Two Pastors, Poles Apart

by Slawomir Malarek


We were both born and raised in Poland, studied theology, and became ministers. We both left our fatherland and lived and worked in other countries. He went to Italy; I sojourned across the Alps into neighboring Switzerland. Eventually both of us would come to Canada (in the same year, 1989) and live in southern Ontario within an hour's drive of each other.

We were both sent on similar missions to the same town in Western Manitoba. He came to Brandon in 1994, and I arrived in the summer of 1995. Our assignments were to revive our churches in this second-largest city in the province of Manitoba. The attendance in my church had dwindled down to seven. In his, only one couple remained. Both churches were about to experience unprecedented growth. But that's where the similarities end, because he was a Catholic priest and I am a Protestant pastor. We were literally two Poles, poles apart.

God must have smiled, knowing all along that once we would finally meet, the life of one man would change forever.

New Neighbors
"That's amazing!" I exclaimed as I stood for the first time in front of this unusual church in the oldest part of town. The wooden structure, situated only a few hundred yards away from two onion-domed Ukrainian and Greek Orthodox churches, was unmistakably East European. It housed a unique church called the Polish National Catholic Church. I remembered such churches from my homeland. Although Catholic in their theology, they would not recognize the pope and also allowed their clergy to marry. Never had I expected to find one of them here in Brandon, right in the middle of the Canadian prairies!

I couldn't help but muse over the name of the priest displayed on a little sign: "Father Anthony Budzik." Knowing that his name meant "alarm clock" in Polish, I began to wonder whether he ever had problems with parishioners falling asleep during his sermons. But then my thoughts turned to more serious reflection on what God might have in store for me here in Brandon, and I whispered a little prayerful wish to meet my compatriot priest. After knocking on his door several times without success, I promised determinedly: "I'll be back!"

Focused on Evangelism
That first year in Manitoba found me working hard with my own church. Brandon is a vibrant city of 40,000 people that has its own university and more than 30 churches. Unfortunately, attendance in my Sabbathkeeping church had dropped to seven members, most of whom were elderly. However, I was able to identify about 15 active people to train for local evangelism. I encouraged them that in spite of our small size, we still could accomplish much with God's help.

We began with a work bee and lots of advertising to let the community know that we were open for business. For our main training and rehearsal for future evangelistic projects, we used the Net '95 video series. People began to come to our meetings.

Still thinking about Father Budzik, I attended the local ministerium in the hope of meeting him there, but I looked for him in vain. Meanwhile, we had already completed a follow-up Revelation Seminar and launched our first Bible correspondence school. Next the church acquired a new satellite dish in anticipation of a live satellite evangelistic series with Evangelist Mark Finley. Our joy was immense when, after a year of effort, five precious souls were baptized. However, in the process, I almost forgot about the Polish priest.

I now know that our Heavenly Father was watching over him and was not going to let anything thwart His perfect plan. By the spring of 1997, we were again in the middle of evangelism. One day my Swiss wife, Brigitta, met Father Budzik in front of the bank. A little sticker with a Polish flag displayed in our car's rear window had drawn his attention. Standing there with a little boy, he extinguished his cigarette and started a conversation with her.

"Are you Polish?" he asked with a slight accent.

"No, but my husband is," Brigitta responded. Then she explained that our whole family has triple citizenship: Polish, Swiss, and Canadian. "Are you Polish?" she asked. Then, almost guessing his answer, she quickly added, "What do you do here in Brandon?"

"Yes, I'm Polish and I'm a priest."

"So is my husband!" she exclaimed. "Well, he is a pastor." Brigitta burst into laughter, amazed at this coincidence. Still excited about the providential turn of events, she gave Tony (for that's how he introduced himself) our telephone number and urged him to call.

Perfect Timing
He didn't call immediately, but when he did, the timing couldn't have been better. We were immersed in a new series of evangelism, which we were repeating from the Net '96 video tapes. When Tony called, I was just on the way to the church for one of meetings. I invited him to attend, promising more time for a conversation after the lecture. He obliged by showing up and sitting through the whole program. The topic was on health, and I wondered whether it was the best one for him to see as an introduction to the three angels' messages. However, the Lord knew better.

