At the time of his conversion, Mikhail immediately had a desire to serve God in the church. He has been doing that in various capacities since and in 2016, upon graduating from the training program in Samara, he became a pastor.
Testimony Of Conversion
I was born in 1976. I grew up in a Christian family and from birth heard about God. The understanding that God sees and is sovereign over all was a comfort to me in early childhood. But during my teenage years I began to become angry that because I was born in a Christian family, I could not enjoy all the pleasures of this life as others did. A love for sin began insisting on its open expression, and I began to deliberately resist the holiness of God. Every time I stood before a decision regarding temptation, I always preferred the way of sin. I acknowledged the existence of God and even occasionally—for the pacifying of my conscience—attended church. But at the same time, I continued to pursue sinful enjoyments—partying, alcohol, and even some drug use. My motto in life was to try everything the world had to offer. But the more I delved into this “happy” life without moral inhibitions, the more I felt the opposite of happiness. After some time I began to notice the marks of a hardened conscience and a will which was more and more addicted to immorality. I could not live any other way. I could not leave such life behind—even if I had “wanted.” I then realized I was a slave to sin, and in that there was no joy or happiness.
At that point in life a strange desire appeared—to return to the God I had heard about as a child and return to His people, the church. I initially thought, however, that in order to do that I needed to change my life first and leave behind all my worldly company and then God would have me. But at the same time, my studies in university only drew me further into immorality. There was no easy way. All efforts to change my life were met with failure. I now realized, “I thought I wanted to walk with God, but now it was no longer possible.” But what was impossible for man, was possible for God.
An event occurred in the summer of 1995 which powerfully impacted my life. A believing relative invited me to a Christian camp. I did not want to go, knowing that being in this context would frustrate my daily (sinful) life and practices, but I could not decline the invitation. Yet all my expectations of harassment from these believers and frustration at not being “free” proved wrong. I enjoyed spending time in their midst. Most importantly, at this camp I became acquainted with a certain student my age named Vladimir, who showed to me genuine care and interest. Due to his influence, when I returned home I began to attend church services with Vladimir. On the trips back home after the services, Vladimir would usually re-preach to me the Word of God heard during the church services, and this Word would stick with me and not give me peace. I understood that these were God’s words for me. In as much as I was still living a sinful way of life during the week, the Sunday preaching and witness reminded me that a totally different life was available in Christ. Eventually, under this influence of preaching and witness, God granted me repentance from my evil ways and faith in His gospel of love and forgiveness.
After this my life changed significantly. I stopped walking with the old crowd of sinners and found new interest in God’s people, wanting to be at the various events planned by the church. Nevertheless, I initially did not confess my new faith and repentance publically out of fear. I also struggled with a lack of assurance. Was I really saved? But after some initial struggles I finally began to talk openly of what had taken place in my life. With this courage I also experienced increasing certainty in the gospel’s promise specifically to me of eternal life and security in Christ because of His accomplishment on my behalf. My attitude towards Scripture also changed dramatically. I began to read Scripture regularly, chapter after chapter all in one sitting. Several months later, on July 14, 1996, I was baptized.
Calling To Ministry
My spiritual life continued to develop dynamically. Vladimir (who explained to me the gospel) became a good friend and disciple. Together we regularly prayed, read Scripture, and even began ministering together in our church’s youth ministry. Together we also began visiting one of the neighboring dormitories where we would share the gospel with the residents. Soon I was asked to begin preaching from time-to-time at Sunday worship, and I agreed. Interestingly, prior to conversion I was very timid among people, especially among those I did not know well. But God also changed me even in this area, such that I began to like being with people and enjoyed active fellowship and discussion with the various members of the church.
From the late 1990s until 2004 I served as a leader in our church’s youth ministry. Then, from 2004 until my departure to Samara for Level 2, I served in our church’s leadership council. Certainly, during some of these years I was distracted by unbiblical methods of ministry, methods which did not have the word of God as their foundation. But as I continued to learn, I became more and more convinced of the central and unique role preaching God’s Word has in God’s program. This is what led me to enter studies in the training program in Samara.