Finnish Father’s Forgiveness
By Sakari Vehkavuori
Finland was mired in a bloody civil war in 1918. The Reds, mainly comprised of the working class, were locked in conflict with the Whites, mostly from the middle and upper classes.
My great-grandfather Viktor Ståhlberg pleaded with his son, my great-uncle Väinö Ståhlberg, not to join the White troops. Viktor, who had joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church three years earlier, quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 26:52, “For all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (NKJV).
“Please, my son, do not take off with your friends to join the army”, he said.
But Väinö felt a strong urge to fight for what he believed, and he left home under the darkness of night. He met friends on the ice-covered Gulf of Finland early one Sunday morning.
Almost immediately, Red soldiers seized Väinö and the others. It later emerged that a housemaid who had fallen in love with Väinö had revealed his plans to a Red sympathizer, who, in turn, had tipped off the Red army.
That night, the young men were put on a horse-drawn sleigh, and two armed Red soldiers drove them back onto the frozen Gulf of Finland. The soldiers cut a hole in the ice and ordered the prisoners to stand in a row. Väinö refused and was shot dead on the spot. Then three more young men were killed. Two tried to escape and were shot dead.
After that, a second group of prisoners fled. As the two soldiers chased them, one of the prisoners, who had pretended to be dead near the ice hole, fled to freedom. He told others what had happened.
Back in the gulf, the Reds threw the bodies of the dead into the ice hole.
Väinö’s father, Viktor, and the rest of the family mourned for days.
After some time, the Whites gained the upper hand as the 1918-20 Civil War wound down. They captured 10 Red prisoners and decided to execute them in revenge for the death of Väinö and his friends.
Viktor grabbed his Bible and hurried to the hilltop execution site.
“Now this slaughtering is enough”, he declared. “You cannot kill any Reds for my son’s lost life, not one”.
As he preached on the hill, the cycle of revenge was broken, and the lives of the Red prisoners were spared. Among those 10 Reds were the two sons of a local blacksmith. Seeing his sons saved, the joyful blacksmith started to read the Bible and joined the Adventist Church.
God also has blessed the family of Viktor, pictured left. Eight family members have served as Adventist pastors, including me and Väinö’s brother Toivo Seljavaara, a public evangelist who baptized more than 1,500 people.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission. Find more mission stories at adventistmission[dot]org
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