As we conversed after the meeting and then again a few days later in my home, I found that Tony was very much interested in health. He also shared with me that his congregation was small and the paycheck hardly sufficed for his family's needs. Tony had a wife, Yolanda, and two little boys: 7-year-old Angelo and 3-year-old Adriano. I also learned that he watched evangelical preachers on television and often read the Bible.

Excited about what I was hearing, I spoke to Tony in Polish to better convey my earnestness. "You know, Tony, your life story reminds me so much of my father, who was also a Catholic priest in Poland. In 1960 he became a Protestant minister, then later a conference president of our church. I think the Lord is leading you in the same direction. Don't worry about the future, and don't worry about finances. Just study His Word, find out His truth, and follow His will. He will direct your life and provide for your needs." Then I prayed for him and his family, asking for God to give them guidance and the resolve to follow His will.

We parted as friends, but I had a distinct feeling that Tony was too preoccupied with the urgency of his immediate needs to recognize the importance of my appeal. Again I didn't hear from him for a long time. I decided not to pressure him, but to give him time and space while praying that God would do the rest.

Praying and Planning
The year 1997 saw our congregation's most aggressive evangelism efforts. The series of programs commenced with a "Financial Freedom" seminar, followed by a Daniel seminar and then a third showing of the Net '96 meetings. We again launched our correspondence Bible School, blanketing the entire city for the fourth time with fliers. Before summer arrived, we also began the In His Steps Bible studies and were steadily building up a group of faithful interests. Some of them were already worshipping with us on Sabbath mornings, and I felt that the Lord was about to give us an abundant harvest of souls.

In September of 1997, we were preparing for the crowning act of our evangelistic efforts, which was The Next Millennium seminar with Pastor Doug Batchelor from Amazing Facts.

This satellite evangelistic series was to be used by God to bring our interests to a decision for baptism. This time we decided to use a new approach and deliver our fliers by hand. In the process, some 12,000 people in 3,000 homes were visited. I purposely chose for my own territory the old area of town where many Europeans lived, among them Tony.

On three different occasions, after having visited many homes in his neighborhood, I knocked on the Budzik's door only to be repeatedly disappointed. But I wouldn't let conventional wisdom stop me from trying once more, so I decided to go back the next day. The fourth attempt was the answer to my prayers, for Tony was home and happily invited me inside. I explained the purpose of my visit and how I felt I had to invite him personally to these important meetings. He actually thanked me and without hesitation promised to be there on opening night.

A Searching Heart
As I sat in his living room, a most unusual conversation ensued. "Tony, I really appreciate the fact that you are such an open-minded individual," I said. "Not often will a Catholic priest attend a meeting held in a Protestant church."

His reply stunned me. "For some time, Slawek, I have been looking at other churches, studying their theology, and listening to their preaching on TV. I also study my Bible," he said pointing to a Bible within his reach. "And my wife has her own Bible in the kitchen," which he proudly showed me later.

I continued, "Yes, I was always surprised how often you quoted the Scriptures-quite uncommon for a Catholic-and I also noticed that you don't have any of the usual crucifixes on the walls."

He smiled and explained, "This house, which belongs to the church, was full of them, but we took them down. For some time now I haven't believed in images and crucifixes. I think it's idolatry, and I tell it straight to my congregation. I tell them that the rosary has no place in the true religion of the heart and that kissing statues and bowing before them will not endear us to God. Some are really upset about my views, for this has been their tradition for generations."

"So you don't believe in the apparitions of Mary?" I asked with increasing joy.

"No," he responded. "As a matter of fact, once in Ontario we had a woman who had visions. A few laymen in the congregation and myself went to her to investigate. Suddenly her voice changed to a voice of a young boy. She claimed that a 7-year-old "Jesus" was speaking through her. Everybody around me began to kneel, making cross signs on their chests and saying: 'Miracle! Miracle!'"

"And what did you do?" I interrupted, unable to contain my curiosity.

