The following testimony is from HeartCry missionary Andrey Danilov. Andrey is a graduate of the Samara Center for Biblical Training. He pastors a young church in Omsk, Siberia which he helped establish in 2008. Andrey is a man who has been radically transformed by the grace and power of Christ. He is committed to being a godly husband and father as well as shepherding the people of God.
My name is Andrey Danilov, and I was born in 1972 in the city of Omsk, Siberia into a working class family. Before I was born, my father had already been in prison twice because of theft and drug use. The most vivid impressions I have from childhood are the beatings of my mother by my raging, drunk father; many tears; fear; and longings for a happy family.
In our house, the criminal lifestyle was glorified and looked up to. After eighth grade, I started hanging out with corrupt people on the street, looking for meaning and belonging in life. By the time I was sixteen, I was sent to a prison for juvenile offenders. There I started to dream of being a crime boss. I started to gather around me a group of like-minded young men whom I could organize for criminal activity and defense against other criminals.
After the juvenile prison, I became the crime boss I had dreamed of. In the midst of the many damaging and wicked things that I was involved in, I developed a very strong addiction to drugs and narcotics. To experience the next high, I more than once betrayed the people who were closest to me. I lived as though I were the only person on earth who mattered. During this dark time of my life, I served three different prison sentences. The last time, I was sent to prison on drug-related charges. Of course, at that time, I was too blind to see the abyss of death that lay before me, but my hopeless and meaningless existence began to terrify me. All my plans had been dashed. I was alone and helpless.
My problems were aggravated after I began meeting with a pastor who would regularly visit the prison. I thought I could use these meetings for my own selfish purposes (to alleviate my loneliness, etc.), but it was through these meetings that I began hearing the Gospel of the holy, merciful, loving Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. This affected me deeply. I began to see my depraved, desperate spiritual condition. Despite my tough veneer, everything inside was corrupt. I always remember that there was something about the pastor that drew me to him. He had a beauty in his dedication, genuineness, and selflessness. These were qualities that I had never seen before.
One day, still without the proper motivations and desires, I repeated a prayer of repentance. As I look back, I marvel at the mercy of the Lord. He did not neglect me, but He used all of my evil to bring good to me and glory to Him. After I prayed this prayer, I told everyone that I had become a Christian, and I began to do the outward behavior that a Christian should do. I quit smoking. I started reading a Bible which was given to me. But the more I focused on outward appearances, the further I ignored the need for true regeneration, which only God can give. Yet by Godâ€™s grace, I began to realize that being a Christian was more than just quitting smoking and reading the Bible. I eventually saw that in my own strength I was incapable of overcoming my sinful desires, my fear of man, or my fear of Godâ€™s eventual judgment. I feared death. I was embarrassed to be around other Christians, fearing my hypocrisy would be exposed.
One evening, while still in prison, I punched another inmate for laughing at me. I realized at that time I had no true Christianity. I withdrew to my cell shattered, but thoughts about Jesus flooded my mind. I began to reflect upon the Jesus I had heard about from the pastor and from my reading of Scripture. I saw the great contrast between His life and mine. I saw the great reason for His death on the cross. I kept thinking that what Jesus did on the cross could not be applied to me. But the thought kept returning that what happened to Christ on the cross was indeed for me! He died for me! I fell asleep with this thought pounding in my mind.
When I woke up the next morning, I was a new man. I had great joy and the deep conviction that what happened to Christ on the cross was for my own salvation. It seemed that my joy had no end. I had a very clear realization that now I was in the hand of God the Son. I had a strong sense of freedom from sin and fear of manâ€"even though I was behind bars.
My life then truly changed from the inside. I began persistently talking to the other inmates about the Gospel. News about my conversion spread throughout the prison, and people started to say that I had lost my mind. I began to meet with two other inmates who also had become Christians. Nothing brought me greater joy than to pray, read the Bible, fellowship with these other believers, and testify about the forgiveness of Christ.
Today, now that I have been out of prison for a good number of years, these very things are what I now spend most of my time doing. My life has changed completely. I very much believe that God called me to the ministry very soon after He saved me. The most joyful and satisfying things I did after my conversion were witnessing about the person of Christ and sharing the Gospel, and then later, preaching Godâ€™s Word. I started testifying and calling sinners to faith and repentance back in prison, and I tried to do it everywhere. Not only did this bring me joy, but I also felt a great responsibility before God to give to others the great treasure that I saw and received in Christ. After I was released from prison, I started to witness about Jesus to my old friends and family. Christ, His truth, and His will have become the center of my life. Today, I think about His glory. It is not that I never struggle with doubts. But I can say confidently that to this day these doubts have never once overcome my faith. This is because I believe that on the night in prison when I fell asleep with that dominating thought of Christâ€™s death, filled with tears from pain and the sense of my own insignificance, God by His grace granted me saving faith in the righteousness of Christ and His substitutionary death for me. To God be the glory!