Recently I had the privilege to return to the village of Tramelan, Switzerland, to see the very first Seventh-day Adventist Church organized, constructed, and dedicated outside of North America. I first visited the church four years ago. Since then, thanks to some hard work from some fellow Adventist historians and the generosity of the Inter-European Division who have arranged to rent the building, it is now possible to visit this Adventist historical treasure. For the first time I was able to go inside.
So why is this place significant?
In a nutshell, this was the place where M. B. Czechowski did some of his earliest missionary labors. As early Sabbatarian Adventists developed a sense of mission consciousness, it was difficult for these early church leaders to figure out what to do. The first person they picked to go overseas, B. F. Snook, apostatized. Early Seventh-day Adventist leaders had concerns about Czechowski who eventually was sponsored by the Advent Christian Church.
What I did not realize until this trip is that this particular part of Switzerland was a stronghold of the Anabaptist movement. The radical appeal to Scripture by Anabaptists from the 16th-century onward was the seedbed for the birth of Adventism in Europe.
Czechowski baptized James Ertzenberger, one of his first converts, in Etang de La Gruére. The place warmed my heart as I went for a walk around the lake, even in the midst of a Swiss winter. It was on another winter day, many years earlier, that Czechowski brought a trunk of books that spilled out in the snow. He picked up the books quickly and kept moving on across the valley. His tenacity was inspiring to think about. At the same time Czechowski made mistakes, and his financial embarrassments in the community forced him to move on. Yet he left behind literature that created a contact point between these early believers and Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders in America.
Later J. N. Andrews, described by Ellen G. White as the “ablest man in our ranks,” came to follow-up the work of Czechowski. He had gone through a series of disappointments, including perhaps one of the toughest tenures of any General Conference president, that led to turmoil at church headquarters. Andrews received a “fresh start” after a crisis that turned far more personal after the tragic death of his wife, Angeline, from tuberculosis. Andrews perceived this was a new beginning for him, and thanked God for what he felt was His providential leading through the ministry of Czechowski.
Both Czechowski and Andrews had their flaws, but I personally admire their perseverance. The legacy of the Tramelan Church in many ways is emblematic of their ministry, the joining of indigenous and foreign, strengths as well as weaknesses, that I also believe God used both of these men in a providential way to recast Adventism as a global movement.