Sent to Serve God in Stalin's Prison
From A Small Price to Pay (Part 5)
2: God provides
From Chapter 11
“Psst!” Above the clatter of the more than one hundred prisoners in Lefortovo Prison, I heard a sharp hiss. Close by, maybe above my head.
I continued with my prayers. On my knees beside the narrow prison bunk, life seemed to have stopped. I needed the familiarity of my daily prayers more than ever. Again I heard the noise, “Psst. Hey!”
I rose from my knees and looked around. Everyone else seemed to be settling down for the night. Soon the command would come for everyone to be in bed.
“Hey, up here!” The voice came from above my bunk. I looked up to an inmate looking closely at me. “What are you doing?” he asked.
“Getting ready for bed,” I answered. I climbed up to the top bunk next to his and lay down.
I did not go to sleep. My mind was too full. The thing that I had feared, and expected, had finally happened. I had been arrested and brought to this prison, and now awaited trial.
Soon after Babushka Sasha had come to live with us permanently, I had gone to Moscow with a Christian brother to see what had become of our petition to the Central Committee. But as soon as we stepped inside the Office of Religious Affairs, we were both arrested.
They read no charges. They did not tell us why we were arrested. They answered none of our questions. Now I shifted on the bed, trying to keep my nose away from the smelly mattress. Bright lights shone down on us from the ceiling.
There was a constant cacophony of guards shouting commands and prisoners calling out. Every noise was multiplied and reverberated throughout the corridors. So this was prison.
“Hey, holy man!” It was the man on the top bunk beside me again. I turned my head toward him.
“Come closer.” He was almost whispering. “I have a question for you. What is your name?”
His next question was a strange one. “Who gave you your name?”
“Why, my father and mother.” I puzzled over such a query.
“What were you doing when you were on your knees?”
“I was praying.”
“Who taught you to pray?”
“My parents taught me to pray to God.”
“Does your God hear your prayers?”
“All of them?”
“So your parents gave you your name, huh?”
Again, I answered, “Yes.” There was a space of silence. The noises from the rest of the inmates were dying down somewhat.
“I wish I had had parents who named me!” I could hear despair in the man’s voice.
I did not know how old he was. Perhaps in his late twenties, I guessed.
“They told me I was only eight days old when I was abandoned at the police station. They took me inside and filed a report on me. Since there was no name, they called me Nicolai, after the policeman who found me. That was my first name. In order for me to have a middle name, they named me Petrovich, after another policeman who was there. And for my surname, they decided on November, since that was the month they found me.” He gave a maniacal laugh. “Nicolai Petrovich November.”
Was he mad? His voice had turned grim and menacing. “Twenty-five years old, no parents, named after some stupid policemen who didn’t give a hoot about me.”
His voice was no longer quiet. I knew the other men on the bunks were listening to our conversation.
“Now, you tell me, holy man! Why does your God favor some people above others? Why did you have parents who taught you to pray, but me, I had no one even to name me? Is a God like that fair? If there is a God, is he not unfair to let some have a good life and others have a rotten life? Tell me!”
I breathed deeply. “I...“ I hesitated. “I really don’t think I have an answer for you right now.” I hoped this would not offend him.
“Humph!” His voice had quieted down.
“But I will pray about it and ask God for wisdom and understanding.”
“You will? Then pray out loud so I can hear you!”
I closed my eyes.
“Lord, I bring this question to you. I do not know the answer to Nicolai’s question. I do not know why some people are more blessed than others. I do not know why Nicolai was born into his situation. When I think of my own parents, I do thank you for them. I thank you for the years you allowed Papa to be at home and teach us about you and to pray to you. I thank you for a godly mother who taught us so much about your love. I thank you that she taught us to pray and ask you for whatever we needed or did not understand.
“I am sorry I did not appreciate my mother more when I was young. Tonight, I think of my own children, kneeling and praying for their father here in prison. I know they are praying for my safety and release. Please, Lord, tell them that I can’t come home right now, for there are too many people here in prison who need to hear about Jesus.
