Tolya is a gifted pastor and translator in Belarus. He used to teach English at the Linguistic University in Minsk and is now pastoring a church in rural Belarus. He is also currently taking classes by extension through Reformed Theological Seminary. HeartCry began supporting Tolya (and his schooling efforts) in August of 2014. He is married and has two children.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born in Belarus in 1983 into an ordinary family with two children. I was the second child, born four years after my elder brother. My mother was a formal member of the Eastern Orthodox church, and my father was indifferent to all religion. I was baptized in the Orthodox church at age six, which didn’t mean anything serious to me at that time.
Things began to change when my brother and my cousin were invited to Sunday school at the Central Baptist church in our city. It was a great novelty in those days as we never had any experience with Baptists. My brother went there and brought back a copy of the Bible as well as candy and other treats that I had never seen in my life. Naturally, I wanted to join him. I wanted both to learn about God and get chocolates and toys! But I couldn’t because the small Sunday school classes couldn’t hold all those who wanted to attend! Space was limited, and I had to wait for a couple of years before I could join. When I was finally able to go, I was deeply moved by the godliness and kindness of the teacher, as well as the general atmosphere of love and reverence for God. However, I was a growing teenager who felt that a holy life was too complicated for me, and I wanted to give up Sunday school so that I could immerse myself in the joys of this world instead. In God’s kind providence, that never happened.
I was invited to attend a Christian summer camp. The two weeks I spent there changed everything. I finally understood what the Gospel was. I saw godly counselors who loved the Lord and made it evident by their actions. I knew I didn’t have what they had and that my faith wasn’t real. I trusted Christ at the age of thirteen in 1996. The following year I was baptized and became an active church member. I became involved in every area possible: visiting the elderly, singing in the choir, visiting village churches with songs and sermons, and handing out leaflets in the street.
My life wasn’t perfect but God used my life and His Word to make a strong impression on my mother. She was converted three years later. We praise Him for His grace to us and hope those other members of our family will follow us and embrace Christ.
Calling to Ministry
I was converted at the age of thirteen, and I preached my first sermon at the age of fourteen. As soon as I became a Christian, I became a devoted Bible reader. I also read any Christian book that I could get my hands on. Our youth group would often travel to small villages and towns to visit other congregations. I participated either as a preacher or as a guitar player or singer. Sometimes I just did everything. When I was about eighteen, I was an assistant at a Bible study group for a couple of years. I was thrilled to explain the meaning of the Bible to people. I never had doubts that my calling was in the area of preaching and teaching. I knew that I wasn’t particularly gifted as an evangelist, but when I taught, people seemed to get a better understanding of Scripture. That encouraged me a lot.
When I was twenty, I was involved in a church plant. It was a congregation of people mostly in their twenties and thirties. Young as I was, I was one of the elders. It was a time of growth: a lot of work and a lot of learning through various mistakes. I preached one or two Sundays a month and taught a weekly Bible study in my home. My wife and I loved having people around. Our place was always busy with meetings and mentoring appointments.
After seven years in that church, I made a transition to the church where I currently serve. This move changed my ministry in many ways. First of all, I found myself among people who were much older than I. I had to learn a lot of humility. I found out I am not the savior of the world and I cannot do everything for everybody. My circle of friends and connections grew tremendously. I learned how helpful the interaction between different churches could be. I was taught a great deal from older pastors with grey hair. I saw the needs of many smaller churches: a need for encouragement, a need for sound teaching, a need for trained ministers.
Since then my ministry has taken a particular shape. I am more aware of what I can and can’t do. I am one of two pastors in our church. As a pastor I preach about twice a month, teach a weekly Bible study, and do counseling on request. I speak at other churches and conferences when I am invited a few times a year. By God’s grace, I am building relationships and gaining influence with a circle of pastors who are wanting to move their churches in a more biblical direction. I make it a priority to visit small churches that need help. I see it as an essential expression of practical love between churches when a bigger one can occasionally share its resources and people. I write a blog. On the blog, I write articles on theological and practical issues relevant to evangelical churches in the former USSR countries. Writing is something I would like to develop as a skill for ministry.
The fourth big area that God graciously opened up for me is seminary education through the help of HeartCry. I became a distant student at the Reformed Theological Seminary in September 2014. It is a new thing for me. I am sure it is bound to take a lot of time and energy in the coming three years or so. Thankfully, in this whole endeavor, I enjoy full support on the part of my wife and my church. I believe the Lord will use it for my spiritual and intellectual growth. I hope it will enable me to make a lasting contribution to the work of the Gospel in Belarus and beyond.