f one were to dial the Erichsen’ s phone, he would hear the answering voice of Otto Erichsen, in typical German-English brogue, say, “Ya, praise the Lord!” This is Brother Erichsen’s version of the traditional American, “Hello,” and it is his way of witnessing to whomever the caller might be.
Witnessing of Jesus Christ is the primary occupation of Otto and Lena Erichsen, residents of Baltimore, Maryland. They share in a great tract ministry, be it on the job, on city streets, or in public places wherever they have opportunity for witnessing. Otto and Lena are unique servants of the Lord.
Many a citizen of Baltimore has found a tract, with the address of a local Church of God stamped on it, fluttering on the windshield of his automobile. And many a visitor in a hospital lounge, or caller in a telephone booth, or waitress in a cafe, or cashier in a store, or passenger in a streetcar has been brought the message of the gospel by the “silent preacher,” as the home missionary’s tract has crossed his path.
Ministering and witnessing to numbers of persons of various church affiliations, placing full gospel literature in their hands, and calling Church of God ministers to the hospital (where Lena serves as a nurse) to help needy souls, this spritely couple, by word of their testimony, have enabled many to be delivered from the bondage of sin.
In addition to their tremendous tract distribution, the Erichsens have also had a very effective prayer ministry. Rising at four o’clock they begin their day with a season of prayer; and within the confines of their prayer chambers, the Erichsens have won many spiritual victories. Their sincere dedication and spirit of love have made a mark in their home, neighborhood, and church. Even their dog, Rascal, finds a place between them as they kneel to pray; and Rascal stays there until the prayer is finished-often for more than an hour at a time.
Although they have no children of their own, in a given year the Erichsens have raised over $500 for our Home for Children. Working toward this goal, Otto has walked the streets with a little cylinder bank and collected nickels, dimes, and quarters for the orphaned children.
Or, he has gone to the neighborhood grocery stores and solicited as many as 3,500 cans of food for the “Harvest Home Festival.”
In the past two years, 1970-1971, he has sent $1,075 to the Church of God Home for Children in Sevierville, Tennessee.
Otto is not particular about whom he approaches for a freewill offering. While visiting Otto and Lena one day, I was impressed with Otto’s enthusiasm and devotion to the service of the Master when he brought out his little “orphanage bank” to solicit a contribution from the insurance broker who had come to collect the premium on Otto’s policy. No doubt, also impressed, the insurance salesman made his donation.
The insurance broker is only an example of the many to whom Otto has witnessed and from whom he has solicited funds for our Home for Children.
Otto Erichsen was born December 7, 1896, in Kiel/Holtenau, Germany, and was baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church. He served in the German armed forces under Kaiser Wilhelm until October 18, 1918, when he was taken as a POW to an English concentration camp. Upon his release in 1919, he went home and worked for a time on the Island of Helgoland, where he fought with a policeman and was sentenced to six months in jail.
Released from jail, he decided to go to sea; and it was during one of his travels that the ship anchored in American waters near Baltimore, Maryland.
Otto and a buddy, leaving their belongings on board, jumped ship and headed for the city. To their dismay, they found that their German marks were almost worthless. After converting his money into American dollars, Otto’s entire wealth was only sufficient to take him from the Sparrows Point docks to downtown Baltimore-a distance of some fifteen miles.
Having no money and not knowing one person in this strange land, Otto could do nothing for the night except to resort to public grounds. On his first night in the United States, this twenty-six-year-old immigrant slept on the welcoming grass of Baltimore’s Patterson Park.
Fortunately, Otto soon secured a job. He worked at the Sparrows Point shipyard for a time, but he later took a position at the American Sugar Refinery, where he worked until his retirement in 1961.
Riding the streetcar to and from work proved to be a blessing. One day Otto met a soldier who gave him a gospel tract. Otto read: “Ye must be born again.” A week later another soldier approached him with the same tract.
While Otto’s first wife, who was a Jew, was ill, she began listening to a gospel broadcast on the radio. Through this ministry, she came to believe that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah, and it was not long before she repented and accepted Christ into her heart.
Wanting to share her newfound experience, she witnessed to her husband of the saving power of Jesus Christ. She faithfully read her Bible; but Otto, skeptical of his wife’s new religion, would not share in these daily devotions.
Then one day Otto decided that he would look into the Bible. Quite casually he opened the Bible, and he happened to stumble upon the third chapter of the Gospel of John, where he read: “Ye must be born again.” Running into this “born again” business was getting to be too much!
He ran down the stairs into the basement. There he found an old Bible, dating back to 1868. Upon opening it, he read the words, “Ye must be born again.”
Conviction now gripped his heart, and that day in August of 19 3 2, Otto knelt and repented of his sins. Today he adds, “And I’ve lived for God from that time to this very day.”
On Pentecost Sunday, May 10, 1934, Otto, in his very best clothes, prepared himself to attend the afternoon “Pentecostal emphasis” service of a neighboring church. Arriving, he found the house of God filled with people, and it was not long before the glory of God came down.
Along with eight others, Otto received the baptism of the Holy Spirit that afternoon. He was slain by the power of God; and dressed in all his fine clothes, he lay on the floor for three hours, speaking in tongues. When he arose, he found the church empty, except for himself, his wife, and another person.
