On April 8th, I had the privilege of being able to talk to Alexey Salapatov and Alexander (Sasha) Borisov, two of the young Christians who are being trained as leaders of Christian Youth International – a Soviet based organization which is training thousands of young people to reach the universities, institutes and academies of the U.S.S.R. with the gospel.
After one of the night sessions of the conference, we took the subway from the Izmailovo Hotel – near the Olympic complex in Moscow – and arrived in Red Square at about 10:30 PM. For the next two hours we walked through Red Square and the Kremlin talking about their newfound faith in Jesus Christ and their experience as young people living in the Soviet Union.
Visiting Red Square for the first time as an American was remarkable – the façade of a repressive police state is firmly ingrained there in many of the images: Lenin’s tomb, the Supreme Soviet, the museum of atheism. Ironically these buildings are recent additions standing in stark contrast to the Gothic architecture of the many Russian Orthodox churches of Czarist Russia which dot the courtyard of the Kremlin.
Communism has not been able to resist the power of Liberty which has been unleashed through the Holy Spirit. A Christian renaissance is being birthed through young people such as Sasha and Alexy. Here in the midst of the citadel of communism, we talked freely about God’s plans for their lives and the big picture of what has happened throughout the centuries in Russia – and what is to come.
FR: Tell about how you came to know the Lord, after being trained to be an atheist your whole life in communist schools?
Sasha: It was very interesting. Three years ago, I had a break in Crimea near the Black Sea. I went with my friend and we met two good, old women who were Moscow dissidents. They worked with Andrei Sakharov and published free literature. We talked with them many times.
One time they asked me: “Sasha, do you believe in God?” I answered them, “No, I don’t!” And they said, “So … you are an atheist!” It was true – I didn’t believe in God before this. I was sure that God never existed. Only nature existed – I thought – and I could only believe in nature. But the words of these women struck me in my heart. I began to think about these things for two or three months.
After two or three months, I began to believe in God. First I believed: God exists – God is all – God is nature. Then I became a Judaist, because I am a Jew and didn’t like the Russian Orthodox Church. I tried to read many Russian Orthodox philosophers, but I didn’t like them. About two years ago, I began to read the Jewish Torah. I began to read commentaries, and the Talmud. Then I studied in a Jewish seminary for almost two years.
Then one day in my hostel, I met a very good brother – now he is my brother in Jesus Christ – by the name of Oleg. He began to tell me about Jesus Christ. He told me to read the New Testament, I read it and asked him questions. But I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. I told Oleg: Jesus Christ is not my God – I have another – I believe in the One God – and so on.
But I asked Oleg one day, “Do you believe that I will accept Jesus Christ?” He answered me, “Sure! I am sure you will accept Jesus Christ because I pray for you and I believe.”
He didn’t say: I hope – he only said: I am sure. I began to see that Jesus loved me as himself. I didn’t feel that I could reject this great love, it was against my principles. So about three months ago I accepted Jesus Christ.
FR: What are some of these buildings here in Red Square?
Sasha: Over here is the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet. Here is the historical museum. There is a building that was a great supermarket.
Alexy: It was … in the last century.
Sasha: Yes, in the last century and last year there were many goods in this shop, but now it is empty. The Soviet government produced a lot of revenue from this shop in the past, but now it doesn’t produce much.
Alexy: (Pointing to Lenin’s Tomb) There is a verse in the Revelation of John, where our Lord said to the church at Pergamos: “I know that you live where the throne of Satan is.” It is a little known historical fact that in that city of Pergamos, there was a great temple – a synagogue of Satan – just like that building (pointing to Lenin’s Tomb) – only smaller. That building is a precise copy of that synagogue of Satan. It is an interesting footnote of history.
(Bells in the Kremlin Tower begin to ring at precisely 10:45 PM.)
Sasha: The changing of the guards will take place in about fifteen minutes. Over here are the main gates of the Kremlin. Gorbachev’s car leaves through these gates. Directly behind us is an interesting spot – The Florid Place – “florid” meaning red.
Alexy: This is the Russian Calvary.
Sasha: It was built in the 12th century. Many people were killed here by the Czars and their death sentences were read from this place.
FR: This has a real demonic presence to it. It reminds me of the cemetery of the Huguenots in St. Augustine, Florida, where Spanish armies came and slaughtered the French Protestants. This has that same kind of feeling to it. So, tell me what happened here? Who was killed?
Sasha: Many revolutionaries of the past , such as Ivan Bolotnikov in the 15th century, were martyred in this place. In the 17th century, Stepan Reisen, a famous Russian folk leader, and many farmers of Russia began a struggle with the Czar and Stepan Reisen was killed.
Here is the famous monument of two Russian folk leaders, Meneny and Pezarsky. In the 16th century, Polish troops marched into the Kremlin and the Polish king seized power and became the Russian Czar. Meneny and Peszrarsky led the nation in the struggle against the Polish troops and had victory.
FR: Alexy, tell us your story about how you came to Christ.
Alexy: In December of 1989, I was feeling spiritually hungry. I began to look into philosophy, and martial arts, such as karate and Kung-Fu. I also met Hare Krishnas in a subway selling books by Indian philosophers. I began to read these books, but over a period of time I felt unsatisfied. Hare Krishna teaches that you must abstain from eating meat and other foods.
