By Georgi Vins
(Georgi Vins spent a total of eight years in Communist prisons, starting at the age of 32, for his faith in Christ. The following is one of his stories from The Gospel in Bonds. In our eyes, he is a hero of the faith and an inspiration to live all for Christ.)
“Up! Up! All prisoners prepare for transport immediately!” the voice crackled over the loudspeaker. It was four o’clock in the morning. The sleepy camp suddenly bustled with activity as soldiers and officers ran into the barracks, rushing the prisoners. “Get out! Look alive!”
“Now what? Where are they taking us?” the prisoners asked each other.
“Why the whole camp?”
If anyone knew, they didn’t say.
One prisoner joked, “Probably Moscow has ordered us all to be shot!
“They’re tired of dealing with criminals!” He spoke in a loud whisper after making sure no officers were nearby.
Another prisoner picked up on the theme. “We’re done for, guys. China has attacked us. Now everybody in the camp is going to be shot!”
When all the prisoners had cleared the barracks, large trucks rumbled into the camp. As their names were called out, the prisoners climbed onto the trucks, which roared off into the darkness. Those of us with the red stripe were separated from the rest and put into a special van to be taken away under guard.
We reached our destination in less than an hour. The entire camp had been moved to Tabaga, just fifteen miles from the city of Yakutsk. Tabaga, named after the nearby river that flowed into the Lena, was the site of a large sawmill where 1200 to 1500 prisoners worked. I was assigned to work as an electrician. The equipment was in terrible condition, and the entire mill was often shut down because of electrical problems.
The red stripe I had to wear followed me to Tabaga, and every two hours I had to report to the control point. It was normally a twenty-minute walk from my work area, but I had to run to make it in time. Life was very hard.
Tabaga’s head KGB officer summoned me regularly for questioning. He tried to convince me to renounce God.
“God is just the invention of ignorant people,” he’d say scornfully. “Who believes in God nowadays? There is no God! Why are you trying to revive religion? There’s no room for religion in our society. Your faith belongs to yesterday. It’s stupid to waste your life on some non-existent God. You’re an engineer. You graduated from a Soviet institute. You’ve studied Marxism-Leninism. Why have you dedicated your life to propagandizing religion? Look where that got you. You’re a prisoner—not just an ordinary prisoner but one disgraced with a red stripe. At the rate you’re going, you’ll never be free again! Make your choice—either God or freedom!” And on it went.
He had many such discussions with me in the evenings after work. I realized it was useless to try to explain things to him. Every time I started to say something, he would interrupt, ridiculing what I hold sacred. “I don’t believe you, and I don’t believe in your God. There’s no way out of this camp for you!” he repeated.
Those were very hard times, and my heart cried out to God. Bible verses kept coming to memory. “How amiable are thy tabernacles, 0 Lord of Hosts! My soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God” (Psalm 84:1-2). “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8). “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee” (Job 42:2). I was hungry for His Word and fellowship with His people. It was during this stressful time that the Lord comforted me in an unusual way.
One cold winter night the head prisoner in our barracks woke me from a deep sleep. “Hurry!” he whispered urgently. “Get up! The duty officer is calling you to the control point.”
“What happened?” I asked, suddenly alert.
“I don’t know. He ordered you to go immediately!”
I dressed quickly. I noticed that it was one o’clock in the morning. Outside a sharp wind drove icy needles of snow into my face and hands. How lonely everything looked! Never had I felt so forlorn, so abandoned in that strange prisoner world. It was as though nothing existed except the desolate camp, nothing but prisoners and guards, pressure and slavery. Questions chased each other through my mind. Why was I called in the middle of the night? What’s the rush? Am I being moved to another camp? What awaits me? My tired legs longed to carry me back to the barracks and the relative warmth of my cot.
The duty officer and several soldiers were waiting at the control point. I tried to read their faces to see what was happening, but they told me nothing. “Follow me.” The tall, heavyset duty officer nodded toward his office.
He opened the door. On his desk sat a shortwave radio. I was amazed to hear the melody of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” one of my favorite songs, playing softly.
The officer kept the volume low. “Sit down,” he invited.
I sat close to the radio.
“This is a two-hour broadcast. Do you want to stay and listen?”
“Oh, of course! Thank you!” I was confused but elated. My weariness had disappeared.
“Just don’t touch the radio,” the officer warned, “and don’t move the dial to Voice of America.”
After he left, I knelt and prayed. That Christian program was exactly what I needed. I thanked the Lord for this special gift. Sermons, Christian songs, hymns, and prayers filled the room. When one half-hour program ended, another began. When a preacher prayed, I stood and prayed with him.
When the choir sang, I sang along softly. My soul was so hungry for those sermons full of the testimony of Christ, of His love, His wisdom. Our Lord is truly wonderful! At the most difficult time in my camp life, He got me into that office to hear Christian radio programs.
From time to time the door opened and the duty officer looked in. “How’s the reception?” he’d ask.
“Fine, thank you,” I’d answer with a smile.
I enjoyed two hours there before the broadcast ended. Five minutes later the officer came in and turned off the radio.
“Well, what do you think? Did you like what you heard?” he asked, taking a seat across from me.
“Oh, I enjoyed it very much. Thank you. What excellent programs! What a treat!”
His eyes studied me intently. “How long have you been a Christian?”
“Since I was sixteen,” I answered. “I’m forty-seven now. I’ve been following Jesus Christ for more than thirty years.”
“Were your parents Christians, too?”
“Yes. My father was a Gospel preacher in America and then in Siberia. When I was just two years old, he was arrested for preaching and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. In 1937, he was arrested again. My father died in a concentration camp. Not long ago my mother, at the age of sixty-four, was also arrested and imprisoned for her faith.” And I told the officer the story.
“How is your mother now? Is she home?”
“Yes. I hope to see her if she can make the long trip here to visit me.”
The officer shook his head. “You have a very strange faith! Prison after prison!” he said softly, speaking half to himself. Then he led me out of his office and sent me back to the barracks.
Christian songs rang in my heart as I walked across the deserted camp zone. Snow was still falling, and the north wind was still blowing. But instead of burning my face, the snowflakes swirled lightly on their journey to the ground. They seemed to float in rhythm to the harmony of a great heavenly choir! I had just been at a worship service, where the Lord provided wonderful fellowship, encouragement, and comfort!
That was the only time I heard a Christian broadcast during all my eight years in bonds. But it happened at precisely the hardest time, when my soul desperately needed spiritual strengthening. How thankful I was for that broadcast from South Korea and for the radio missionaries who made it possible! All of the hardships of camp life suddenly became easier to bear.
The duty officer greeted me amiably when I arrived at the control point one morning for my routine check-in.
“I have good news for you,” he said. “No more red stripe.”
After six months of night checks and running to the control point every two hours during the day, that certainly was welcome news.
“Thank you, citizen officer! This is so unexpected. Are you now convinced that I’m not planning to escape?”
Though no one else was around, the officer lowered his voice. “We all knew you had no intention of escaping,” he whispered. “It wasn’t the camp officials who gave you the red stripe. It was the authorities in Moscow. They don’t like you!”
Life was easier without that red stripe. I felt as though I were already halfway to freedom! Years later, I learned that Christians in my country and around the world had prayed for me and petitioned the Soviet government on my behalf. How thankful I am that they remembered the prisoners, including me.
You are near to me,
As the shore is to the sea,
You are dear to me,
As water is to earth,
You came to make grief sweet
And to light the fire of love
In the shadows.
Without You, I do not need life,
Without You, I merely breathe.
You alone are the joy of my soul,
Be always with me, I beg You! GV