My Father's Footsteps
Part 8: Imprisoned for his faith - The third time
From A Small Price to Pay
"...love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples..."
2: God provides
4. Obey God?
5. In Prison
The prison door shut behind me with a bang. I heard the key turn in the huge lock, then the guard’s footsteps faded away. Three days of solitary confinement. That was the usual procedure before being admitted into a prison. I was alone.
But not really. Christ was present with me. And I had another reason not to feel alone. In fact, I was rather excited. Memories were flooding my mind. After nearly eight years of relative freedom, I had once again been arrested. This time, I had gone to visit a Christian woman in Leningrad. When I returned to my sisters’ house after midnight, they had come out to greet me. Two officers had appeared out of the shadows and told me I was under arrest....
At the trial, the usual accusations were held against me—teaching minors about God, holding meetings without permission from the state, not registering our churches with the state.
This time, they added a new charge. I was charged with creating an unhealthy environment because too many people had crowded into one space. Some expert had come up with the idea that it was not sanitary for so many people to be breathing the same air for an extended period of time. I wanted to ask them who was going charge the government with creating an unhealthy environment the trams, buses, and trains. Those public transport vehicles were far more crowded than our meeting places. But I knew it was hopeless to say anything....
Now, here in my cell, I was reflecting on what my mother had told us after Papa had been arrested. “He is in Sverdlovsk in prison." This was all we knew for some time.
Now I was in Sverdlovsk. I was in the same prison my father had been in! This excited me, for my mind went back to my memories of Papa. Had he spent time in this very cell?
Even though my breath was quite visible in the cold air, I eagerly examined the cell walls. Had Papa left some message behind, scrawled on the wall? Had he stood here, looking up at the barred window that let in a small patch of light from the waning day?... It was quite possible that my father really had been in this cell. It was one of the cells that held all the new inmates.
Forty years had passed since Papa had been in this prison. When I had been unloaded from the Black Raven, I imagined my fatherwalking through the courtyard, standing at attention on the granite slab as his sentence was read. When I stood on that slab upon my arrival, I tried to fit my shoes into the worn spaces that marked the granite. So many thousands of prisoners had stood there that there were actually small hollows where the shoes had worn away the surface of the hard stone. Here was where my father had stood!
Now, in my cell, with no one around, I spoke out loud. “Oh, Papa! Did you ever think about your son following in your footsteps and ending up in the same prison where you were held? I am a privileged son to have had such a wonderful, godly father, who taught me the ways of the Lord! I praise the Lord for this privilege—that I am counted worthy of the honor of following you!”
I was so glad I was alone. I began praying out loud. “God, I thank you that your Son wore the crown of thorns and suffered for us so that we get our strength from Him. I thank you for all those in the church who were willing to suffer for you that we may know the truth of the Lord in our time. The joy of my salvation is now matched by the joy of being able to suffer for your name. I thank you for my family, and I once more place them into your care. You will be a father to my sons and a husband to Vera.”
In spite of the joy in my heart, I became aware of the cold beginning to seep through my heavy winter clothes. My feet were becoming numb. So I walked about vigorously while I prayed. I slapped my hands together. I sang. I stamped my feet to get the blood circulating. In spite of the stark, chill surroundings, I felt strangely invigorated. The joy in my heart was greater than the cold that threatened my body.
When I had warmed myself somewhat, I lay down on the bunk. There were no covers, so I drew my arms out of my coat sleeves to try to conserve my body heat.
When I awoke some hours later, my feet were so numb I could hardly feel them. I got up and began walking briskly back and forth across the floor. I could not walk far before I was stopped by the wall, so I tried walking in circles. Finally I felt my feet begin to warm up a little.
Once more I thought of my father. I remembered his stories from the Bible... I remembered the instructions, “Meet me at the fountain, the great white throne!” I pictured him there even now, praising God and waiting for his family to join him. Now Mama was there, too. And Vera, my oldest sister.... Would I be taken soon?
I fell to my knees in that cell and again thanked God for my heritage.
A number of years after Papa had passed on to heaven, a brother who had been in prison with him told Mama more particulars about his death.
“Ivan’s legs were very bad, and he could not walk by himself. Perhaps he had been beaten severely and his legs never healed. So when we were put into the big room in Tavda prison, we had to support him. I still do not know why, but as soon as we entered the cell, one rowdy man came up to us and told us we were not welcome in the cell. He spoke very rudely to us.
“Ivan began speaking. He said he wanted to tell the men in there about God.
“This infuriated the man, and calling for some others, he began beating Brother Ivan. His first blow knocked your husband to the floor. In a rage, he began to slam Ivan’s head on the concrete floor. “Some of the rest of the prisoners came up and tried to pull the madman off. This started a riot.....
“After the guards broke up the riot, we carried Ivan to a cot. His breathing became very labored, and that is when he dictated his last letter to you. “He told us to make sure that we did not write that he had died, but that he had gone ahead to the great white throne of God where he would be waiting for his family.”
My mother had not wept or become hysterical. Calmly, she had told us the story, then we knelt to pray. I think she had been sure this was going to happen and the Spirit had prepared her for it....
I thought back to our visit with Papa in prison. I remembered, in spite of his pale countenance and his obviously weak physical condition, the sparkle in his eyes as he smiled at us. ... The same sparkle, the same kind look we children knew so well from the days he was at home with us. That was the legacy he left behind.
I longed right then to be taken to the great white throne to praise my Lord Jesus Christ. I wanted so much to meet my father and my mother and the other saints who had walked the path of suffering. An overwhelming longing swept through my entire body.
"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
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