AUSTRIA: Literature Evangelism
If there’s ever a question about what one man can do, consider the case of Ferdinand Prauhart.
One hundred years ago, Prauhart, a Seventh-day Adventist from southern Germany, traveled to Austria and began work as a literature evangelist. He sold Bibles, Christian literature, and health books, going door to door. The work wasn’t always popular. Six years after it began, then-president of the world church A.G. Daniells reported “[t]he literature evangelists in Austria are persecuted regularly and put in prison.”
But the book-sellers persevered and by 1921, were more formally accepted in Austria. During the ensuing 86 years – with the notable exception of the National Socialist era – Adventist book sales have continued in Austria.
Prauhart’s simple act marked the beginning of Adventist literature evangelism in Austria, and was commemorated with a series of special events at Bogenhofen Seminary in August.
During a special church service on Saturday, August 18, 2007, Raimund Fuchs, literature evangelism director for the church in Austria welcomed some 350 participants including currently working book evangelists, their families as well as former colleagues and guests from Austria and abroad. In spite of other media, Fuchs noted, books and magazines remain popular.
Howard Faigao, publishing director for the Seventh-day Adventist world church, discussed the question of keeping public interest in the printed page. He informed participants that there are 65 Adventist publishing houses around the world that print Christian literature in 261 different languages. About 54 million books were sold worldwide by 40,000 literature evangelists during the last five years.
Daniel Heinz, director of the European Archives for Seventh-day Adventist History, outlined the history of literature evangelism and explained its importance in the context of the Adventist mission. Following the example of the Waldensian colporteurs during the thirteenth century, the Pietist “literature missionaries” of the eighteenth century, and the “literature evangelists” of the Bible and missionary societies of the nineteenth century, the Adventist movement developed its literature evangelism program.
“It is an interesting fact, ” said Heinz, “that the birthplace of Adventist literature evangelism was not in North America, but in Europe.” Michael Belina Czechovski, a former Polish priest who joined the Adventist church in America and returned to Europe as a missionary, called himself a “book colporteur.” In the mid-to-late nineteenth century, he was producing and selling a missionary paper as well as books, calling on people in their homes, in Northern Italy, France, Switzerland, and the Alsace. Later, the German missionary Ludwig R. Conradi took up this kind of activity, especially in German speaking areas.
For a long time, religious freedom was extremely restricted and public preaching of the Adventist message was not possible. In spite of these limitations, the Adventist movement grew with the essential contribution of the literature evangelists.
Since 1948, literature evangelists have sold approximately 1.5 million books in Austria alone. About 10 percent of all Adventists in Austria were introduced to the church through literature evangelists, who are connected with the publishing house known today as Top Life Wegweiser Verlag.
The Seventh-day Adventist church in Austria (www.adventisten.at) consists of 3,800 baptized members worshiping in 49 congregations. The Top Life Wegweiser Publishing House (www.toplife-center.at) offers a great variety of books and magazines on the Bible and faith, health, education, as well as children’s books and books for younger readers.
—by Christian Grassl, communication director, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Austria