Last week, I told you about the family who escaped religious persecution eleven months ago and ended up living less than 5 minutes from my house. I met them because God stepped in.
On Friday night, we met at Chick Fil A and I was happy to see them drink sweet tea. Because you know how much that means to me. It was a little awkward at first since our hubbies were meeting for the first time and because of the language barrier. But our kids hit it off and played while we sat down to eat.
Normally, I would not like this kind of situation. But nothing about this meeting was normal.
I wish I could have recorded the conversation. I wish you could hear their beautiful Russian accents and the excitement in their voices as they shared the miracles God performed. I wish I could tell you the whole story, but it would take pages to do so. I wish I could adequately explain the impact it made on my hubby and I. We were deeply moved.
And I am sure we will never be the same.
Before I share the details of their story, you must first understand how dangerous it is to be a Christian in Uzbekistan, which is 98% Muslim. Right now, it is one of the most persecuted countries in the world. If someone is caught with two or more religious items (Bible, Christian t- shirt, pamphlet, booklet) they are fined 20 to 100 times their monthly income. If they are caught twice, they are fined 100 to 200 times or sentenced to corrective labor (prison) for up to 3 years. Christians have been fined, imprisoned, beaten for preaching about Jesus.
Here is their story (while I have their permission to share this, these are not their real names): Igor was born in Russia and maintained Russian citizenship even though he moved to Uzbekistan as a young boy. He became a Christian, after his sister viewed The Jesus Video. (When Igor said this, I started crying. I worked for The Jesus Video Project about 15 years ago). Even though it was unlawful, Igor could not hide his love for God and His Word. He began leading summer camps along with his sister’s husband in Uzbekistan. The camps were held as recreational events with the underlying purpose of spreading the Gospel.
Eleven years later, after meeting and marrying Katerina in one of these camps, Igor and his brother-in-law were planting house churches, holding camps and intensely teaching new followers of Christ with Bibles they smuggled in and literature they secretly printed.
In the height of their underground ministry, Igor was arrested and told that he must leave the country within 48 hours (Uzbekistan officials were hesitant to imprison him because he was a Russian citizen). Igor was shocked at his deportation.
He called his wife and told her to pack some things from the house they had just built. After 22 hours, the police told Igor his time was up. He hid in the mountains, but after his look-alike brother was arrested and held hostage until he reappeared, Igor decided to turn himself in. His wife and children hid in a dirty, abandoned apartment.
He was put on an airplane without any belongings, without knowing where he was heading and without his wife, toddler daughter and 15 day old son. The government knew his wife and children would follow because Igor was told they would be killed if they were seen.
(At this point in their story, I’m crying ya’ll, and breathing deeply).
The family finally reunited in Moscow and lived in a one bedroom apartment with 11 other people for a year, facing much hardship. Katerina’s papers expired and could no longer stay in Russia; she had to return to the place of her citizenship: Uzbekistan, where they faced death.
A family without a home, a family without a country.
They found safety at the United Nations as persecuted refugees and came to America, with $200 in their pocket.
For the past year, this amazing family has learned English, a new culture, and a new way of life.
But do you know where their heart is? They are working tirelessly thru the Internet and Skype to continue their ministry and disciple Christians in their heartland.
Their funding runs out at Christmas, so they are trying to raise monthly financial support so they can continue reaching others. My hubby and I feel compelled to help them get into local churches and share their unbelievable story.
God stepped into their lives and although they faced unbelievable suffering for the cause of Christ, they stood firm. I can’t help but wonder what I would do if serving Jesus cost me my life….
Please pray that their financial needs will be met so they can continue to impact Uzbekistan and other parts of the world. I’m hoping to do some kind of blog fundraiser for them in the future. (What do ya’ll think about that?)
Something Igor said moved me, “My arrest and deportation was terrible. And leaving our possessions and our family was very hard, but leaving the work, the ministry and the disciples…that is the hardest, even today.” And he said this knowing they may never see their families again.
I am in awe of their faith and passion for Jesus.
God stepped into my path to remind me what it’s all about. And He’s using this sweet family to turn me inside out.
Part 1 to this story is here.
Part 3 to this story is here.
Part 4 is here.
And you can donate to them here:
Food for the Soul:
“I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”- Psalm 16:8