Tony continued: "I turned to them with dismay and asked, 'Do you know what Jesus used to do with women like her?' Not hearing any answers, I continued, 'He would cast demons out of them.' Their confusion turned into disgust as they tried to disagree with me, claiming it was a miracle."

"So you are often on a collision course with your church?" I asked.

Tony reached out for a thick book lying on his coffee table. "This book contains some 1,200 rules of the Catholic Church. One day I held this book in front of my congregation and said: 'We criticize the Jews for having some 600 rules of their own. Who is worse?"

In the same breath he added: "I'm still doing a great job for them. Our congregation has grown to 30 members. They know they won't get a better priest, and as far as the leadership of the church is concerned, some of them are even thinking of leaving the church."

With his last words still ringing in my head, I looked Tony in the eye and asked earnestly, "Tony do you really believe that the Catholic Church is God's true church on earth?"

Quick was Tony's answer: "No, that's why I'm searching."

Just as swift was my next inquiry. "Tony, if this is how you feel, let me ask you the next logical question. What are you doing in this church? Why don't you leave?"

"I'm sure I will. It's just a matter of timing," he said with a smile. I would soon find out how true his statement was. We had prayer together, then I was on my way rejoicing, hurrying home to share the good news with my family and my church.

Addicted to the Truth
As he had promised, Tony was there for the opening night of Doug Batchelor's The Next Millennium SatelLIGHT Seminar. He brought his two boys with him, and Brigitta was happy to include them in her already large children's class. The boys enjoyed their children's programs so much. Tony told me later that they couldn't wait for the next meeting and were constantly asking, "When will we go to the other priest?"

Tony enjoyed the first meeting enormously. I could see straightaway that the chemistry between him and Pastor Doug was just right. He was soaking in every word. We talked after the first meeting.

"Do you remember when I came for the first time to one of Mark Finley's presentations?" Tony asked.

"Sure," I replied. "How could I forget? I even remember that he spoke on the subject of health."

Tony continued his thought. "As he was speaking about smoking, he paraphrased Philippians 4:13 to say, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, except I can't stop smoking.' It really hit me because I was still smoking a pack a day at that time. I came home that evening, read that verse again, and asked myself some very hard questions-namely, how can I preach the power of God to change lives and smoke at the same time? I went to bed and have never touched cigarettes since. I'm a free man."

Deeply moved, I whispered, "You mean God used even that one sermon to help you give up a hurtful habit?" Tony nodded his head. "And it wasn't even that hard," he stated matter-of-factly.

He was there again the following evening and came out with a radiant look on his face. "I can't argue with this presentation," he said. "It's all biblical and very clear!" This became his usual response to our queries about how he liked that day's lecture.

The first few nights Tony's wife, Yolanda, was on duty at a local nursing home, but after she attended her first meeting, there was no stopping her, either. The Budziks always had many questions and asked for extra literature. Tony would often give the books away to anyone who dared to challenge him on his new practice of Sabbathkeeping. The Almost Forgotten Day by Mark Finley was and still is his favorite.

A Timely Commitment
Even before the end of the series, Tony approached me and with a certain triumph in his voice declared, "We would like to be baptized and join your church."

During the lectures, the Budziks would sit beside another Catholic couple, the Mercures, who were bringing their three children to the meetings. Every time Pastor Doug would mention something about Catholic theology, history, or anything on the papacy, I would see Tony nodding his head in agreement. Then, turning to the other couple, he would make a comment or two to confirm the speaker's statements.

After the evening meeting, as Real Mercure would ask questions about the Catholic Church, Tony was there to explain and argue the Bible position. "He is doing my job!" I thought to myself, pleased with Tony's contribution since he certainly was a much more convincing and credible witness.

On a subsequent visit to the Budziks, Tony confided to me a secret. "You didn't know about this, Slawek, but when you came in the beginning of October to invite us to the meetings, we were negotiating with the Anglican Church for possible employment. Although their theology is close to the Catholic theology, we didn't fully agree with their ethical standards. As we hesitated, we were told there was an opening in a nearby parish that we could take over at anytime, without any retraining on my part."

