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Nearly 100 years later, city honors Spain's first Adventist missionary

Bond was reportedly poisoned for preaching church's message

Nearly 100 years later, city honors Spain's first Adventist missionary

A plaque honoring Walter Guy Bond, pioneer Adventist missionary to Spain, is unveiled by Roberto Badenas of the church's Euro-Africa on May 23 in Baeza, where Bond died nearly 100 years earlier. [photos: Pedro Torres Martinez]

Officials of this southern Spanish city have honored the memory of the country's first Adventist missionary, one of several early 20th-century religious freedom and democracy martyrs whose graves were later desecrated.

In 1914, Walter Bond, a missionary from the United States, died at age 35, reportedly poisoned for preaching Adventist teachings.

Bond's name was added to Baeza's Wall of Honor last month during a ceremony that included the mayor, city officials and Adventist Church leaders.

"Many freedom of conscience proponents during this time, considered enemies of the state, were similarly dealt with," said Pedro Torres Martinez, Communication director for the Adventist Church in Spain.

Sometime between 1943 and 1945, Bond's grave was desecrated and his bones were taken.

"During this period of Spanish history, many graves of the 'enemies of the state' -- including democracy advocates or those not of the Catholic faith -- were similarly desecrated; the idea being that their memories would be forever erased," Martinez said.

Walter Guy Bond was born in California on February 6, 1879, and graduated from Healdsburg (now Pacific Union) College in 1899 with a degree in theology. In the summer of 1902, Walter and his brother, Frank, attended a camp meeting in Fresno, California, where Adventist Church president Arthur G. Daniels challenged young people to engage in missionary service. Walter and Frank were among the 30 young people who responded to the call.

Bond married Leola Gerow on November 12, 1902. Shortly thereafter, Walter, Leola and Frank sailed for Spain to work as missionaries. They arrived in Barcelona on June 22, 1903.

In June 1904, they baptized the first three local converts. Many others followed and later they created the first Adventist church in Spain. In 1905, Bond became the leader of the Spanish mission. One of the first local members, Lope San Nicolas, also became a successful missionary. Lope raised considerable interest for the gospel in the small city of Baeza, located about 460 miles southwest of Barcelona. Lope invited Bond to present a series of Bible lectures there.

On October 13, 1914, Bond arrived in Baeza to conduct the preaching campaign. On November 1, a telegraph message was sent to Walter's brother, Frank, stating that Walter was about to die. Frank and Leola rushed to his side.

Bond died on November 12 at age 35. A doctor told Leola that her husband had been poisoned.

On his deathbed, Bond said, "I forgive my murderers." He was buried in the cemetery of Baeza. Two months later, his pregnant widow and three children returned to the United States.

In the past few years, Baeza city authorities have restored the monuments in memory of those who once stood against the totalitarian regime or were considered to be a "disgrace" to Spain.

Baeza's mayor, D. Leocadio Marín, and a city officer presided over the ceremony. The Adventist Church was represented by the president of the church in Spain, Jesùs Calvo; former director of the historical archives of the church in Spain and event organizer, Andrés Tejel; and other pastors and numerous church members. The representative of the church's Euro-Africa region, Roberto Badenas, unveiled a commemorative plaque.

To conclude the ceremony, Calvo, the Spanish Adventist Church president, read a letter from the descendents of Bond now living in the United States, and the assembly sang his favorite hymn "Shall We Gather at the River." The event was widely publicized by the local media and received coverage from National Public Radio of Spain.

The pioneering work of Bond, which not only cost him his life but also brought the desecration of his grave, was not without ultimate success. Today, there are more than 15,000 Adventists in Spain, and many officials regard the movement with favor, local church leaders said.

--with reporting by Pedro Torres Martinez