How Can We Help Churches in the Soviet Union?
Randy Alcorn traveled to the Soviet Union in 1991.
"The book of Acts." That's what kept going through my mind. I've never seen greater spiritual hunger and works of the Holy Spirit than in the Soviet Union these lasts few weeks. I got home yesterday and my mind is still spinning.
Lenin is the false God, the antichrist of Marxism. Note the biblical ring to this Russian saying: "Lenin was, and is, and evermore shall be." Lenin promised a thousand-year reign of communism, and the death of Christianity. It's been seventy years, and the people are sick of the hollow misery this pseudo-Messiah has brought them. Christianity is not dead—Lenin is.
Lenin's pictures an statues are everywhere. Yet on "Lenin's Day," his birthday, just last week, we had the privilege of doing something we were told had never before been done in the Ukrainian city of Kamanets-Podolsky. We went into the public schools and shared the gospel ten times in ten different schoolrooms. We passed out Bibles to every child, from age six to eighteen, as well as every teacher, and two school principals.
Wherever we went Lenin's pictures peered down on us—disapproving, but helpless. Soviet children—including the communist youth with their red kerchiefs—listened intently as we shared the gospel. We told them about the one who died for their sins and is coming to set up a kingdom that will not leave them where Lenin left them—empty, hungry and without hope.
There is so much I wish I could say. I get my slides back in a few days—perhaps in the next newsletter I can show you a few pictures. I'd like to tell of the singing and laughter around the dinner tables of the dear families in the Soviet Ukraine. Or the disastrous Soviet economy—the standard wage is 200 rubles a month, which is now less than $10. I could share some of the fascinating political and social insights we gained from our many conversations with Soviet people in three different republics. I could speak of train toilets and hotel cockroaches, Moscow McDonald's, and Red Square. But the most I can do is share some vignettes that will give you a flavor for the miracles we experienced. (For those of you who prayed and gave, thank you for being participants in all that happened.)
Pastor Steve Keels and I were accompanied on the trip by a Ukrainian brother named Michael, and Bill and Philip Kapitaniuk of Slavic Gospel France, who run a printing press that supplies Bibles for the Soviet Union. We stood at First Baptist Church in Moscow and watched as the Kapitaniuks' shipment of 40,000 Bibles, clothes and medicines arrived. It was thrilling to realize that some of these Bibles were printed through funds contributed to EPM.
That night we spoke in the church and watched thirty people baptized. In the first four months of 1991 this one church has had eight baptismal services with thirty converts baptized each time. At the end of the service those baptized turned toward the congregation and the pastor said, "May the church never forget the faces of those who have followed the Lord."
While traveling by train from Moscow to Kishniev, I was writing in my journal by the window when I suddenly felt tired and decided to take a nap. Steve was reading by the window also, but left the room for a moment. I was awoken by what seemed to be an explosion, followed by a loud rush of cold wind. I felt the weight of glass falling over my whole body, including my face. By God's grace I had put on a sleeping mask, so my eyes—which instinctively opened—were covered. When I slowly took it off I saw the three by four-foot window was gone, and every inch of the room was covered with splintered glass. In Steve's open briefcase was a large rock that had been thrown through our window.
Had I not taken the nap, and had I not put on my sleeping mask—and had Steve not left the room when he did—one or both of us would surely have been seriously injured by the rock or the glass. Yet, though I was covered with glass and literally had to comb it out of my hair and pick it out of my clothes for the next half hour, I was not cut anywhere: It seemed to us that a great work of God was ahead, because Satan clearly wanted to stop this trip early. Thank you, Lord, for guardian angels!
On the train, shortly after the glass-breaking incident, we met a young man named Sergei, father of two, whose wife is a schoolteacher. Bill gave him an illustrated New Testament and he eagerly devoured it. Then we invited him into our train cabin and pumped him with questions about his country. Later that day I saw Bill with open Bible, sharing Christ with Sergei and his brother. I went to my room, fell on my knees and asked God to bring them to himself. After fifteen minutes of prayer the door opened and there was Bill. "A wonderful thing just happened, he said. "Sergei and his brother just gave themselves to Christ."
We spent a day with Carl Sedletsky, bishop over the 184 Christian churches of Muldavia, one of the fifteen republics of the USSR. When we asked Carl about his background, he said "I was trained for pastoral ministry by seventeen years in Siberian seminary." "Siberian seminary" is a euphemism for the cold hard Siberian labor camps to which many pastors were banished for disobeying the communist government by obeying Christ. The brothers call it "seminary" because there they learned to follow Christ wholeheartedly, to build their lives not on present circumstances but on eternal realities. What they learned there qualified them for ministry in far deeper ways than what one learns in the seminaries of the free world.
Everywhere we went—in elevators, hotels, taxis, train stations, and on streets—Bill was giving away Bibles and sharing Christ in the Ukrainian language. One afternoon he gave Bibles to three Muldavian hotel workers. For over an hour they pumped him with questions about the Bible, Christ, heaven and hell. One said, "You are telling us things that we have never heard before." The next morning we saw one of the women again, and she told us, "My fifteen-year-old daughter stayed up the whole night to read the Bible you gave me."
We spoke at a rally in a philharmonic auditorium formerly open only to card-carrying members of the Communist party. The whole community was invited, and thousands attended. We shared the gospel and many came forward to receive Christ, with hundreds asking for Bibles. People literally pressed against us, a sea of humanity reaching to grab hold of God's Word. Forty-five minutes after the rally was over, people still crowded around us, asking us to sign their Bibles (as if we had written them!). We learned that just a month earlier several times a day for nine days this auditorium had shown the Jesus film. The total attendance had been 200,000 people. The population of the city? 200,000.
