Wednesday, February 1, 2017
The Cost of the Call
A dear friend and one of my heroes of the faith went to be with the Lord this week. I met Pastor Gennady on my first trip to Ukraine and, over the years, he was a great example, friend and brother in the Lord. Hebrews 6:12 urges us to "imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." I thank God for the life and testimony of Gennady Demidovich Malakhov, I pray for his dear family and church in Melitopol, Ukraine, and I pray for the grace to follow His footsteps. Here is something I wrote about him several years ago...
The only sound in the room was the ceaseless ticking of a clock. The ceiling was rather high. Against the one wall was a bookshelf, against another was a brown piano, against the far wall a window faced the garden of Pastor Gennady Demidovich. Against the only remaining wall was a couch, and that was where I was sitting, thinking, and spending a few minutes in preparation to preach at the evening service in the Ukrainian church where Gennady was pastor.
As I sat there silently, and looked around that simple room, I could not help but be filled with a sense of wonder. Growing up in America, I had read stories of the persecution of believers in during the time of the Soviet Union. I had heard of Bibles being confiscated by KGB secret police, people being arrested, imprisoned in labor camps, tortured and even killed for the sake of the Gospel, and churches being shut down. But, as I sat in the living room of Gennady Demidovich, it was as if my own eyes, for the first time, were witnessing such things. My ears still rang with the things he had just shared with me as we sat in that room earlier.
For it was there in that simple place that a congregation of the Soviet underground church had met and worshipped together! As an American Christian, I have suffered little more "persecution" during my lifetime than, perhaps, a few people laughing at my Christian beliefs. In light of what I have read from church history and have heard from places like the former U.S.S.R., I cannot even classify that as persecution. The people that met together and worshipped Jesus Christ in this room did so in full understanding that their actions were a criminal violation of the law. They knew that if they were caught, they risked horrible consequences.
Indeed, some of them experienced a taste of those consequences firsthand.
For one day, in 1981 or 1982, the door of that little room where I now sat had been thrown open, and a delegation of KGB agents and police investigators had grimly surveyed the scene before them. The room was crowded with Christians hungrily soaking in the truths of God's Word. Homemade benches had been set up, and a table stood near the window where Pastor Gennady was seated.
One of the of police officers, obviously in charge, quickly strode across the room and gazed down at what he saw spread out upon the windowsill before him: Bibles! Dangerous, forbidden literature! He snatched them up and spun around to face the believers, who were amazingly calm in the face of such a situation. Just as he suspected! Not only adults were present - that was bad enough! But children! They were polluting the minds of Soviet children with this garbage of Christianity!
His eyes locked on Gennady and a few other leaders and narrowed menacingly. "Do you have any idea what a crime this is that you are blatantly committing?" His voice was hard. Calling out the names of the church leaders, he proclaimed triumphantly, "I place you under arrest!" Turning to the rest of the congregation, he said, "You may leave after my agent has taken down your names. You will be watched."
Gennady quietly observed that one lady, who had just begun to attend the services, was especially quick to slip out of the service. The officers on guard did not stop her, and looking through the window, Gennady observed her speaking in hushed tones to other officers outside. It was confirmed later that she was, indeed, an informer. She had helped betray them all.
As the agent continued to write down names, the officer in charge picked up another Bible, looking at it thoughtfully. It was illegal to print Bibles in the Soviet Union, or to bring them in from other countries. For these believers, this Bible was a priceless treasure. Suddenly, with a strange movement, he dropped it, or, it seemed, rather threw it to the floor! Pastor Gennady took one look at the precious Book that now lay on the dusty floor, and without thinking, knelt calmly to pick it up. At the same instant, the officer quickly reached down and bumped roughly into Gennady. Having done so, the officer flew back with a startled cry, as if he had been struck! His voice was shrill, "Did you see that! Did you see Him hit me as I reached for the Bible? This man attacked me!"
As the other agents nodded in stern agreement, Gennady and the others reeled with astonishment! He had done no such thing! They had been set-up! They had been betrayed! And now, they would pay the consequences of obedience to God rather than to man. Like sheep in the midst of wolves, they would be at the mercy of those who hated them without cause.
Soon afterward, Gennady was taken away from his wife, Nadya, and his young children, and after a mockery of a trial, sentenced to three years in Soviet prison. Others, too, would go to prison, and still others would go into hiding.
They had gathered on that day, in that simple room where I now sat, to honor the Lord Jesus Christ. And a servant is not above His Master. Their Lord had been set-up. He had been betrayed. Like a lamb before it's shearers is dumb, He had opened not His mouth when He was unmercifully abused by those who hated Him.
As I listened to the steady ticking of the clock in that hallowed room on that typical, Ukrainian, Sunday afternoon, I thought of the possibility that I, too, might pay a price someday for the privilege of following Christ. Perhaps an even greater price than those gathered in this very room had paid years ago. We can never be sure. But if we have eternal life in Christ Jesus, of one thing we are sure: The reward is worth the sacrifice!"
"Well done, thou good and faithful servant! Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord!"