Shortly thereafter, a fellow worker came to Erichsen and said, “Come, Ike, I’ll buy you the best drink in the house.”
“No, thanks,” Otto responded, “but you can buy me a doubleheaded ice cream cone.”
Feeling rebuffed, the man said, “You’re crazy!”
Otto lost the man’s good graces, but he proved to Satan that his experience was genuine.
Otto’s heart burned to do something for his Lord. But what could he do? He couldn’t play a musical instrument; he couldn’t sing; he wasn’t a preacher; and he couldn’t even speak English very well. But there he stood, questioning God and excusing himself.
The answer did come, however. As Otto puts it: “The Lord stood me before a tract rack in the church vestibule, and showing me that tract rack, He said, ‘You can give out gospel tracts.’ ”
Slowly Otto began to obey. On the streetcar, at work, on street corners, and in hospitals, Otto carried out his Lord’s commission to distribute tracts.
Upon the death of his wife, Otto returned to Germany to visit his aged mother. He had heard that an old friend, Paul H. Walker, would be in Germany fulfilling preaching engagements at that time. So he flew down to Stuttgart and journeyed out to the little village of Krehwinkel to be the guest of Herman Lauster, the overseer of the Church of God in Germany, and to hear his friend, Paul Walker.
There Otto met Lena.
Born October 1, 190 7, in Oberstenfeld, Germany, Lena Knapp was also christened in the Lutheran Church and confirmed according to family tradition. At the age of twelve, Lena attended a Methodist revival and was convicted of her sins; but fearing what her Lutheran family and friends would say, she would not surrender to the wooing of the Holy Spirit.
Again at age seventeen, Lena attended a Methodist revival, and this time, she made a full surrender of her life to Christ. When her family heard of her decision for Christ and her conversion to the Methodist faith, Lena was faced with heated persecution. Yet despite corporeal punishment from her mother, Lena returned to the revival. The next night, her father presented her with an ultimatum, either to renounce her faith or to leave home. Choosing to live for the Lord in spite of her family’s opposition, Lena went to live with a Methodist family in Stuttgart.
Lena developed a deep hunger for the Word of God and a burning desire to witness for Christ. After work each evening, she would go into Stuttgart’s inner city and witness among prostitutes and drunkards, among the vile and the sinful. While there she would distribute weekly about one hundred copies of a Methodist periodical.
During her time of prayer and study, Lena discovered the blessings found in prayer and fasting. Before her conversion, she had often refused to eat in an effort to grieve her parents when they had punished her for
disobeying. But now, this habit of abstinence was turned into blessing, as she humbled herself before the Lord.
In the following years, Lena, trained as a nurse and social worker.
Later, assigned to the city of Backnang, she heard of strange meetings which were being held in Krehwinkel. These meetings were being secretly conducted in the home of Herman Lauster and were supposed to be very quiet in order not to attract the attention of the Gestapo, Hitler’s secret police. This was Lena’s first exposure to the Church of God and the Pentecostal experience; yet in the first service, she was sanctified and was greatly blessed of the Lord.
On Christmas Day, 194 7, Lena went alone to the Methodist chapel to pray. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and joy and radiance emanated from her countenance as the church began to fill up for the afternoon services. Several remarked that she must have received a wonderful Christmas gift to be so radiant and happy.
That night, again attending the secret meetings, Lena’s voice burst forth in other tongues, and the little group, amazed at her spiritual experience, asked when she had received the Holy Spirit. With great joy, she replied, “Just this morning.”
The Methodist minister, spying on the meeting, discovered that Lena was very much involved in this new religion. So, thinking it wise, he had her sent to Nuremberg, where she became quite a curiosity among the other nurses. Finally, however, Lena had to admit that her Pentecostal experience was incompatible with her non-Pentecostal environment. She decided to break with her friends of many years and to cast her lot with these new friends who shared her newfound religion.
She moved back to Krehwinkel. There the Church of God people, knowing that she had broken with her associates and was therefore without an income or a place to stay, took her in and provided sustenance.
During this time, Lena distributed thousands of copies of the German Evangel and helped to prepare the way for evangelistic rallies with her door-to-door literature distribution. Later she assisted in the campaigns, which were instrumental in the establishment of numerous churches throughout southern Germany.
Having met Lena and having decided that she would be a godly companion and an aid to his own ministry, Otto married her and brought her to his home in America. God has richly blessed the ministry of the Erichsens. Otto has passed out as many as 85,000 pieces of gospel literature in a year. During 1971, at the age of seventy-five, he distributed 65,000 pieces, including tracts, Evangels, and Lighted Pathways. Most of this literature is paid for by Otto and Lena themselves out of Otto’s small pension and Social Security benefits.
Has it been easy? Sometimes. But, there have been moments of belligerency, when opposers of his ministry have threatened to strike him or to beat him. But the words of his divine. commission have urged him on: “You can pass out gospel tracts.”
Brother and Sister Erichsen, for the investment of your time, talents, and money in the work of the Lord, we salute you! And may God continue to richly bless your lives!
The Reverend Mr. McDaniel is pastor of the Evangel Temple Church of God in Baltimore, Maryland.
This article originally appeared in the August 28, 1972 issue of Evangel.