truly understand Davidian Seventh-day Adventists and their struggles,
one must burro into a mine laden with exceptional fortitude and
a people of resilience. It is a narrative of the human spirit and
that enigma of enigmasfaith. Fasten your seat belts; you are
in for a ride.
begins in a hamlet called Raicovo, nestled in the Rhodope Mountains
of southwestern Bulgaria. There, March 2, 1885, Victor Tasho Houteff
was born. As Father and Mother Houteff cuddled that bundle of warmth,
that newest family addition, they had no inkling of what the future
held for their son. That someday he would shake a denomination from
center to circumference. (1)
Growing up in
a modest household, Victor certainly didnt suspect his destiny,
nor did his three brothersNick, Leo, and Theodore, and three
sistersAnna, Marie, and Fimea. That his future held immigration
to the United States where that unsuspecting denomination headquartered,
was unknown to Victor as he explored the streets of Raicovo. That
his brother, Nick would be the only sibling to follow him to the
United States was unknown to Victor as the two had played and shared
secrets. (Nick would settle in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and maintain
a lifelong close relationship with Victor.) However, these events
waited many years and a continent away.
Victor had desired
many things as a young man, but the two he had rhapsodized most
were to know God and to be wealthy. That his life forever. That
need to know God would become his consuming passion, changing his
life forever. While living in Bulgaria, he had joined the Greek
Orthodox church. There, he and others would be accused of conspiracy
against the government.
started when Victor and a cousin acquired their uncles business
selling roses. Sounds simple enough, right? Business had boomed,
and they opened a shop in a nearby border town in Turkey. Business
soared. When Houteffs enterprise had begun exporting roses,
blasting competition like a searing sandstorm, local dealers screamed,
"Foul!" Knowing they piloted a fair and honest business,
the Houteffs ignored all threats and covert attempts to ruin them.
Victor had learned,
from the cradle up, to love God, be honest, work hard, persevere,
and success would follow. Houteffs successful enterprise was
a glimpse of his entrepreneurial skillsskills destined to
become spiritual gifts as he grew in knowledge. A knowledge that
would lead him to build Mt. Carmel Center, Waco, Texas, a training
center for Biblical study, Biblical exposition, and publication
of Biblical themes. Houteff would accomplish this on a shoestring
during the 1930s as the US, and in some respects the world, reeled
under the great depression. Built by volunteer labor, it would be
sustained by members free-will gifts. Its stately buildings
would house up to 125 and grace a lush campus. Waco businessmen
would be impressed favorably, unlike the businessmen in that Turkish
bordertown. Houteff believed his success was owed to God.
In 1948 he stated,
"when we moved our offices from California to Texas, where
we had neither friend nor believer in the message, the church elders
were glad, and thought our work would them die out for sure. It
never the less grew more than before, although this took place in
the midst of the depression, in 1935, while hundreds and thousands
of businesses were going bankrupt, and while well-to-do men were
becoming poor. Yet we who started out with nothing, grew and prospered.
We, moreover, never took collections in any of our meetings anywhere
and never made any calls for money. This holds good still. Then,
too, our free literature that goes out week by week, and amounts
to hundreds and thousands of dollars week after week, and year after
year, besides the cost of building the institution." (3)
years in Bulgaria, Victors future had glowed with promise.
Partner in a thriving business at age twenty, his dream of wealth
had hung like ripe fruits read for picking. Soon thundering threats
from the opposition had destroyed all possibility of that fruit
harvest. The atmosphere toward him at church had grown cold. His
fellow deacons and church brethren were also his bitterest competition.
When they exhausted legal means of destroying the Houteffs
enterprises, violence erupted.
The prick of
thorns on tender flesh while handling rose stems, Victor had known.
The pain piercing his heart as he read the hate laced words scrawled
across the front of his store, Victor had never known. The leathery
weight of his Bible, during prayer and study, Victor had known.
The weight of sorrow he felt when he held the brick that someone
had flung through his store window, Victor had never known.
Chunks of glass
crackled under their feet as Victor and his cousin surveyed the
ravaged shop. They traced bullet holes in a wall opposite a window.
