Alexander S. is a graduate of the Samara Center for Biblical Training. He and his family have accepted a request by a small group of believers in a Northern city to plant a church there. The need for more Bible-centered, Christ-exalting churches in this influential city is enormous. Alexander began his church planting efforts there in the fall of 2013.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born and raised in a Christian family. My parents are strong, evangelical believers, and so from early childhood I heard the truth about God and the gospel and was well acquainted with the church. At home, my parents held regular times of reading and discussion about the Bible with us children. They sought to raise us in the fear and admonition of the Lord, despite the fact that we lived at that time in the Soviet regime.
As a young person I enjoyed interaction with the other children from the church, but I also very much sought out friendships with other kids outside the church. At school, on the street, in the sports clubs, I behaved just like every other kid. The only difference was that I also attended Sunday and mid-week church events. This double life troubled me.
The older I became, the less I wanted to attend church functions and the more I wanted to be with the people of this world, especially in sports. Unknown to my family I began attending certain sporting events, but when my father heard about this he required me to stop. I was faced with a choice – to either deceive my father by continuing to attend such events secretly, or do away with my love for this form of entertainment and choose something new to do. My father, most of all, was concerned that through these events the world would have a great impact on my life. Yet step-by-step I learned more and more how to live a double life: one kind of life before my father and family and the church; the other life as one on the street with my unbelieving friends.
This double life began to haunt me especially during my early teenage years. At the age of about 13, I could not flee from the question, “What is the purpose of life? Why am I here?” I began to believe at this age already that the life of man is only made up of problems and pain, rather than joy and happiness. I could not understand the purpose of faith in God, especially if life remains filled with problems even for those who had such faith. I believed that God should help those who believe in Him, and that this help must be practical, visible, material. But as I looked at my parents, who were poor and struggled materially, and at other believers facing the same circumstances, I could not see God’s help.
Shortly after these times of critical doubt, at the age of 14 and by God’s mercy, I began to experience a great need for something more than me, for God Himself. I began to see and understand my own sinfulness and depravity – something about which I could do nothing. Some told me that the only solution was to go forward at the end of a church service, to the front of the church, for prayer. That to me sounded empty and incapable of changing me.
In 1991 my parents sent me to a Christian youth camp, where I understood the gospel clearly for the first time. The leader of the group of youth that I was in helped me through his clear, practical and understandable explanation of the gospel to comprehend its basic, most elementary truths. He led me to a point of decision, and told me that I needed to choose what I would do in response to this truth. I chose to believe and repent. The event was significant for me. From that moment on I believed the gospel deeply and took my responsibility before it seriously. Returning home, I quickly explained what had happened and later that year I was baptized in our Baptist Church.
After my conversion I began to participate actively in the ministries of the church –specifically in music and evangelism. From the age of 15 I began to help our church in a project to begin a new church in another town in our state. Yet I grew more displeased about the slow speed of change in my life and the difficulty I had in uprooting old, sinful behaviors. As a result of this disappointment, I pulled out of ministry for a while; my conscience convicted me whenever I participated. I began to think that I needed to focus more on learning the truth first, on growing in the knowledge of Christ, before I should actively seek to work in the church.
Life in Ministry
In 1995 I enrolled in a one-year Bible School program in a southern Russian city. It was a very interesting time for me personally, but I also noticed that my studies did not humble my soul more before the truth, but to the contrary, led to the development of spiritual pride and self-certainty. I learned how to answer many questions about the Bible during this time, and this success for me was dangerous.
I returned home in 1996, after which I became heavily involved in a mission which sought to show the Jesus film and organize evangelistic events in public venues across my state. In the same year I was married, and she too became involved with me with this mission. While we were married in September of 1996, by December I was called to serve in the army–a very difficult requirement for all healthy males in Russia. It was here, in the army, where the Lord taught me many things and cared for me in amazing and merciful ways. Evil many times came very, very close to me in many different ways, but the Lord faithfully protected me and always provided escape.
In 1997, after returning from my one year of service in the army, my brother and I along with another student, decided to start a new church in our own city. We longed to start a new church based on a program oriented/corporate ideology that was “seeker friendly”. My responsibility in this new church was to care for the music, evangelism, discipleship, and small group aspects.
As the church developed, I later became the youth pastor, which then led to helping the main pastor with occasional preaching responsibilities on Sunday mornings. Through many programs and human efforts, we tried to build a church, but at the same time saw that these programs and events were unable to transform and change people (including ourselves) seriously. We saw how little interest there was in truly spiritual things, in learning, in the sermons, etc. Their interest in “church” was shallow and based on emotion.
Then, in 2002, the main pastor of the church decided to begin studying in the Level 1 program at Samara Center for Biblical Training (SCBT). We–the other leaders in the church–quickly saw significant changes in him and his teaching. His approach to preaching and his content of preaching changed significantly. He began to dig deeper into the text, began to show us more from God’s Word, was able to explain it more clearly and convincingly, and showed its riches. I saw how his study of the Word, brought about by his change of attitude towards it, started to have a serious impact on his life. I decided to study where he studied – in Samara.
I began the Level 1 program at SCBT in 2004 and finished that program in 2006. Just as it had on the life of my pastor, my studies significantly impacted my life. In particular I was amazed at how this program was built simply around the study of God’s Word, rather than around all kinds of other subjects and ideas. Before SCBT I had studied in a Bible School program and had even taken some other seminars, but only in Samara did I become acquainted with reverent, serious, deep study of the Word. In fact, at the very beginning of the program I was even somewhat put-off at how often the teachers would repeat the phrase, “Let’s look at this verse,” or “Let’s turn to this text,” or “Open with me to this passage.”
My initial response was, “Do they really think they can get deep, serious, helpful insights by focusing only on the Bible?” I had become accustomed to thinking that the Bible was sufficient only to a certain extent. I had been trained, sadly, to look to other sources, to human opinions about life, rather than to Scripture as the ultimate and inexhaustible source. For me, Scripture was something to put in the brackets as a proof text after the expression of a human idea. However, at SCBT, the constant return to the text wore away at my prejudices, and God began to reveal Himself to me unlike ever before through what He had written in His Word.
As I studied and learned, the Word began to impact my character unlike ever before. My wife and others in the church began to see the changes taking place. While I still think I was converted many years earlier, it is without question that during this time, from 2004-2006, that my life changed substantially.
I also, like my pastor, began to teach differently. Then in 2008 my pastor left to study in the Level 2 program at SCBT full-time. This was as important for him as it was for me. For me, it meant that I would temporarily take on many new, pastoral duties I had not carried before. This was important for my development as a pastor/discipler/counselor.
Then, in 2010, when my pastor was almost done his studies, I also entered the full-time Level 2 program at SCBT, which I just finished this May (2013). A great help and support for me during this period of my life has been my wife, Natasha. She is truly a faithful supporter and helpmate for me in our family and ministry. Through the years, the Lord has also granted us the opportunity to invest into the lives of our three sons.
While the Lord has already done so much for me and in me, I must say that there is still much that needs to be changed. My ultimate ambition is to continue in this path of sanctification, all the while being able to say, “For me to life is Christ, to die is gain.” Philippians 1:21
As far as my future ministry is concerned, the desire of my heart is to help begin a vibrant, Christ-centered church in Northern Russia–a church that would be faithful to her purpose by existing according to and proclaiming all the truths of God’s inspired, inerrant Word. I want to be useful to the Lord, and hope to utilize all that I have been entrusted with, for the glory of God and the good of a new church.