Vladimir is a pastor in Western Siberia where he and his family labor among the various peoples there. Physically and spiritually, this is a very difficult place both to live and to work due to the harshness of climate as well as the vast and rugged landscape. It is an undesirable place in almost every way where only a small percentage of the world’s population calls their home – yet the need is great.
Testimony of Conversion
I was born and raised in central Ukraine into a Christian family with many children. My parents in the fear of God raised me. I knew that God was someone I should be afraid of and that I needed to obey His commandments. According to the teaching of our church, and how it was presented in our family, if a person sinned they would be expelled from God and lose their salvation. I knew that I didn’t want to end up in Hell so I tried very hard not to sin, yet I was aware of the fact that my trying not to sin didn’t necessarily make me a Christian. The older I became the harder it was for me to fight sin. All the work that needed to be done in the family was on my shoulders since I was the oldest son. I was responsible for making sure that my younger brothers and sisters did not misbehave. My father was very strict and punished me. I was very irritated by the fact that I knew I was committing a lot of sins yet I could not do anything about it. I realized that something needed to change for God to be pleased with me, but I was incapable of making this happen on my own.
As a young man, I had many friends, both in school and in the church. My friends in school were openly unbelievers. I desired their lifestyle but was afraid to openly admit it, so I just continued to present myself as if I was a Christian pursuing the Kingdom of God. My friends in the church were just like me in that they were only the children of believers but not believers themselves. We were “Christians” on Sunday, but the rest of the week we did not experience any need or desire for God. Quite often, we viewed God as someone who hindered us. The thought that God was the Righteous Judge of the World prevented me from enjoying myself. Being in the church I saw a lot of people living a double life, and I realized that I was starting to become just like them. I was afraid that I would grow up to be rooted and cemented in this double life. I also came to the realization that I would not be able to handle the pressure of trying to live two lives. Yet at the time approaching my conversion I was already beginning to get accustomed to the idea of living such a life.
I had a conflict growing inside of me. I became aggressive and was capable of beating my siblings. The fact that I knew I would be punished for this did not stop me from continuing my aggression and violence. I realized that I really didn’t want to be a Christian so I attempted to eliminate all the thoughts I had about God in order to be free to do everything that I wanted to do. Within the church many people thought that I was a Christian and that I was close to God because I was able to pray in public and I showed a deeper knowledge of the Bible than my peers. I was nothing more than a hypocrite and a Pharisee. Knowing all of this I still was not troubled by it. I told myself that “this is just the way it is – this is how it needs to happen.” I did not even care when my friends gave me the nickname “Pharisee,” yet I still did not have peace in my heart.
Not long after all of this took place there was a big conference in Kiev. Many individuals and churches from different towns were in attendance. It was an evangelical conference filled with preaching from the Bible. More than forty people professed faith in Christ and expressed a desire to become Christians. I was trying very hard to suppress the thought that maybe I needed to become a Christian. I was telling myself not to worry as I was trying to repress this conviction away by telling myself that I already had a relationship with God and that I was a Christian. I was trying to convince myself that there was nothing wrong with my life since I went to church and read my Bible and that most of the adults in the church thought that I was a good Christian.
Despite my efforts, I still felt great fear after the service. The fear that was in my heart was that God was so far from my life that it was inconceivable for me to think that I could be reconciled to Him. At that point I understood that being in such a condition is what it would be like to be in hell. I even sensed some kind of approach of death, and that I would leave my body at any moment and be apart from God forever.
I was on the train riding back to the city with many people from the conference. I had to walk to the very back of the train so that I would not be reminded of God by anyone. In doing this I felt even farther from God and I became more afraid. Up until that point I had seen the repentance of many people and how they had become Christians, but at that moment I knew that I really had no idea how to become one myself. I felt as though I was going to stop breathing if I did not become a Christian at that very moment. It was very hard for me to tear myself from my seat and walk to the front of the train where the pastor was sitting, but I did. And though it was extremely hard for me I managed to squeeze out the words, “Help me, I need to become a Christian.” My pastor had terror in his eyes when I told him this because he thought that I was already a good Christian. He was even using me as an example to his children. Eventually he understood what was happening so he urged me to go to his house with him.
