LTRP Note: Georgi Vins was a young Baptist pastor in the U.S.S.R. when he was arrested for preaching the Gospel. He spent a total of eight years in the prison camps before being exiled to the United States in 1979. Under contract with his daughter, Natasha Vins, Lighthouse Trails has published two of his books, The Gospel in Bonds and Moscow Express. The following is one of Georgi’s stories from Moscow Express. We post these stories by Georgi because his life was an exemplary example of what it means to live all for Christ. We also believe what happened to Georgi and to many other believers during the Soviet reign could some day in the not-too-distant future happen to believers who stand for Christ in North America.
By Georgi Vins
In the autumn of 1962, the Evening Kiev newspaper featured an article hostile toward Christians. It attacked Baptists for their faith in God and the active life of the church in what was supposed to be an atheistic society. The author was particularly annoyed that church ministers happened to be highly educated professionals. The paper included my wife and me in the list, even citing the place where I was employed as an engineer and the high school where my wife taught English.
The article agitated, “How is it that the Soviet government has given these people higher education, and yet they believe in some sort of god? In addition, they are engaged in religious propaganda, infecting children and youth. How can we let them work in Soviet schools and responsible positions in the city of Kiev? What does the management do about this? How can they put up with these people in the workplace?”
The Communist Party expected this publication to bolster their ideological stand against religion, but the opposite happened: the article created in Kiev’s two million inhabitants a great interest in the Baptists and their faith.
The day after the article appeared, it became the subject of discussion in every department of the engineering firm where I worked. I overheard some of my co-workers’ comments, “Just think about it: we thought that believers were old-fashioned people with little education—backward old men and grannies in the villages! But it turns out they’re educated people, young professionals who believe in God and preach the Bible. And so many Baptists! What a surprise! So maybe faith in God isn’t just gloom and doom! That’s interesting . . .”
Some were negative, “All these Baptists should be sent to Siberia, to the farthest reaches of the North! The fiftieth anniversary of Soviet power is coming up, and Baptists have no place in our society!”
News at work tended to spread quickly, “That guy will be fired.”
“This guy’s in line for a promotion.”
“So-and-so left his wife and kids to live with such-and-such woman.”
All such “advance reports” were eventually backed up either by a pink slip, a promotion, or by the fact of divorce, whichever the case may be. The disseminator of this “news” was usually a certain Zaporozhets, an engineer in the electrical division. He was tall, with brown hair, about thirty, energetic, sociable, and extremely helpful. “Excuse me, could you please allow me to take just a moment of your time? I’ve just heard the most dreadful thing, and I wanted you to be the first to know. By the way, I haven’t seen you around for a couple of days. How are things? How’s your health? Say, have you heard yet about?” Such was the verbal stream that Zaporozhets was constantly pouring out for the nearest listener.
The engineering firm where I worked was located in a four-story building in Pechersk, a lovely neighborhood of Kiev. About 400 staff, consisting of engineers and technicians with various areas of expertise, worked there. Zaporozhets was the most unique and well-known personality at the firm. Everyone knew him, some loved him, the rest at least tolerated him. Zaporozhets never harbored ill intentions; he was congenial and kind-hearted, but a non-stop talker. He spent most of his workday not at his drafting table, but in action. For example, if some item needed to be procured for the management, bureau director Nikolai Nikolaevich would call Zaporozhets into his office and give him the responsibility of tracking it down.
Zaporozhets was part of the electricians’ department, which I supervised. He would often say, “Georgi, I won’t be in today or tomorrow. Nikolai Nikolaevich is sending me on an errand! But don’t worry, my blueprints will be finished by the deadline, and they’ll be great!”
So, he would disappear for two or three days. When he showed up again, his time, as usual, would be spent running from floor to floor, department to department. He always had some news to share. True to his word, his drafts were always done well and on time—he worked quickly and with concentration, and stayed overtime if necessary. We had a good, friendly relationship, and this became strikingly clear when things started to get tough for me at work.
The morning after the Evening Kiev article appeared, I got to work and found that stony silence reigned in the electricians’ room as each person worked at his desk. No one even looked up when I walked in. I decided to beat them to the punch, “It sure is quiet in here today! Did you all read the article?”
Everyone burst to life at once. “We read it!” their voices resounded.
