Baltimore’s Unassuming Preacher

Baltimore's Unassuming Preacher

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.

Brother and Sister Erichsen find fulfillment in telling others about Jesus.
Brother and Sister Erichsen find fulfillment in telling others about Jesus.

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.

Brother and Sister Erichsen
Brother and Sister Erichsen

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.