LTRP Note: Earlier this month Putin, the leader of Russia, brought into existence a law which prohibits the free preaching and sharing of the Gospel. Those in violation of this new law will be issued severe fines. In the 1960s and 1970s, Georgi Vins, a young Baptist pastor in the Soviet Union, was in a similar situation. By the time it was over, he spent eight years (starting at the age of 32) in Soviet prisons. Below is an account of his father’s own persecution and the years leading up to Georgi’s persecution and imprisonment for his faith. Christians today in the Western world should realize that persecution and martyrdom have been the norm for countless believers in the past centuries of Christianity and even in much of today’s non-Western world. The question we have hanging over our heads lately is, will Western Christians have what it takes to stand for their faith and even die for their faith? With all the comforts and freedom Western believers have enjoyed, will this ease of being a Christian believer help or hinder our ability to live (or die) for our faith. Suppose a government threatens to take away your home, your job, and your comforts if you do not stop standing for the truth of the Gospel and share it with others, would you be willing to lose all for the sake of Christ?
From The Gospel in Bonds
In 1926, an American missionary named Peter Vins left the United States for the mission field of Siberia. Young Peter had finished his seminary training in Kentucky, then for a time pastored a church of Russian immigrants in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he fell in love with a Christian woman and asked her to marry him. She agreed, and the two announced their engagement. However, when Peter told his fiancé that God was calling him to Russia, she refused to go along. Her ultimatum to him was “Either me, or Russia.” So, broken-hearted, Peter called off the engagement and departed for Russia alone.
In Russia, the Lord’s blessing was on Peter Vins. People responded to his preaching, and many joined the church. Also, before long, a Russian woman who was a dedicated Christian attracted his attention. Peter began courting young Lydia Zharikova and married her in 1927. In 1928, in the city of Blagoveschensk, Lydia bore her husband a son whom they named Georgi.
However, Peter Vins’ hopes for a long life of ministry in Russia were not to be: the NKVD (secret police, forerunner of the KGB) began arresting Russian pastors and closing churches. They gave Peter Vins a choice—quit preaching and return to America or give up his American citizenship. He decided to stay and relinquished all rights as an American. In 1930, he was arrested and given a three-year term.
When Peter was released, the authorities probably expected him to be too intimidated to continue teaching the Bible. But they were wrong. He continued meeting with small groups of believers, encouraging and edifying them despite the dark days of persecution. After a short time of freedom, he was re-arrested and held for nine months. A third arrest soon followed when dozens of fellow Christians were seized in the same night. This time he was sentenced to ten years of labor camp without the right of communication with his family. He never returned.
Years later, in answer to Lydia’s repeated requests to authorities for knowledge about her husband, she received a statement that Peter had passed away in a labor camp on December 27, 1943. However, almost six decades later, in 1995, Georgi Vins was permitted to go to the KGB archives in Moscow and read the file the NKVD had kept on his father. Labeled “Top Secret,” its pages revealed that the authorities executed his father with a bullet in August 1937 at the age of 39.
Georgi committed his life to the Lord and was baptized in Omsk Baptist Church in 1944. Two years later, Lydia moved with her son Georgi to Kiev, Ukraine where he graduated from the Kiev Polytechnical Institute as an electrical engineer.
In time, the Lord brought a young Christian woman named Nadia into Georgi’s life. Their friendship grew into love, and the couple married on January 27, 1952. As the years passed, the Lord blessed them with five children of their own.
However, even though Soviet law required him to hold a secular job, in 1962 Georgi was ordained as a Baptist evangelist. Following in his father’s footsteps, he began preaching at meetings of the persecuted church.
In the early 1960s, many laymen and pastors of “registered” Baptist churches (i.e., churches which the Soviet authorities allowed to function legally but only under supervision and within harsh guidelines that contradicted the Scriptures) determined to worship freely without the yoke of government interference in the life of the church. They began meeting independently in private homes, apartments, and even in the forests. Georgi Vins became one of the leaders of the movement, making him a special object of concern for the KGB. In 1966, he was arrested in Moscow and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He spent one year in Lefortovo Prison and two more performing hard labor in prison camps in the Ural Mountains.
After his release, Georgi Vins resumed his ministry. However, when he learned that the authorities were preparing a new case against him, he went underground, living clandestinely while traveling and ministering. In 1974, he was arrested again, this time sentenced to ten years. The story you are about to read is Georgi’s account of his years spent in Soviet prisons.
d to ten years. The story you are about to read is Georgi’s account of his years spent in Soviet prisons.
(From the Prologue of The Gospel in Bonds by Georgi Vins)