Two and a half weeks in June were spent visiting the Pastors and Missionaries whom we are supporting in Tiumen, Onokino, Tobolsk and Nyagan. Social conditions appeared to have changed little since last year. Unemployment rates and inflation are high, drug and alcohol abuse continue to take their deadly toll among young people and in the breakdown of family life. Pastor Boichenko’s flat filled with smoke when his neighbour died in a drunken stupor when his bed caught fire from a burning cigarette end. However, the spiritual life of the churches continues to experience steady growth. Tiumen and Tobolsk both held two multiple baptismal services during the past twelve months, the latter having thirty-three candidates! This in spite of the continual vilification in the media of all evangelical churches who are derisively called 'sects' by the Orthodox Church.
THE TESTIMONY OF OLGA POPKOVA
Her family is one of seven in Tobolsk receiving regular support.
"I was born in Kirghistan in the south of the former Soviet Union, in a family which had six children apart from me. Our parents' lives were very difficult. Four of the children were illegitimate and I was one of them. To a large extent it was my mother who disciplined and brought us up on her own. Naturally we lived in poverty even basic necessities were hard to come by. The godless lifestyle had a great effect on all members of the family. One of my sisters ended up in a hostel for the disabled when she was seven (she had been born an invalid as a result of our father's cruel behaviour to our mother; he would beat her while she was pregnant) and when she was eighteen she died from malnutrition. Another sister died in a car accident. Yet another sister also died after a while. I myself moved far away to live in the town of Tobolsk. I studied at college. I got married without God's blessing, my husband drank a lot, did not work and had relationships with other women. We got divorced and soon afterwards I married someone else. Then I had a second son who became very ill. They replaced 60% of his blood, he was very weak and could have died. For the first time in my life I started to pray seriously and earnestly. (I had not wanted to hear about God before that). The doctors said that if the child did not die he could still be left mentally retarded. But God heard my prayers and healed my son completely. To me it was a miracle!
In 1995 I was invited to a service held by the Evangelical Church (the services were taking place at the Arts College). I really liked the choral singing and the preaching too. I began to attend the services and in January 1996 I repented and was baptized the following August.
Two more children were born in our family. My mother became paralysed so needed a lot of care and attention. As a result of the fact that my husband would completely drink his wages we started living in poverty and hunger yet again. We are very grateful to Christians in our church - they helped, as they were able; they gave us food, clothing and so on. I could not have borne these trials without the support of God and the church. I prayed very much to God and He gave me work and now my husband no longer drinks at all. I am very grateful to God that I have come to know Him and discovered a new happy life in Christ. Of course, I still go through trials but I now look on life and circumstances in a new way.
I regularly see God answering our needs and prayers. He very often blesses us through Christian people whom we do not know at all; and our family is of course very grateful for this. We are praying for my husband, that he would come to believe in God, and we can already see great changes in his life. We hope and believe that one day our whole family will serve God. That is our greatest desire."
TESTIMONY OF A DRUG ADDICT CONVERTED IN TOBOLSK.
I, Vasihi, was born in January 1962 in Kazakstan. My father was a drunkard. He often beat both my mother and me. Since childhood I drank too, how could I not treat my family in the same way? (throughout my married life I repeated a similar story with my own family). Constant rows and conflicts forced my mother and I to run away from my father and resettle in the north, in the town of Xhanti-Mansiisk. My mother married again and didn't live badly with my new father. But I kept out of their way and their upbringing. At the age of 14 I was already on the militia's delinquent children's register. Due to their poor health, my parents went to live in the Belogorodsky region, and I remained alone so I could finish middle school. Having finished, I, along with some friends, started a life of thieving. We started off stealing small things, but the crimes led to bigger things. After having served in the army, I married, but was soon sent to prison. My own actions are painful and shameful to remember; drunkenness, licentiousness, theft and crime. For all of this I got 7 years in prison. My wife, naturally, divorced me. Life in the 'zone' made me hard. On leaving prison, I married for the second time and started working with coloured metals. I began to earn some money and not bad money. Somehow I wanted to vary my meaningless life of drunkenness, several wives and then drugs. In the beginning it was cocaine, afterwards heroin and then full drug dependence. I thought I could stop but after several attempts I saw it was senseless to try. Fully despairing and in order to save my life, I left my family, the flat, the job and ran away to the deep countryside so I could see nobody. I ran away from people but not from myself. Again, I got into robbery, drinking and fighting with knives, it led me to complete despair. The emptiness, pain and meaninglessness, which filled my heart, hardly anybody can understand. If hell existed, it was in my soul. To suffer more would have been impossible.
Knowing that my mother had started going to church, I decided to find a Bible in the hope that it could help me. I began to read it and to pray to God. Little by little, I noticed God was not indifferent to me. I was looking for straws to clutch at which would rescue my life (I expected to return to prison or to die). By chance I met up with one of my relatives (he had come to work in the Tiumen region). I was surprised when I found out that he had become a believer. He said that his church helped people trying to come off drugs. For me it was my last chance and I couldn't afford to miss it. Soon, I turned up at the church in Tobolsk.
There were daily meetings for prayers and Bible study, I realised how I admired criminals, but at the same time I saw a way out of the labyrinth of my life. I repented and believed in God. He changed my life and filled it with meaning. In this church there are several like me. Over a number of months now we have been meeting together and studying the Bible. Being completely free of drug dependence we witness to other people about God's love and strength. We pray and dream that our work with addicts will grow.
MORE THAN TEN YEARS AGO THE BORONENKO'S CAME TO THE SETTLEMENT OF GORNOPRAVDINSK ON THE RIVER IRTISH TO SERVE AS MISSIONARIES.
We are greeting you with the love of Our Lord. We give thanks to Him for inclining you to pray for us and to help us. Thank you very much for the parcel, we are sorry that we didn't write for so long.
Recently the Lord blessed us by giving us a very interesting meeting. After the Christmas service at our little church we attempted to visit the neighbouring Settlement of Singaly about nine miles north of us. During the summer time we can easily visit it by boat twice a week. But in the wintertime, when the river is frozen and the snow is deep, we can only get there by car or lorry. From our Settlement we have to cross two small rivers and one large one, the great river Irtish is about 200 to 300 yards wide. There are no bridges over these rivers so it is necessary to drive slowly and cautiously across them. It is quite frightening crossing them as the ice might crack beneath us and we would all drown in the freezing water! Sometimes when we reach the far bank it is so steep that we have to get out and push the vehicle up over the top! The journey took us about one hour due to the soft snow on the road. When we arrived at Singaly there were fourteen people waiting for us at the Meeting, we spent about four hours with them. We gave everyone a New Testament and spoke about the meaning of Christmas.
In our Settlement we visited the local orphanage and gave a Christmas message, we also gave each child a small present.
With love from family Boronenko.
Mr R. J. Weil, 28 Hayesford Park Drive, Bromley, Kent. BR2 9DB (Tel: 020 8402 0695)