led by the motto: Everybody has a right to a Bible, literature packages were sent per mail, later per trucks and trains to the former Soviet Union. More ministries developed – such as humanitarian projects for people in need, the ministry of the Correspondence Bible School, the support of local missionaries, the ministry in orphanages and nursing homes, among lepers and prisoners. Johann Pauls had an important impact on the structure and strategy of the Bible Mission ministry. Regional Ministry Centers were established in Almaty (Kazakhstan), Moscow and Omsk (Russia), Kiev (Ukraine), Minsk (Belarus) and later in Kishinev (Moldova). To this day, Bible Mission serves on the principle: With, through and for the churches. For his ministry in the foundation and leadership of Bible Mission, Johann Pauls was awarded the Honorary Doctorate of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, TX) and the Theological Seminaries in Kiev and Odessa, Ukraine.
Johann and Erika spent the last years of their life in Bielefeld, Germany. Erika died in 2012 of cancer. A few weeks before his 80th anniversary, Johann had another stroke (the sixth). He suffered from hemiplegia and the loss of speech. But even though he could no longer express himself – his eyes never lost their shine, and he was always happy when friends and relatives came to see him. In his book „Pages of a Life” he had written: “I remember the many people I met throughout all the years and on all continents. It would be my desire to see all of them once again. Since this is not possible, I would love to see them in Eternity, when we are with the Lord, and without sins”. The Lord has now fulfilled this desire. Johann is survived by one daughter with her husband, three grandsons and four grand-grandson
“Chef” (Chief) – this is how we used to call Johann Pauls. Jokingly, but at the same time with respect of a person and character God has used in a special way. Johann Pauls was the „Chef”. With his very own energy and passion, restless, if necessary with clear words and just he led the workers of our Regional Ministry Centers in the former Soviet Union which had been established under his leadership. „Chef” was an expression everybody understood, in any language, Russian or German. Never had the “Chief” forgotten Who was Lord over his life, Who had saved him and used him so that people could receive the Word of God and come to know and love Jesus. Now, time has come for Johann Pauls to meet all of them in person, and to praise the Lord and Saviour together with them.
The funeral service was held on Sept 21, 2018 in Bielefeld, Germany.