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A persecuted Lutheran pastor remembered in film

October 29, 2012 No Comment

Scenario: It’s dark outside. Everybody in your village is in bed. It seems just like every other night when a loud banging comes from the door. Your heart sinks. They’ve come. They’ve come for you. You know you’ll never return. You will probably never see your family again because they’ve come to take you far away… To a place you don’t want to go… To a prison camp. Your crime? You’re a Christian.

This may sound like a scene from a futuristic, dystopian novel or from the days when Christians were fed to the lions in Rome. But it’s neither fiction nor ancient history. It was the experience of many men and women who lived in the Soviet Union at a time when a paranoid Stalin began his political purges.

Jakob Seel was just one man who lived through this period. A Lutheran pastor and teacher in the 1930s, he slowly found himself stripped of his purpose in life. They took away his church, his school, his choir. He was forced into hiding his most precious possession: his Bible.

This was also a time when neighbour was pitted against neighbour. Even children were enticed to turn in their parents. The fear was real. Men were carted off by the truckloads to face false accusations, imprisonment, exile, and death. When Jakob’s family finally was able to escape the Soviet Union in 1943, only a handful of men were left in their village.

Jakob Seel

You may not think automatically of Lutherans when you think of Russia. Jakob’s ancestors had come from the Germanic lands to settle in these Slavic territories between the mid-1700s and the early 1800s. The initial invitation came from Catherine the Great, with subsequent invitations coming from her son and grandson who ruled after her. Today, Jakob’s people are known as the “Germans from Russia.”

Rev. Roberto Munoz, vacancy pastor at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Smithville, Ontario, is one of Jakob’s descendants. He grew up listening to these stories. He was always particularly struck by Jakob’s story and felt that others needed to hear it.

Rev. Munoz found that platform in 2006 when his theatre ministry branched out into making films. In 2009, he wrote Under Jakob’s Ladder and got a team together to film his great-grandfather’s story. “It was made to remind us that there is hope,” he says, “even in the darkest places. Jakob’s story ultimately is one of hope.”

When Jakob found himself stripped of everything, he found that he had the freedom to speak the truth. Ironically it was in the confines of a detention camp that he could discuss with his fellow inmates the salvation of a risen Saviour. And so he could sing again, much as Paul and Silas once had sung hymns of praise to God in their prison cell.

It was not easy. It never is. It wasn’t easy for Jakob’s wife, daughter, and grandchildren to flee the Soviet Union. Today, what Christians face is different, but nonetheless real. We face a growing marginalizing of the Church. The threat is subtle but no less corrosive. And one wonders if it starts with Sunday-morning sports and entertainment that crowd out the worship of God. Where will it end?

Still God will always be with us, even when we’re afraid, or don’t know what to do. Jakob’s greatest fear was to be carted off to the prison camp. This however would turn out to be one of the greatest blessings of his life. For it was in prison, that he realized there was nothing left to take but his life. And so as he gathered the courage to share his hope and faith with his fellow inmates he became a light of God in a very dark place until that Light took him to the place of eternal light and glory.

Under Jakob’s Ladder was produced by CubeCity Entertainment. The film is now available on DVD. To arrange a showing of the film at your church, contact CubeCity here. Watch the trailer below:

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