“So, Lord, here we are, asking you questions and knowing you hear us. Bless our little discussion tonight. Give me an answer of wisdom for Nicolai. In the name of your Son, Jesus, I pray. Amen.”
All around us it was quiet. I knew that many of the other men must have been listening. I looked at Nicolai. He was slumped against the wall. “Do you still have questions?” I asked him.
“Talk no more,” he said abruptly. “Go to sleep. I have enough things to think about.”
Even though it was my first night in prison, I was surprised at how easily I fell asleep.
When the bell clanged the next morning at six, I saw Nicolai was walking up and down between the bunks.
“Why are you still up?” a guard asked him irritably. “All night long you have been walking up and down this place.”
“I am sick,” Nicolai told the guard.
“Do you need a doctor?”
“My soul is sick. A doctor cannot help my soul.”
The guard shrugged. Souls weren’t part of his job. “All stand at attention!” he shouted.
There was a rustle as all the inmates stood by the bunks. The guard walked briskly up and down the aisles, doing a head count.
After a bland breakfast, we were escorted back to the bunk room.
The men were waiting for this time. “Here, holy man, sit here. Tell us more about yourself” The prisoner gave me a spot on one of the lower bunks.
“Tell us more about your God,” another man chimed in.
Nicolai was there too. “I still think having parents is the most important thing in life,” he began.
A chorus of rebuttals met this statement. “I had parents, and they did no good for me!” shouted one man.
“Then why is Sasha in prison?” called another, gesturing toward a silent prisoner. “He had parents, but he killed them when they were both drunk!”
More protests and arguments echoed around the cell before they looked expectantly at me.
“What do you say, holy man?” They all grew quiet, waiting for my answer.
I took a deep breath, praying for wisdom. “I think,” I began, “the most important thing in life is to know God through Jesus Christ.”
I did not know if they were ready to hear this or not, but I decided to speak boldly. “I thank God for my mother, but I know she cannot be with me all the time. Only Jesus can do that.” They listened respectfully, then changed the subject.
“Why are you in here?”
I told them briefly about the problems the church was facing. Though I had not been charged yet, I explained that my arrest was probably because of my work of preaching and teaching throughout Russia. They understood. When I mentioned that people in the registered church were responsible for my arrest, many nodded their heads. They were all too familiar with our government’s devious ways.
“Attention!” The by-now familiar command came from a guard at the door.
Everyone stood immediately.
“If I call your name, get ready for transport!” The guard began to read names.
I rose to get my bag when I heard my name.
“No,” the other prisoners protested. “Sit down. You have fifteen more minutes. We need to talk some more.”
“I want you to pray for my wife, Natasha,” insisted one man. “She said she would leave me if I was sent to prison.”
A chorus of other requests rained on my ears. As I knelt beside my chair, I tried to remember all the prayer requests. And I prayed for Nicolai, asking God to be a Father to him and teach him to love Him.
The time passed swiftly until we heard the officer unlock the door. I shook hands with the men surrounding me. One said, “I was sentenced to six months for my crime. Now I am glad that in these six months I have met you.”
I shook Nicolai’s hand. “Seek after God, Nicolai. He can bring peace to your soul.”
Then I had to leave for my court trial. I never saw any of those men again. I prayed for them often, hoping God would somehow speak to them and that they would learn to know Him.
That was my initiation into prison life. I did not know how long I was to be incarcerated, or what other experiences I was to have. But I realized that it does not matter where you are in life, God has a work for you. I remembered the words of Jesus: “Lift your eyes, for the fields are white unto harvest.”
Even in prison, there was much work to do. Daily, I asked God to give me courage to do it.
"I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'" Acts 26:17-18
"For our light affliction, which is but for a moment [in light of eternity], is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
In a world that is fast rejecting God's Word or twisting His Truth, we need to prepare for unthinkable challenges to our faith and families. This book will help us stand firm in Christ and gratefully "pay the small price" of suffering with Him! Like a beacon of light ahead of us waits an eternity of joy with Him!
I suggest you order at least ten of these books and share with your friends and relatives, so that they, too, may be encouraged and equipped for the times ahead. (That's what I did)
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