I was stunned as Tony continued, "The meetings started on Saturday, October 4, and the deadline for signing the contract with the Anglicans expired the following Monday. We had all the forms at home. All we needed to do was sign and return those papers. Even the remuneration was quite lucrative."

"Of course you didn't do it, Tony," I whispered with sudden emotion. "Any regrets?"

"Oh, no!" he exclaimed. "Now it's a different matter. I found the truth which is the most important." Tony's joy in his newly found faith was evident and infectious.

I admired his new commitment despite the fact that he was faced with losing his job and his livelihood. The Budziks would now have to live on Yolanda's part-time job and Tony's driving of a school bus a few hours a day.

A Higher Calling
Tony was right. Timing was most crucial in his life, and the One who controls it came through for him as only our Eternal, Almighty God can do. Tony's testimony proves once more that the Lord desires our salvation, and if we seek Him wholeheartedly, we shall find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). To God be the glory!

As we began the largest-ever baptismal class for our church, I had many opportunities to learn more about all of my candidates, and especially the Budziks. I learned that Tony was a graduate of the prestigious Papal Theological Institute in Cracow, Poland (though he studied on the campus at Tarnow), and held a Master's degree in theology. He shared with me how even at the seminary he questioned the validity of the mass being a continuous sacrificing of Jesus on the altar when the Bible clearly teaches in Hebrews that he was offered "once for all."

I further discovered that Tony had spent three years in Italy prior to coming to Canada and spoke at least five languages fluently. While in Italy, he pastored churches with as many as 17,000 members. He often accompanied groups of Polish dignitaries at audiences with the pope.

His wife, Yolanda, was a graduate of the University of Warsaw and has a Master's degree in social rehabilitation. They both are in their mid-30s. From their list of many hobbies, I found one particularly interesting. They are both excellent marks in archery and firearms, although I doubt they'll be practising it in the future, since they have enthusiastically embraced vegetarianism. Yolanda is also an all-round artist in her own right.

Complete Transition
Finally, the all-important day arrived. It was a day the Brandon Church will never forget. On November 15, 1997, the church witnessed a glorious baptism as 12 new members were added to the church. In baptizing Tony, I pronounced the baptismal formula in two languages. As we invited the children of the newly baptized members to join their parents on the rostrum, 10 lovely children jumped to their feet. The platform was filled with 22 new individuals, which was more than double the number of people in our church just two years earlier!

In the next few days, Tony wrote a letter of resignation from the priesthood and the Catholic Church and sent it to his superiors. He clearly explained the reasons for changing his faith and included many Bible references as evidence. One of the bishops answered immediately. He called Tony on the phone and told him bluntly that he considered him a heretic, that he had become a stranger to the whole Catholic community, and was expected to vacate the house immediately (in the middle of the harsh prairie winter)! He was also forbidden to have any contacts with his parishioners. As far as the bishop was concerned, Tony had never even worked for the Catholic Church. Tony's request for the employment record was denied to him. Not even a single reference was made to Tony's biblical arguments.

A day later another bishop tried a different tack. He explained to Tony that if he were to withdraw his resignation, they would move him back to Toronto, to a big parish where he would have a chance for promotion even to a bishopric. Tony was frustrated because all of the church leaders he talked to seemed totally oblivious of the true reasons for his decision to join God's remnant church. His conscience and the clear, conclusive scriptural evidence didn't even enter their discussions. Tony remained unwavering in his convictions. He found some allies among his former parishioners who, unlike their spiritual leaders, showed more compassion and would not cause the family with two small children to suffer any unnecessary hardships. Quoting a local bylaw, they insisted on giving the Budziks a 30-day notice to vacate the premises.

In May of 1998, Tony was in the process of moving to Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he'll serve as pastor of a Sabbathkeeping church there. As far as our relationship is concerned, we are still two Polish pastors, but no longer poles apart. Now we are brothers. We both are committed to God's truth and always want to be "men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole, men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall."1

1 Ellen G. White, Education, p. 57.

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