When we arrived at his house it was very late and he told me “If you want to become a Christian you must turn to God.” I prayed then and it was as if I was praying for the first time. I knew I had a great need, but I didn’t have the words to express it. I was speechless. At that moment I knew God had overcome my old self that had been resisting him! The next morning I had to return home. Usually people say they experience immense joy once they repent, but I did not have joy because I did not know how to be sure of my salvation. According to the teaching of my church I would lose my salvation as soon as I sinned. With this thought in my head I was thinking that it would be really hard for me to even make it back home without sinning and losing my salvation. For this reason there was still fear in my heart instead of joy. I had another burden so that now I would need to guard myself very hard not to allow any temptation. On the other hand, I thought that it was not going to be possible because I was a sinful and fierce man.
Before my conversion, my parents were saddened by the way I was living, and they thought that I would grow up to be a criminal. I was wondering how I was going to show up at my home now and tell them that I had just become a Christian. I knew that the first thing they would say was, “Well, we’ll see what will come out of your Christianity.” I knew that it would be hard for me to demonstrate holiness to them because of my sin. Later as I was studying the Bible, I understood that the work of salvation is the work of Christ alone, but the fear of losing my salvation was still accompanying me.
After I was baptized I joined the army and had more time to pray and read my Bible. There were a lot of circumstances in my life where God allowed me to feel and be assured of His presence. I began experiencing peace from knowing that He was with me. After all these years I continue to strive to be a faithful servant of Christ because He died for me and I belong to Him. For me there is no greater joy than knowing that I belong to God and that I can be of service to Him.
Calling to & Description of Ministry
After I returned from the army the Lord began preparing me for future missionary work. I became involved in a ministry that distributed Christian literature. Along with sending out literature I received many letters and questions from people with whom I would correspond with and answer their questions. In addition to this, my pastor allowed me to preach short sermons to the church. I loved the Word of God even though I did not understand everything. Then I had the opportunity to go to Kiev to further my education at the Center of Christian Corporation. While I was there, God impressed upon me a desire and burden to labor full-time for the gospel.
I came to Siberia at the invitation of a missionary named Yosef Bandaranka. Brother Yosef was arrested and thrown in prison for many years for preaching the gospel. He was released from prison during the time of political reform in Russia, and he used this time to start a ministry called ‘Christ for the People’s of Siberia.’ Together with Christians in the West, in Europe, and America he recruited and organized a missionary movement across Siberia. In the years of 1992 and 1993 he rented a boat and organized trips along two major rivers – Ob and Urtesh. The Lord greatly blessed their efforts and as a result of preaching the gospel in many different villages and settlements, people were being changed. Small groups of believers were formed in these different villages and settlements, and the need for discipleship and establishing churches among them was growing. My future wife and I were invited to help with such a group in a settlement that is located along the Ob River in Western Siberia.
At that time I graduated from The Center of Christian Corporation in Ukraine where I was taught the basics of starting a new church. Soon after I graduated I got married to my wife Oksana. Two weeks later we left for Siberia. With God’s help we were able to start a small Bible study group and reach out to the community. Afterwards, there were about ten people coming and the first five were baptized. We then began meeting in a public library. This is how our church was started in September of 1993.
We have continued the work of the gospel, but the fruit has been scarce and the labor has been hard and slow at times. Nevertheless, we do not lose heart because of this, knowing that the Lord is with us. We understand the difficulty of ministering in such a place as this, yet we rejoice at what the Lord has done and continues to do. Sometimes we go out to visit different settlements and villages in the surrounding forest to share and distribute the gospel and other literature in order to find people who would be inclined to hear His Word. We plan to continue this work in which we need a lot of prayer.
We are grateful to HeartCry Missionary Society for the support and prayers that come to us from many believers around the world. We pray and ask God to help us in our work here, that our lives would be worthy of the gospel and that Christ would be easily seen in us. Also that we would continue to grow spiritually and bear good fruit for our God so that the thousands of people around us will hear the gospel and believe.
We need our congregation to grow both in number and spiritually so that our brothers and sisters would be able to support this church by becoming autonomous and that we too would be able to help believers in other countries. By God’s grace we continue in the work of His Kingdom, and we remain in desperate need of God’s continued blessing and help so that we may bring other people to Him through His gospel. We are thankful for your prayers.