After a powerful church service in which many had come to Christ, we sat in the church basement enjoying a wonderful Ukrainian meal. Suddenly the door opened and in walked a young man, weary from long travel. He was Asian-looking, almost Mongolian. As his story unfolded we learned he was from a remote part of Siberia, where his church had heard that Bibles had come into the country somewhere near the city of Kiev. His church had laid hands on him and sent him forth as their ambassador to try to find Bibles.
This young man had traveled seven days on boat from his village—where the only land travel is by dog sled—to the nearest city with an airport. From there he traveled by plane, train, and bus in search of Bibles, but after traveling 2600 miles he still had none to take home with him. The Lord led him to the church where we had just shared. The brothers of this Ukrainian church wee moved by his story, and promised to give him some of their precious Bibles to take back to his people. Some of the Bibles provided by the Kapitaniuks, and in turn provided through EPM, are on their way to a small village in Siberia!
I mentioned that we were in two schools on Lenin's day. One of the headmasters was described to us as a "Hard-line communist" who had persecuted believers in years past. This man took us into all nine classes and heard the gospel nine times. He sincerely thanked us for coming, said we should come any time and asked us to sign the Bible we gave him. The students and teachers, most grateful for the Bibles, warmly gave us gifts and flowers.
At the high school, Steve and Bill talked to the students for an hour, and they hung on every word. The superintendent was present and afterward repeatedly thanked us for coming. He said, "You have been the beginning of what I hope is a new emphasis for our young people on the importance of a faith in God." Steve suggested that he link up with Bishop Nicolai and the churches of the area who would work with the schools to help the students be exposed to God and a basis for morality. The superintendent seemed open to this, and said "thank you" again. (We need to rejoice for these openings, but reflect on what has happened to our own country. Today you can pass out Bibles and share Christ in Soviet schools, but not in America.)
A city newspaper editor asked to interview us. He asked why we had come to their city, and we responded by giving him a Bible and sharing the gospel. He asked me, "What special words would you say to the people of our city?" He wrote down every word as I replied, "I would encourage them to look to Jesus Christ to fill the emptiness they have inside—and not look to material or political solutions to their ultimate needs, which are spiritual." We were able in this interview to reach tens of thousands of people with the gospel through a paper that until recently was a propaganda tool of an atheist government. • We visited a children's hospital in the city of Kamanets-Podolsky. The chief doctor and administrator of the hospital was a communist of great social status. His wife and two grown children are also doctors. Though he seemed cordial enough, I wondered how he was really feeling about us bringing Christian literature to his hospital. For over an hour we shared the gospel with sixty doctors, nurses and hospital support staff.
One nurse, deeply moved, stood up and said in tears, "Please, when you go home to America do not forget us—pray for our country and our hospital." The director asked many questions then finally said, "I could listen to this all day. Please come back again to tell us more."
After a tour of the hospital, this chief doctor and administrator invited us to his home for dinner. Before we arrived, one of the brothers told us, "This is an historic event in our city. Never before has a man of such high standing, and a communist, invited Christians to eat with him in his home." We had a delightful dinner, served by his wife, herself a prominent doctor. After dinner we presented the doctor's wife with a special gift, a children's Bible. Suddenly tears welled up in her eyes. She said, "For many years I have dreamed that someday I would hold in my hands a Bible. I will read it to my granddaughter."
That evening was our last in Kamanets-Podolsky. It was a three-hour church service. The gospel was shared, and many people came forward in repentance. There in the front row of the balcony was the doctor and his wife, probably their first time in church. Afterward they warmly thanked us again for coming to their city and for telling them about God.
Numbers of people came to Christ in every service. In one the Holy Spirit spoke powerfully to children. At least a dozen of them came forward, visibly broken and repentant. I will never forget watching a man step out of the choir to go down and embrace his weeping son, perhaps twelve years old, who had come forward to receive Christ.
At the same moment there was a teenage girl, arms wrapped around her father, tears streaming down her face. A moment earlier, she had come to know her papa's God. (I thought of Malachi 4:6, the last verse of the Old Testament, which speaks of the hearts of the children turning back to their fathers.) An old "babushka," a Russian grandmother, came up and hugged the girl, then took a handkerchief and wiped the tears from the girl's face. Time seemed to stand still while the Lord etched this powerful picture into my mind.
Just when it seemed meetings were over, more people would come forward confessing their sins and turning to Christ. God would not quit. Once after a full day of ministry we went to the train station to catch an 11:30 p.m. train to Kiev. We were exhausted, ready for nothing but to crawl into our sleeper cabin. But there at the train station we were met by thirty believers from the church we'd been at earlier. They sang gospel songs and many bystanders gathered around. Bill passed out Bibles to everyone, then climbed the stairs and preached the gospel. As our train pulled out, still serenaded in the rain by our precious brethren, behind us was a station full of non-Christians, almost every one engrossed in reading a Bible!
How can I sum up two weeks of miracles? Perhaps by saying this: Lenin, the false Messiah, lies in his tomb. Jesus, the true Messiah, lies in no tomb at all, for no tomb could hold Him. The spirit of Lenin has choked the Soviet Union. The Spirit of Jesus is a breath of fresh air bringing new hope. Communism is falling like a house of cards in a hurricane. What will fill the void that is left? Cults? The occult? Western materialism? A new totalitarianism? The answer lies in how quickly and strongly the church of Jesus Christ responds to this wide open window of opportunity. Will we rise to the challenge of bringing Bibles, prayers, help and hope to the hungry, seeking people of the Soviet Union?