It is the 6th of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1919.
While historians often fixate on global events such as wars, it is often the aftermath of the conflicts that prove to be most consequential for the general public. And while World War 1 argues for being the most disruptive war in modern history, the year after it ended did more to set the 20th-century course than those fateful years of 1914-1919.
The Spanish Flu was raging. 1919 saw its 3rd wave continue to decimate the global population. It is worth noting, although you may have already heard that it was not called the Spanish Flu because it originated in Spain. Instead, it was first publicized in Spain, and thus that country received the appellation for the deadly disease. In 1918 many of the nation's fighting in the War did not want the press to cause a panic with news of the global pandemic. Spain, officially neutral in the war, had no such scruples. Thus, the news of the plague came, at first, through Spanish news outlets. This led many to think that the virus came from the first country reporting it. In Spain, they called it the "French Flu." The most likely birthplace of the so-called Spanish Flu? Somehwere near a military base in Kansas. The WHO and other health organizations have since attempted to use technical or descriptive names of viruses without reference to the origin as to tamp down racial backlash.
Woodrow Wilson, who was not alone trying to keep the virus on the down low, ended up catching it while on a trip to negotiate the end of the war in Paris. Members of the president's traveling cabinet and his family also contracted the virus. Wilson's personal physician and the Associated Press reported that it was not the Spanish Flu despite his condition worsening. Wilson's case became so bad that he began to hallucinate and believed that French spies surrounded him. The more things change, etc.
Across Europe, the end of the War and the possibility of a new world order excited reactionaries and revolutionaries alike. In Germany, the Weimar Republic was inaugurated. It was perhaps the most liberal of all democracies in the 20th century. However, it's poorly worded constitution had in it the seeds of its demise. In this same year, the German Workers party was founded on pan-Germanism and Aryan identity ideas. The workers' party would eventually become the National Socialist or NAZI party.
Fascists and Communists would battle across Europe for the next few decades, eventually helping to ignite the Second World War. In Russia, 1919 was a tenuous time. Russia was active on the world stage during the Russo-Japanese War early in the century, followed by an entrance in WW1 and its revolution in 1917. The old empire would soon give way to the Duma and a kind of constitutional monarchy. But this liberal monarchy would not stand the events of 1917, and by 1919 the identity of the once-proud empire was in question.
In this global context generally, and the Russian context, we remember Baron Paul Nicolay, the Lutheran evangelist in Russia and driving force behind the World's Student Christian Federation. He died on this, the 6thof October, in 1919.
Nicolay was of Swiss and French heritage, but his great grandfather moved the family to Russia, where he served as the tutor to the son of the Emperor. By the time Paul was born in 1860, the family had considerable clout in the Empire. Had things gone according to plan, Paul Nicolay may have been a successful diplomat. However, seeing the misery caused by revolutions and wars, he had a profound change of heart on account of his faith. He began to work with the poor and the imprisoned, shunning his status, and becoming known for his charity. His most important work was done with Dr. John Mott, the World Student Christian Federation leader.
Nicolay not only served his fellow Russian students but helped to spread the movement across Eastern and Northern Europe. Nicolay's deep commitment to the poor, his belief in the power of the Gospel, and his insistence on all people's dignity gave him credibility amongst a people gradually distancing itself from the historic Russian church. While Nicolay did not live to continue his work inside what would become the USSR, the student movement he worked for tirelessly would continue to make disciples and evangelists inside the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc for decades. Born in 1860, Baron Paul Nicolay died on this, the 6th of October, in 1919. He was 59 years old.
The reading for today is from the Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, his "Confession."
How easy it is to live with You, O Lord.
How easy to believe in You.
When my spirit is overwhelmed within me,
When even the keenest see no further than the night,
And know not what to do tomorrow,
You bestow on me the certitude
That You exist and are mindful of me,
That all the paths of righteousness are not barred.
As I ascend in to the hill of earthly glory,
I turn back and gaze, astonished, on the road
That led me here beyond despair,
Where I too may reflect Your radiance upon mankind.
All that I may reflect, You shall accord me,
And appoint others where I shall fail.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 6th of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who knows that in Soviet Russia, the podcasts produce you, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.