LTRP Note: As many of our readers know, Lighthouse Trails publishes two books by the late Georgi Vins, former USSR religious prisoner and a leader of the uncompromised underground church in the Soviet Union during the Communist regime. This fall, we have the honor to publish Pastor Vins’ book, Three Generations of Suffering. The book was first published in 1974 by David C. Cook Publishing (during one of Georgi Vins’ prison terms), but it has long since been out of print. Lighthouse Trails was able to obtain publishing rights from the Vins’ family trustee and Georgi’s son-in-law. Below is an excerpt from the upcoming book.
“Memories of My Father, Peter J. Vins” by Georgi Vins
By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward. (Hebrews 11: 24-26)
Every time I read Hebrews chapter 11, verses 14 to 26, I involuntarily recall that these were my father’s favorite verses. Like many Russian Christians of his time, he had a profound understanding of the biblical truth that it is better to suffer with God’s people and better to bear the vilification of Christ than to have transient sinful enjoyment and earthly treasures.
There are no greater riches than Christ, and you feel this especially keenly when they want to take Him away from you, when they forbid you to share these riches with people. But people need him so much!
Jesus—is there any name more dear to a redeemed soul?
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!
Thus wrote a Christian poet.
Beside the name of Jesus can be set the names of my mother and father. Beside, but not above. How fortunate those children are who have a loving father and mother beside them!
It is a great blessing if the parents who have given their children life have given them not only a good upbringing, education, and a vocation but also their own Christian life, if, in short, they have pointed to Christ—a man’s best friend! What good fortune it is to have parents who are one’s own, not only in the flesh but, in spirit and in faith!
And if the parents were found worthy to suffer for Christ and even, fettered, to drink to the dregs the cup of death, then for their son or daughter their feat of faith becomes a sacred example of lofty self-sacrificing Christian love and calls them to be faithful to the Lord.
The first time my father was arrested was in Moscow in 1930 [when he was 32], and I was two years old. At that time, he was participating in the work of the Assembly of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists as the representative of the brotherhood of Evangelical Christians-Baptists of the Far East. On his arrival in Moscow, my father was summoned to the NKVD [People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. The name of the Soviet secret police from 1934 to 1946] where it was suggested to him that at the Assembly he should support the candidatures of the ministers B. and K., who had been selected by the government bodies as members of the administrative board of the Baptist Union. My father was very surprised by the authorities’ suggestion, which was manifest interference in the internal life of the church and refused to support these candidatures. Within a few days, he was arrested. As for B. and K., they were elected just the same to the administrative board of the Baptist Union. B. revealed himself as a traitor not long afterwards when the President of the Baptist Union, Nikolai Vasilievich Odintsov, was arrested. In 1935, B. contributed a good deal to the actual closing of the Baptist Union.1
Beginning in the 1930s, pressure on prominent workers in religious societies was intensified, and apostates were advanced to positions of leadership with the aim of corrupting the church from inside.
My father spent three months under investigation in Butyrki prison and was then sentenced to three years in labor camp.
At that time in Blagoveshchensk-on-Amur, his son, who had just begun to talk, would kneel down with his mother and repeat just four words: “Jesus! Bring Daddy back!”
During those years, Father passed under guard through many prisoners’ convoys, prisons, and labor camps in the Far East and the Northern Urals. In the Far East, he was taken in convoy to a labor camp situated on the shore of Svetlaya Bay.
One day in a town in the Far East, a column of prisoners was being marched from a transit prison to a goods station for embarkation. After the column ran, weeping women, seeing off their fathers, husbands, sons . . . A young Orthodox priest was marching in the column beside my father. His wife was hurrying alongside after the column. As she took leave of him, she cried, “Vasya! Don’t lose heart! The darker the night, the brighter are the stars!” The priest’s heartening reply rang out above the column of prisoners, “The deeper the sorrow, the nearer is God!”
About ten Orthodox priests were serving their sentences in the labor camp at Svetlaya Bay, and they worked as orderlies in the prison hospital. They behaved very warmly and sympathetically to my father and even got him a job as an orderly in the hospital. In 1932, my father sent me a poem from this camp for my birthday. I have kept it carefully. It is very dear to me because it contains the sacred testament of a prisoner-father to his four-year-old son. Here are some lines from this poem:
Now you are forced involuntarily
To suffer for the name of the Lord,
But I pray that you may willingly
Choose the thorny path of Christ.
When the golden days of childhood
Have passed by, and, as a young,man,
You turn your clear eyes
Into the lands of your dreams,
Then give up all your strength of will,
All the dreams of your heart,
Your unpolluted life and destiny—
Everything to His service!
For a Christian, there is always a Svetlaya [literally meaning “bright”] Bay in Christ Jesus! Neither the storms of persecution nor the darkness of unbelief are able to take away his bright hope in Christ!
For some time, Father was in camps in the Northern Urals. He was taken in a train load of convicts to Usolye (now Solikamsk) and then marched in convoy another 300 kilometers to the north, to one of the timber-felling camps of the taiga.*
In 1967, I also visited these places, also under guard. Like my father, I was taken in convoy to Solikamsk and then not on foot but in open lorries under the guard of soldiers and watchdogs 200 kilometers further north. As we drove along the old convoy roads, I remembered my father. Perhaps in the ’30s, he had walked along these very same roads.
The valleys and hill of the Urals,
The green sea of forests.
Here your path lay,
Here your love died away!
You walked through storms and tempests,
And heard the howl of wild beasts,
But early in spring the birch trees
Were whispering: “Stand firm, my son!”
I wrote these lines in 1967 in one of the Urals labor camps, recalling the chains of my father.
Georgi Vins’ father, Peter, eventually died during his imprisonment, leaving Georgi and his mother without a father and a husband.
Note: The above is an excerpt from Three Generations of Suffering, a chronicle of the Vins family and other brothers and sisters in Christ who suffered at the hands of an atheistic government.
* Taiga—coniferous forest in the north of the Soviet Union, but to the south of the bleak tundra region of the Arctic.