“I don’t believe our newspapers. Everything’s always blown out of proportion in them! Whenever a newspaper starts campaigning, they always write in sweeping generalities, just to push people’s buttons. Now they’re pushing an anti-religious cause, and that’s just how they write.” The first person voicing an opinion was a senior engineer of about 35, who was quiet and good-natured at work, constantly concerned about her children. Her husband had died a few years before, so she was rearing two school-age children on her own.
One of the technicians, Misha Pugachev, strode up to me and took me by the arm. “Georgi, don’t worry! Everybody here respects you, including Nikolai Nikolaevich.”
“What’s so bad about religion?” someone else noted. ‘Don’t steal.’ ‘Don’t kill.’ Nothing wrong with that! Besides, according to the Constitution, we have freedom of religion.”
At this moment, Zaporozhets flew into the room and declared, “Georgi, the whole institute’s buzzing like a beehive! Almost everybody’s behind you. Let’s step into the hall for a few minutes.”
Zaporozhets pulled me to the window at the end of the corridor, where we were in absolute privacy. “Listen, we’re all outraged at this spiteful article!” he said excitedly. “Only Kostov from the construction division is against you. When I ran by there this morning, he was yelling to everybody in the room, ‘This Baptist needs to be kicked out of here and put on trial! He should have his parental rights stripped and his children taken away!’ But I took the wind out of his sails.”
Right then, into the corridor stepped Yefim Shtulberg, lead engineer of the construction division as well as deputy Communist Party secretary. Shtulberg headed in our direction. “Excuse me for interrupting. Georgi, come with me. We need to discuss an electrical wiring job for the factory.”
I accompanied him to the construction division. As Shtulberg opened the door to a large room containing over thirty desks, we heard many voices mingling in animated discussion. All conversations abruptly stopped when they saw us. Everybody got back to work, and only Kostov, standing at his desk, looked at me with a mocking smile. For about twenty minutes, we studied blueprints and the wiring design. As I was walking out the door, I nearly stumbled over Zaporozhets going in. As the door closed behind me, I heard voices shouting on the other side.
Later, I found out what had happened. No sooner had I left than Kostov turned to the head of the department and said, “Why do you allow that Baptist to come into our department?”
To which the other answered, “I invited him in myself on business concerning electrical wiring.”
“But didn’t you read the paper?” Kostov retorted. “This Baptist has no place at our facility! We need to call an institute-wide meeting, fire that guy, bring him to trial, and take his kids away!”
An eruption of murmurings broke out in the room. Getting in Kostov’s face, Zaporozhets yelled, “You’re the one who needs to be put on trial! You abandoned your family, your own kids; yet you go around sporting the rank of a Soviet engineer! You’re the one who needs to be kicked out of our facility for moral aberration!”
The grumbling got louder. Just then the director’s secretary poked her head through the door and announced, “Nikolai Nikolaevich says for everyone to get to work and stop wasting time on the clock!” She walked through the whole building, quieting everyone down. Zaporozhets came back into our room and silently set to work.
The next day, Zaporozhets said to me, “The director and the party secretary were called to Party headquarters this morning because of that article!”
I barely knew the director of the institute, having met him only two or three times. But I knew Party Secretary Vladimir Kryukov very well. He was also an electrical engineer by trade, ten years my senior, and had fought on the front lines in World War II. He had been a Communist Party member since the beginning of the war. He had lost a leg on the front and now walked with a prosthetic and a cane. We had worked together on several projects, and he visited me at home two or three times when my wife and I lived downtown. Ours was a cordial relationship.
Three days after the article came out, I was summoned to Party Secretary Kryukov’s office. He, deputy director Shtulberg, and Kurakin, another official, were waiting for me. Kryukov spread the newspaper out on the table, its pages open to the article. Several lines had been underlined in red. Shtulberg asked me, “What do you have to say about this?”
“What should I say?” I shrugged. “I believe in God, and I won’t deny it. You all knew I was a Christian before this was printed.”
“We knew something or other about you being a Christian,” Kurakin replied, “but that on off hours you were a religious propagandist—that’s something we just found out. Now that this article has appeared in the press, this whole Baptist business is making us all look bad!”
“This is serious, Georgi,” Kryukov added. “Yesterday, the director and I were summoned to Party headquarters downtown. They wanted you fired immediately. They told us that a criminal case has been started against you and that they intend to strip you of your parental rights. Your children will go to an orphanage—I pity them. Think about your children! As the Party secretary and a war veteran, I used my influence to spare you from strict measures. I promised that we’d straighten you out. They laughed at this idea at Party headquarters, but then agreed to it, ‘Give it a try! If you’re successful, then we’ll award you the Golden Star of the Hero.’”