(At this point, 11 P.M., the guards in front of Lenin’s tomb receive their replacements. We take a few moments to watch their goose-step march.)
Then I visited an evangelistic meeting and I saw my present pastor and church. I heard the message of the pastor – but I didn’t like his preaching – because I heard his words through the perspective of the Hindu religion. I didn’t think it was for me.
Then a friend, named Sergei, gave me an address and invited me to his church. I didn’t promise him I would come but kept it in mind. God eventually led me to this church, but my heart was hard to the preaching the second time also. I didn’t understand these people because they would laugh and jump and cry out “Praise the Lord! – Hallelujah!” I thought they were crazy. It was not my style.
When the meeting was finished, I spoke with the pastor and told him that I had read Hindu philosophy and thought that it was better than Christianity. I believed that Christ and all the other Hindu gods were the same. The pastor just said, “Peace to you – do you read the Bible?” I said “Yes.” He told me to continue reading and I would understand. He invited me to come again to the church.
When I returned home, I began to read the Bible and I discovered the parable of the old and new wine. This parable says that if you taste old wine you don’t want the new because the old wine tastes better. Then I realized this was talking about me! I had drunk old wine – the Hindu religion – in a spiritual sense, this philosophy was nothing more than pig’s food.
I realized that I must come to know Christ. I took my Hindu books and put them away. The third time I visited my church, I asked to my pastor, “Does Christ still give salvation today, or not?” He said, “Only if you want to repent!” In the middle of the third meeting the pastor said, “I know that there are people in this room today who want to repent and accept Jesus. Who are these people?” I stood up from my chair and said, “I do!”
That day was September 16th, 1990. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. That was a Saturday – the next day I was baptized in water. I became a member of that church which has many young people and I have found a lot of joy and happiness there.
FR: So you’ve been a Christian for six months and Sasha has been a Christian for three months. Do you see a lot of people your own age becoming Christians all of a sudden?
Alexy: Our church is very young. It has about one hundred people and all of them are between 16 and 24 years old. Only five people are older than me.
FR: How old are you?
Alexy: I’m seventeen.
FR: And Sasha is 21.
Sasha: Yes and my church is also very young.
FR: Why is this awakening happening now? Why not five years ago?
Sasha: Five years ago, when I studied in school, teachers would tell us many bad lies about the churches. Many KGB servicemen would visit our school and would tell us: Don’t believe in God! – Don’t visit the Church! – You must believe in communism, only in communism!
Alexy: In Lenin! In Marx! (laughs).
Sasha: Now many people are sick of Lenin and Marx. Many young people are looking for something new for their souls. Our task is to help them find Jesus Christ.
FR: In the United States we have heard much about perestroika and glasnost – the new openness. How has this affected you as young people living in the Soviet Union?
Alexy: I don’t believe in it. You see … at the beginning of perestroika many people believed. They said: “Maybe Gorbachev will help us. Maybe he knows the correct way for the government of our country.” And they believed.
But now … the rate of popularity for Gorby is very low. I know that American and Soviet television and radio have said that Gorbachev is very popular; he is a folk leader. It is not false, but it is not true. It is somewhere in the middle.
FR: At the same time, hasn’t this country opened up a lot to new ideas since perestroika?
Alexy: No. Our country only opened the door for comfortable ideas. Ideas which were comfortable to the KGB and the government.
FR: What about freedom of religion?
Alexy: I know about this only from my own experience. Our church is persecuted even now.
FR: By the KGB?
Alexy: The KGB came to members of our church, who are all young people, and asked them to testify in writing that our church is abnormal, and that our pastor is a criminal.
FR: So, is there no greater freedom?
Sasha: Gorbachev, when he visited the U.S.A., France and other countries, tried to show foreigners that their was very great freedom in the U.S.S.R. But it’s not true. We have greater freedom in comparison to the time of Brezhnev, but if I begin to compare our freedom and your freedom, there is a very great difference.
Our parliament didn’t take away the restrictive laws about immigration. If I want to leave the Soviet Union, I must take a Visa and go to many bureaucratic organizations and the KGB. If I begin to start this process in January, I would be able to leave in September … maybe.
Our government hasn’t yet given us freedom for privatization of business and economic development. They gave some freedom for the newspapers, but not for business. The government still controls 99% of industry. The government prints more money but they can’t increase production. It’s tragic.
Alexy: For example, if I want to print a newspaper, I must register it with the state department. I may do it, but then I would have many problems with paper, with printing equipment and many other problems.
Sasha: There are many shortages with goods and food. To buy meat and sausage, we must have a special card. In Leningrad, for example, this card allows us to buy only half a kilogram of meat per month. That’s not much.
And now Gorbachev has moved to the right because he cannot control the economic situation. Many leaders have left Gorbachev and have joined with Yeltsin. That’s why Schevardnadze resigned. Gorbachev visited our soon university after this. He told us a story about Schevardnadze, that when he was president of Georgia, he made some bad mistakes. Shevardnadze’s Georgian colleagues wrote Gorbachev a letter saying that they would expose him in the press, if he would stay in power. And Gorbachev claimed that this is why Schevardnadze needed to leave his post.
Alexy: Our government has changed, but it is only the peak of the mountain.