In my last post I told of Russian Pastor Georgi Vins exiled in 1979 from his homeland for the “crime” of preaching the gospel. He was separated from his family and his beloved home until the early 1990’s when the then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev reversed the decree whereby Vins had been stripped of his Soviet citizenship (President Ronald Reagan was a key figure in this glasnost experiment) eventuating in Georgi getting the green light to return to Russia for a visit to his cherished Russian homeland and churches and family. He never did move back to Russia, spending his last years in Elkhart, Indiana, representing the persecuted church until his homegoing. But the trip back to his homeland, after spending years in Siberian prisons for his faith, and more years in exile, was a thrilling experience. While waiting for his visa application to be approved for his trip home, Vins wrote a poem in part and then finished it in November of 1990 when he was in Leningrad. I had prayed for Vins prior to his release from prison and had held him, a 21st century Hebrews 11 kind of believer of whom this world was not worthy, as a hero and was privileged in about 1984 to have him speak in our church in Indianapolis to share his testimony. I want to share with you the poem he wrote and to which I have alluded. He entitled it “Can it Be?”
“Can it be that I soon will be seeing My dear brothers and sisters again? Can it be that once more I’ll be hearing Russian choirs singing songs about Christ? In the language familiar since child hood I will hear and drink in God’s own Word! And my heart is preparing for this gladness, I had dream of it while far away. Years have flown. . .as the birds in migration Swiftly speed with sad cries to the south. But how strong were the walls of my prison, Bound by chains—bitter dread and farewells. After that, the great waves of the ocean Thrust the coast of my homeland away… And each day, like a craft small and lonely, Was besprinkled by sorrowful tears. The afflictions groaned on without number As the waves of destruction rose high… Only faith through the clouds shone more brightly, And the Lord strengthened me by His love. (The rest of the poem was written in Leningrad.) But today, with great joy I am seeing My dear brothers and sisters again! And I hardly dare breathe, as I’m hearing Russian choirs singing songs about Christ! I am listening once more to God’s message, Once again with the brethren I pray. Oh, how precious to me are Christ’s people And a Russia that seeks God today!”
Knowing that there was not any religious freedom in Russia before Gorbachev and Reagan achieved the glasnost accords in August of 1990, my wife and I “picketed” the Wichita Convention Center in the summer of 1978 while 10,000 delegates filed into a denominational world conclave featuring some visiting Russian Baptist pastors who were addressing that meeting saying that there was religious freedom in the Soviet Union at that time. Our picket signs were simple: “WHAT ABOUT GEORGI VINS?” Within about a year, Vins was shipped out of Siberia to the United States, exiled from his homeland without any family members but living in freedom! In time, as stated above, he was able to revisit Russia and his family was able to migrate to America. In 1989 I was thrilled to visit Russia with Evangelist Ed Nelson and Pastor Vins’ daughter Natasha on a trip to Moscow, Kiev, Leningrad and other cities where we worshipped with and sang with those precious believers, hearing some of those wonderful choirs that Georgi alluded to in his poem. It was through interpreters that we prayed, praised and preached, but the Holy Spirit of God left little doubt in our hearts that those people in those Soviet Union churches, many of whom had spent time in prison themselves, were the kind of believers one reads about in Hebrews 11. It was so very humbling and exhilarating that words could never capture the feeling. Praise God for Georgi Vins, his faith, his fearlessness and his fidelity to Jesus to the end in his pulpit and in his prison cell. His impact upon this preacher’s life as a young minister of the gospel enjoying freedom and affluence has in part shaped my life and I will be ever grateful to him and to God for allowing me to follow his ministry in the shadows and through the sunshine.
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment…of whom the world was not worthy, they wandered in deserts, and in mountains and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith….” (Hebrews 11:36-39)