Kurakin chimed in, “Georgi, come on and do it so he can get the Golden Star!”
Shtulberg interrupted. “Enough joking around! Georgi, tell us about your faith and how you came to believe. What plans do you have for the future? You can be open with us. We’re not enemies. We want to understand you and get a handle on this unpleasant situation.”
So, I told them how I believe that God, the Creator, made the earth, the sun, the moon, the plant and animal kingdoms, and us, human beings. I told them how, at age sixteen, I realized I was a sinner, and that only Jesus Christ, who had died for my sins on the Cross, could give me salvation and eternal life. I was baptized in the summer of 1945 when, in the presence of many believers, I gave my promise to God that I would live for Him. My wife has also been a believer since she was fifteen. We have three children, I told them—Natasha, 9, Peter, 6, and Lisa, our baby. As a Christian family, we don’t hide our faith from the children. We read the Bible with them, pray, and attend worship services together. This is the most important thing in our lives.
“How are things going for your wife where she works?” Kurakin asked. “The article says she teaches English in the upper grades.”
“Yesterday, there was a faculty meeting at the school. They demanded that my wife deny her faith in God or else lose her position.”
“How did she answer them?”
“She said that believing in God gave meaning to her life. She was fired.”
“Georgi, has it ever occurred to you that you and your wife are some sort of backward fanatics?” asked Shtulberg. “Think about it: you graduated from Kiev Polytechnic Institute, and your wife graduated from Kiev University. Even after that, you’re still both believers? And you even teach your children to believe in God? On weekdays, you’re a lead engineer, and on the weekends, you’re a Baptist preacher—how can you do both? Please explain!”
The interview continued in this vein for about two hours. I never found out their official decision on this matter. When I was asked to leave the office, I ran into Zaporozhets, who had been pressed up against the door listening. He abruptly turned and took off, telling everyone his version of what had occurred: “Four men went into the Party secretary’s office: one Baptist and three communists. Two hours later, out came three Baptists and one still deciding!” Of course, he was exaggerating, but I knew that God had given me the opportunity to tell the bosses about my saving faith in Him.
The next Sunday, about 150 Christians gathered for worship in the forest outside of Kiev. Suddenly, KGB workers and police fell upon us as we were on our knees praying at the end of the service. They tried to arrest the preachers, but a large group of young people encircled us. After an hour of physical struggle, the police left for reinforcements. We all headed home.
When we got off the commuter train back in town, we were met by more KGB and police. They fell upon us again, intending to arrest the preachers. We huddled, then broke into singing a Christian hymn and all set off together down the street. The KGB began to beat the believers and ended up arresting nineteen of us. We were locked up in Lukyanov prison. A day later, fourteen people were released, but five of us were given fifteen-day terms. My personal acquaintance with Soviet prisons had started. I was 32.
When I returned to work fifteen days later, I discovered that, by order of the director, I had been demoted from supervisor to the engineering pool. Two months later, the director finally called me into his office.
“I defended you earlier before the Communist Party officials, but now the matter has gotten out of hand. It’s either you or me. If I don’t fire you, they’re going to remove me from my position as director. It would be better if you simply resign.”
“All right, I’ll give notice,” I agreed.
All this happened in 1962. Over thirty years later in 1995, I visited a congregation of Messianic Jews in Kiev, where I had been invited to preach. Over one hundred Jews who had received Christ as their Messiah and personal Savior attended. I was touched to hear them sing the Psalms of David in Hebrew.
At the end of the service, during a question-and-answer time, an older man about my age then stepped up to the microphone. He looked up and said, “My dear Georgi Petrovich, you’ve probably already forgotten your co-worker Isaiah [and he gave his last name] from the engineering bureau. No wonder, it was over thirty years ago! Yet I remember you well because I followed your story for many years. I read everything they wrote about you in the newspapers, but I didn’t believe the press. I just want you to know that I’m a Christian now! God lives in my heart. I believe that Christ is the Messiah of Israel and my personal Savior. So now, I’m your brother in Christ!”
After the service, Isaiah came up to me, and we embraced. I don’t know what became of my other coworkers, nor of those three bosses who summoned me in 1962, but I’ve prayed many times for their salvation as I reflected on the past. May the Lord grant that some day before God’s throne we may say, “Four men went into the Party Secretary’s office in June 1962—three Communists and one Baptist. But after a few decades, four Christians met in eternity at the feet of Jesus!”