From ANN, Dec. 31, 2014: Dr. Børge Schantz, one of the Adventist Church’s top theologians in Europe, had a life-long passion for mission service and for understanding the Muslim faith. These interests unexpectedly converged in recent months when he was reunited in Denmark with an Ethiopian man whom he had saved from certain death nearly 40 years earlier. Schantz recently baptized the man’s family in what could be viewed as a final testimony to the influence of the Adventist leader who died suddenly on Friday morning, Dec. 12, at his home in Bjaeverskov, Denmark. He was 83.
Schantz served as dean of theology at Newbold College in England and founded the Adventist Global Center for Islamic Studies. He was a missionary in the Middle East and North Africa for many years. He served for a total of 47 years. On top of his undergraduate degree from Newbold College, he earned a theology master’s degree from Andrews University in 1974 and a doctorate from the School of World Mission at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in 1983.
He was a pastor in Denmark, the Faroe Islands, the United States and England, and a missionary in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Lebanon and Cyprus. For a number of years he was the only staff member at the denomination’s Afro-Mideast Division who was allowed to visit Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime and Uganda under Idi Amin because of his Danish passport.
Schantz also taught medical ethics to Muslim nurses on special assignment for Loma Linda University in a strict Muslim country for 10 years. “He has done many different things for the church,” said Arne Sandback, a pastor friend who conducted Schantz’s funeral at the Nærum church. “Just to mention a few things, he has been preaching, lecturing at schools, and giving lectures on Islam. He was even scheduled to preach the Sabbath after his death.”
Schantz authored several books and is the primary author of the Sabbath School Quarterly, appropriately on the topic of mission, that will be used by Adventists around the world during the third quarter of 2015. He has been a regular columnist for Adventist Today.
“He was indeed an inspiration to many of us in Ethiopia during the very uncertain times following the end of Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign,” said Ray Holm, who worked as business manager at the college when Scantz was there in 1978 and is now chief financial officer for a branch of the Adventist Medical Center in Portland, Oregon. “Whenever we saw him after that, he was like family, encouraging us in our work and offering counsel with any issues we were facing,” he said. “He made a valuable contribution to the Lord’s work in many parts of the world, and he will be greatly missed.”
His reunion with Hassen Anbesse, who was abandoned by his Muslim parents after a hyena bit off much of his face, received prominent coverage in Denmark’s biggest newspaper on July 20. The story began in 1978 when Schantz was the speaker for a week of prayer at Ethiopian Adventist College in Kuyera, Ethiopia. The badly disfigured Anbesse, who lived at a nearby Adventist orphanage, was seated with other children in the front row. Born among nomads who wandered on Ethiopia’s border with Somalia, the boy had been attacked by a hyena at the age of 4 while he slept in a tent. An adult had chased the animal away before it killed the boy, but doctors had not been able to do much in the way of reparative surgery.
“He made a deep impression on me,” Schantz recently told the Adventist Review, the denomination’s official journal. “What kind of future would he have?” A gaping crater marked the spot where Anbesse’s nose once stood. His eyelids and surrounding skin were missing from his eyes, and his mouth sagged. As the boy listened to Schantz speak about Jesus and heaven, a desire welled up inside him for a new face. He knew that without one, he would end up an outcast and die early.
The boy approached Schantz after the meeting and blurted out, “When Jesus comes again, I will get a new face from Him.” Schantz said the words stuck in his head for weeks afterward. When Schantz returned to Denmark on furlough, he convinced journalists at the BT newspaper to raise funds among readers to bring the boy to Denmark for surgery. The newspaper published a story with the headline, “Help Hassen Get a New Face,” in large letters across its front page on July 26, 1978. The effort raised 80,000 Danish crowns, a considerable amount at the time.
Anbesse underwent a series of operations with a plastic surgeon who waived his fees. Afterward, he stayed in Denmark for a few years, moved to Norway, returned to Ethiopia, and settled back down in Denmark. “His life with a very visible scar on his face after the operations was not easy,” Schantz said.
In Copenhagen, Anbesse met and married a fellow Ethiopian immigrant, Helen, and they had three children. He lost contact with Schantz after the operations, and eventually stopped attending the Adventist Church, Schantz said. But “He lived an active life.”
In the spring of 2014, Anbesse’s wife, Helen, started taking the family to an Adventist church to worship. She was a faithful Coptic Christian, but knowing her husband’s Adventist background, decided to take a closer look at his neglected faith. “A few months ago I preached at the Holbaek church and there in the audience I found Hassen and his family,” Schantz said. “What a reunion!”
After receiving a tip from Schantz, the BT reported the reunion in its widely read Sunday edition, which has a circulation of 269,000. The report, which mentioned the Seventh-day Adventist Church several times, filled seven pages and included 10 photographs. “I think I have a very good life,” Anbesse told the newspaper. “Maybe there are some who are still a bit taken back when they see me. Although I’ve got a face, it’s still not quite like everyone else’s. But I am very happy with the result. I have a new face, a new country, and a wonderful family.”
In the months after the surprise reunion, Schantz and his wife met regularly with the family and gave Bible studies. At the request of Helen and the two older children, Natinael and Meron, Schantz baptized the trio on Oct. 18, less than two months before his death. Hassen’s membership was transferred to Denmark from a church in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
Schantz is survived by his wife, Iris; two sons, Steen and Kim; and two grandchildren. Even in retirement he continued to preach regularly in the churches throughout Denmark.
The Adventist News Network (ANN) is the official news service of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.