Artur Pawlowski fled communist Poland in 1990. More than 30 years later, he found video fame for evicting police from his Calgary church on the Easter weekend. The event rounded out Pawlowski’s full-circle journey of faith under oppression, to doubts about a land of freedom, to faith amid oppression again.
Pawlowski first learned what it meant to take a stand when he lived under communist oppression in his native Poland.
“It was about 50,000 communists that were ruling over 36 million Poles,” he recalled in an interview.
“They could come into your house [at] five in the morning, beat you up, torture, even murder. A number of clergymen were murdered,” he said, adding that he “saw the power of solidarity with Lech Walesa,” who led the solidarity movement against the communist regime in Poland in the 1980s.
“In 1981, I watched it with my own eyes the power of a unified voice—people coming together and saying to the government, ‘No more, we will not allow you to do this to us anymore, and to our children and our grandchildren.’ They wanted their freedom.”
Pawlowski’s father was an engineer who worked in the coal mines, while his mother was an architect who became a restaurant owner and also studied law. His home library had 5,000 books, and the young Pawlowski read most of them.
“When the government said something, I always looked to find out if that’s the truth, because I grew up in a country that pretty much the government and the mainstream media always were feeding you lies, pretty much non-stop. So you learned to find out the truth for yourself,” he said.
His father fled to Greece in 1989 and his family followed a year later, when Pawlowski was only 17.
“We were extremely poor. We escaped pretty much with nothing from Poland, and we ended up with nothing in Greece, and we started from scratch. So I remember moments in my life that we didn’t have food, we didn’t have enough. I didn’t know how I’m going to pay the next bill. They were trying to put foreclosure on our home,” Pawlowski remembers.
Pawlowski’s faith was also at its lowest. Then he met his wife Marzena, a Polish ex-pat in Greece who worked at a museum.
“She was a Christian, a devoted Christian, and I was a little bit anti-Christian. I was anti-establishment. I was anti-corruption. I didn’t like the corruption that I saw in the church, but she led me back to God. She led me back to Christ, to faith. It was a long process, but here I am, a pastor.”
Pawlowski, now an evangelical, has pastored for over 2o years. His church is named the Cave of Adullam, a biblical name for a place of refuge from persecution.
“People are losing hope. There are lots of people that are suicidal, turning into drugs and alcohol. So we have a church in the poor neighbourhood of Forest Lawn, trying to help as many as we can,” he said.
He also runs Street Church four times a week at Olympic Plaza, near Calgary City Hall, which provides food and clothing for the poor and homeless.
Pawlowski came to Canada in 1995 for the promise of freedom, but he says that has not always been his experience.
On April 3, Pawlowski was fined $1,200 for allegedly holding a public gathering of more than 15 people at his Street Church, in violation of COVID-19 health orders.
He has also been fined repeatedly for violating public health orders by holding church services. He had stern words for police and COVID bylaw enforcement officers who entered the lobby of his church during Passover service on April 3.
“Please get out. Get out of this property. … Out! Out! Out of this property immediately until you come back with a warrant,” he said. “I don’t care what you have to say. … Gestapo is not allowed here!”
He filmed the incident and posted it on social media, and it immediately went viral.
“I just did it for my own protection,” he said. “And when I posted it I said well, maybe a couple thousand people will watch it and that’s it. But what happened—it looks like it sparked some kind of hope in people’s hearts that it’s OK to fight, it’s OK to stand up,” he explains.
“I got probably 40,000 emails and texts and messages from all over the world [saying things like] ‘I’ve lost hope, and you restored that hope. Thank you. Thank you.’ I mean, it’s overwhelming, unbelievable. I would never expect that there’s so many people so hungry for anyone that is willing to stand up for them.”
He notes the closure of GraceLife Church in Edmonton, whose pastor has been jailed and is facing charges for violating public health orders, and says he fears people are losing their rights and freedoms amid ever-expanding COVID restrictions.
“When they are telling us right now, social distance, physical distance, don’t meet together, don’t pray. I mean, you’re talking about family, you’re talking about the structure that keeps us all sane, all together and strong. But they want to destabilize that, they want to separate us, they want us to be miserable alone,” he says.
“That’s the state telling the people what they can do, what they cannot, with whom they can, and how. … Seeing what they’re doing, which is a repetition of history in front of my eyes, it scares me. Very scary stuff, what is happening.”