The heavy perfume of roses filled their nostrils, rendering the
scene as ludicrous as finding crystal goblets balanced on a trash
heap. Who had done such a thing?
depended upon the Houteffs enterprises for their livelihoods,
what would they do? How would they survive? Victor must have drawn
himself up to every inch of his wiry, 53" frame. The
roots of his thick, black hair might have bristled with Bulgarian
indignation. Bearing his own suffering was one thing. Seeing the
suffering of others was too much. This had to stop. Wasnt
the rose market big enough for them all. Couldnt they compete
peacefully; each dealer working hard to please his own customers?
be done. Victors faith in God, and his towering sense of right
and wrong sent him into deep thought. He grappled with the need
for justice, and decided to appeal to his fellow parishioners, the
brethren he had grown to love and respect. They would surely reach
a fair solution.
degree of anguish must have assaulted Victor, as he listened to
church prelates, and learned they had sided with his opposition
on both sides of the border. How could they think that I had conspired
to overthrow the government? He must have thought. How could they
believe that I am an enemy of the state? Victor must have felt like
a walking target for all their business was. His membership in good
standing, his dedication to God and to the work of the church meant
nothing to them.
The bishop of
the province, who had sponsored a campaign to discredit and ostracize
Victor, turned to him with icy eyes and in a voice encrusted with
cruelty axed all hope of justice. We dont know his exact words.
Perhaps they were something like this:
not welcome here. Your business isnt welcome here. Get out
while you still can. Staying could be suicide." Whatever the
words, the danger was real. The church had a dead bolt on civil
and religious power. Whether Victor realized the degree of personal
danger is uncertain. Testimony shows he was incensed. (4) He felt
compelled to denounce the churchs hypocrisy regardless of
who it was.
Few have the
courage to stand by their convictions against the high tide of fear,
abuse, or ostracism. Victor did. One respected, religious writer
has said, "Of all persecution, the hardest to bear is variance
in the home, the estrangement of dearest earthly friends."
In most ways
1907 was like any other year, in other ways it wasnt. Couples
married, babies were born, flowers bloomed, and one morning Victor
may have realized he had sold his last rose. Fingers of fear must
have clawed at his spine. Thoughts of his family and all the things
hed never do or see again no doubt crashed through his mind.
He fled to his fathers home where he sought security. The
angry mod knew he would go there seeking safety. At gun point, they
warned, threatened, and antagonized his family. Where could he escape
their murderous mood? Sooner or later a bullet would end all of
hopes and his existence. More innocent people also faced harm because
It was decided
that Victor must leave the country. He must escape to America at
once. His Brother Nick helped him secure passage, promising to follow
as soon as possible (a promise he kept). He could stay with a cousin
in a place called New York City. What a farewell it must have been.
Perhaps Father Houteff gave Victor a solid squeeze, attempting to
mask the fear that the family would ever see him again.
and Lady Liberty with flaming torch greeted Victor and that boatload
of immigrants. New sights, sounds, tastes, textures bombarded his
senses. He navigated the entry process at a dizzying pace so different
from the drone of life in Raicovo. How he missed his family and
village. How he longed for a familiar face, voice, language, food.
How would he survive? As he entered the streets of that bustling
city, following the back of a cousin he barely knew, old hopes of
someday being rich seemed far away and impossible.
the experience, he would later say, "Yes, hundreds and thousands
of things may happen, but he that trusts in God and does his work
well shall find all these so-called hindrances or mishaps wonderful
deliverances, and avenues to success, all carrying out Gods
marvelous plans, and Gods way toward your promotion from one
great thing to another. When you are in Gods care and in His
control never say the Devil did this or that regardless what it
be, for he can do nothing except he is allowed to do it. Always
give God the credit.
to America, not because I wanted to, but because God wanted me to.
And since I knew not my future work, and as God could then no more
make me understand than H could at first make Joseph understand
his trip to Egypt, I was therefore driven out of the country at
the point of a gun as was Moses driven out of Egypt, although I
had done nothing to bring trouble upon myself. And who do you suppose
led the rebels to storm me out of the country? Non other but the
Greek Orthodox bishop of the province! And where do you suppose
he sponsored his pursuing campaign? In the church on Sunday morning
while in his full regalia and about twenty feet from where I stood!"
time I knew not what my going away from home to such a distant land
was about, but now I know as well as Joseph knew that his brethrens
hope to defeat Gods plan for him was but Gods plan to
get him down to Egypt. And so rather than to thwart the plan, they
really caused the plan to be carried out!" (4, 7, 8)
ago while in Europe, "Victor wrote on another occasion, "I
heard that one of my cousins had left for America.