(Written by Brother Sasha:)
When I was a teenager, together with other young people from our church’s youth circle, we had what we called a Monday’s visitations. We were going to visit some elderly and sick people of our Baptist congregation who due to their sicknesses and age were not able to attend a church.
The visitations were very exciting to me. At the beginning excitement was mainly because a girl I liked was going with us on those visitations. But sometime later I started to like going there because of the people we were visiting.
When you see the people only in the church on the Lord’s Day, it gives very small chance to get to know people well. But when we were going to their homes, trying to bring to them some comfort by singing Christian songs and hymns; giving simple Scriptural meditations; (which was a good practice to young people who were considering becoming preachers) and most of all – listening to the stories of people whom we were visiting – then the congregation and people in it became very dear to me.
Over those visits, I learned several things: one of the lessons learned was – each person has their own story and the second thing I understood was - the church is not merely about what is happening at the worship services, but more about the people of God who often are not seen in public, but whose faith, commitment; and readiness to pay a cost for their convictions is what makes church real and makes it strong. (Editor note: Sasha is speaking about a time when Ukraine was under communism in the 70’s and 80’s. Remember, Baptists at that time were often not allowed to worship publicly and had to meet in secret.) I heard the stories of those people who suffered war, famine, persecutions from the communist regime, people who were imprisoned in camps by Nazis and by the communists. I remember how surprised I was by some people whom I saw at the church services sitting quietly and listening, but whose lives were full of stories of God leading them all. God was so real and so close in their lives.
Since that time, my deep interest is in getting to know people whom I meet on my life’s path and to learn from them their walk with the Lord. It is spiritually enriching indeed. I found much joy of spending time with simple and modest people from whom I often receive so much inspiration. These people are so spiritually deep. Often I do not see the depth with people who are well educated and bear various educational degrees.
About 12 - 13 years ago I met Alexander who at that time was in his late 20s and he was making an excellent carrier in one of the big church associations in Ukraine. He was born in a non-Christian home and his parents and his brother all had some kind of genetic problem. This caused them all to be almost blind, except Alexander. Later on Alexander joined a church, got his theological education and married a girl from a very well-known and respectable family in that church association. His marriage has opened up some doors for Alexander. But he had also been working hard and soon he received a position of the assistant of the regional church supervisor. It looked like in several more years he would become a leader of that regional district of the association. People predicted that he had a bright career perhaps even on the national level. But everything suddenly changed in his life.
I sit with Alexander in his house, and I see it is still hard for him to share everything which has happened to him. Here are some of the highlights of his story:
Alexander: “I became one of the top leaders of my church association. I had dreams and plans on how to make good changes within the association and of course I was proud to be among the top leaders. But the more involved I became in the association the more concerns I had. We were spending a big deal of time at various meetings of various committees working out various strategies and initiatives. We were focusing on how to make churches grow and how to get the finances and donors to make our plans possible. I had to be involved in all kind of church politics. I had to balance between various groups of influence.
Somehow it came to the point that I felt like we as the leaders lost our focus which was the real needs of the real people in our congregations. We just had no time left for the pastoral care over the flock. I was ordained as a pastor at this point and I had been planting a new church in my town. I may say now, the Bible changed from being a well of a fresh water for my soul and became a textbook to me. God became a means/a tool, for reaching my goals.
At one point of time, I asked myself a question – “what is it all about? What am I spending my life on?” I spoke a lot about God, but there was very little of God in my daily life. Speaking about God and living with God were two different things in my life.
On the other hand, my theological convictions were in a process of forming. I read a lot of the books of various reformed authors, believing in Sovereign Grace. As a result, my theological convictions became a contradiction with the view of church. How can we speak about “saving people”, if that is an act of the Sovereign will of the Lord?
I did not have peace in my heart, so together with some other brothers from our new planted church, we started to have a deep study of the Doctrines of Sovereign Grace. The more we study, the more we saw how different the Biblical convictions are from the practice and beliefs of the association we were part of. This process of reevaluation of our belief took us two years.
We also studied the church government and saw that in our association the governorship over the congregations is not Biblical. It was proclaimed about the autonomy of the local congregations, but in fact all the decisions regarding the lives of the congregations were made by a group of several “top leaders” or just by one regional supervisor.
After all the searches and after much of prayers we had a consensus in our small congregation we had to leave the association and stay as the church holding to the doctrines of grace.
We announced about our decision and right away the gates of hell got opened against me. First I had meetings with the leaders of the association we left and they were pursuing us to stay in the association. Their point was: you may believe and preach whatever you believe, but stay with us, because if you’d leave that would be such a shame over the association when one of the top leaders left. We denied it.
So, the association wrote a letter which was sent out to all the congregations in the area blaming me for being a heretic and forbidding all the people to have any fellowship with me and with our congregation. In one day I lost friendship with about 90% of all my friends. Some of them in a demonstrative manner would not even shake my hand. Those who yesterday were looking for my goodwill and were making up to me suddenly looked at me as if I did not exist.
The toughest things were the attacks on me using my family relationships. Some people, even the church leaders, were speaking to my wife, insisting that she should divorce me (we have 3 children). They said to her: it is better to divorce him, then to live with the man who betrayed our faith. For Irina, my wife, that was hard and I could tell, our marriage was balancing on the edge of divorce, but the Lord, finally has granted her His mercy to accept my decision.
My father in law, who is a pastor of the church in that association, had some heart problems so people would come to my wife and say: “your husband will be guilty in the death of your father (whom she loves dearly) if he would happen to pass away.”
It is hard to describe that level of hate and of the common doctrinal ignorance of people who were blaming me for changing my convictions. There was no dialog possible, since people just knew “Alexander betrayed the faith of our fathers.” That was the level of arguments I had to deal with.
In the meantime, a lot of positive changes have happened in my spiritual life. I may say, my relationship with the Lord has started over. The understanding of His Grace and the understanding of my corrupted nature have changed my attitude to people. I look at the people now, not from the top to down, but as equal with them. We are poor sinner who need His Grace daily. The Lord gave me love and compassion toward people I’m serving. My attitude toward the Gospel has been changed. I used to look at the Gospel only as what is needed to start the Christian life. But now I look at the Gospel as what is keeping me daily in His Grace.
I’m pastoring a small congregation of about 40 people and I’m happy because I know the Lord has placed me there. I do not regret my career on a big level. I want to live in accordance with my convictions and that is what makes me rejoicing.
If you would ask me how I look now on what I have come through, my answer will be “I would not wish for anybody to go through what I have come through, but what you get is more then what you lost...”
This is the story of Alexander. A story which is full of frustration after frustration, but he rejoices and his life is in harmony with his convictions even though it cost him an outstanding career. May the Lord bless all of us to live a life based on the scriptural convictions seen in our daily walk…