Ever wonder how God broke through the iron grip of the Soviet Union to plant His churches all over the former communist world? It happened through brave souls who heard his call and obeyed when there were few assurances. Nestle up with the story of pioneer apostolic workers Yuriy and Olga Drozhzhin and find out what it was like during those days when the world was changing monumentally.
Brought together in the Soviet Union
When we were first married, we knew beyond a doubt that God desired for both of us to expand His Kingdom and to bring Him glory! God took us from different places, united us in marriage in 1979, and worked hard on us to make one from two of us. Praise God, now we are a really good, mobile team. We were both born in the Soviet Union into Christian families far away from each other. Yuriy was born in the Black Sea area and I was born near the Baltic Sea, in Kaliningrad.
The church at the time of Soviet Union was an underground church. Christians were not permitted to worship openly. Christians didn’t have the freedom to assemble for prayer or Bible study and were punished by fines or arrested when a few of them would get together for prayer. Many Christians were sent to prisons and isolated from their families for many years.
Yuriy’s father was sent to prison in 1969 for three years; Yuriy was about 14 years old and had four siblings between the ages of 2 and 15. My parents were able to avoid prison. My father had an opportunity to choose one of two options: to be sent to prison and be isolated from his family for unknown number of years or to move with his family 4,000 miles away to Siberia “by his own will”. In 1962, my parents moved to the Krasnoyarsk region, Siberia, with three children under 4 years old, me being the oldest. Many other Christian families were sent to Siberia “by their own will” (or without any will). Some of them were able to bring their belongings and start farms from scratch.
Later, in 1978, Yuriy came to Siberia to visit his Christian relatives and to make some money. At that time, Yuriy and I met each other for the first time. We fell in love and got married the following year.
Is that you calling us, God?
Both Yuriy and I loved to study the Bible together: the two of us could talk and talk on Bible verses. Yuriy was involved with a youth ministry. He would pray for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and healing. Many people were filled by the Holy Spirit and many were healed. During the Sunday Church services, he was asked to share a testimony or a short sermon. God’s Word started to speak to our hearts about going and doing His work (the last chapter of the Gospel of Mathew).
At that time, the church in the Soviet Union wasn’t active in mission’s work at all. The idea of mission’s work was completely foreign to the church. Only close Christian friends and relatives gathered together for worship. Due to the long time of religious persecution in the country, no one from outside the church would get invited to a church service. Christians were concerned that anyone from the outside could be a spy or a betrayer. The majority of Christians didn’t have any Bible education (especially those who lived far away from Moscow as we did). The only Christian Bible School was in Moscow, and the number of students was very limited.
In the 1980s the Holy Spirit set our hearts on fire to “go” and make disciples.
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.” (Matthew 20:20)
But where should we go? And when should we go? Who should send us and pray prayers of blessing over us? As for today, we know how it should work. But at that time, the elders of many churches didn’t have the desire to send people to spread the Gospel in other places where no Christians lived. The Christians just wanted to survive. As a Christian community under communist rule for about 70 years, they didn’t want to speak about Jesus with unbelievers. Unfortunately, it was the only model of a Christian’s life we could see. But God wanted to do something new and was looking for those who will be willing to do things differently.
During the next few years, Yuriy spoke several times at Sunday church services on the last command of Jesus in Mat. 28:18-20, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”, but nobody, including us, knew exactly how to make disciples or where to go.
On one hand, deep in our hearts, we understood that we should go to the places where no other Christians live. On the other hand, our elders taught that Christians would backslide very easily without Christian fellowship. So, they advised us to go to a small place where at least a few Christians were praying for God to send a leader or a pastor to their place. The elders could see blessings and anointing on Yuriy in our church and in other churches and they didn’t want us to get lost somewhere without the church.
We had a dilemma: we knew for sure that we should obey God and our elders at the same time and we couldn’t go anywhere without the blessing of God through the elders of our church. “You are not the Apostle Paul,” they said, “and please do not pretend that you have an Apostolic anointing to plant new churches.”
Now we knew that God could make a way where it looks like there is no way. Our father God is a great Creator and He is the best One to go to with all of our needs and problems. He is able to send the right person your way and all the puzzle pieces become a beautiful picture!
Bishop Simeon Trusov visited our church. Elders in our church respected him for his heart for God and wisdom. Any concern or problem could be discussed with him. The elders of the church told him about the youth minister who was dreaming about going to different locations and planting churches in places where there were no Christians at all. They worried about our future and were not so sure about making disciples from unbelievers.
From their point of view, they wanted to stop us, because being far away from the church it would be more likely for us to become unbelievers than for us to convert unbelievers. Our reverend brother Simeon visited us and prayed with us. He said, the elders asked me to talk to you because they have concern about your future. He didn’t ask us where or when we are going. We didn’t know those answers any way. He just prayed with us and listened God‘s will with his open heart. We remember what he said to us after that short prayer:
“Sure, you have a special call and anointing on your lives. I will tell the elders that God is truly sending you to new places and your church will bless you. Please do not expect that good results will come easily or quickly. Keep in mind this will be difficult work, a long journey and this will be a really hard time for you, but trust in God and don’t give up! Do not stop and God will bless you and expand your ministry.”
Finally, we received confirmation and were excited about a new work for the Kingdom of God. God chose us! God sent us! Sure, we will go! We were not afraid of meeting any difficulties on our way. At that time, we just couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be for us.
On our way — but to where?
Bishop Simeon talked to the elders. Consequently, our church prayed for us and blessed us to go, but we still didn’t know where we should go. We prayed and expected to receive a specific place but we only got a compass direction – Northeast. On our map, we tried to find a city north east from the city we lived in. We were in Abraham’s shoes at that moment. We could understand Abraham’s thoughts in Gen 12:1:
“The Lord had said to Abram, “Go to the land that I will show you… I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be blessing to others.” (Genesis 12:1)
Where? Go first and then I will show you the land and I will bless you. Where? Stop asking and start moving! To Where?
We had to make our first step of faith in obedience to God and stop asking questions regarding our new place. We decided to take a few days of vacation and go by train about 1000 miles Northeast. Our train arrived in Ust-Kut city around 3 o’clock in the morning. As soon as our feet touched the ground on the train station, both of us said, “This is it!”. We didn’t see the city yet but something in our hearts told us that we were in the right place. The next day God blessed us with a job for Yuriy. During the summer of 1987 we moved to our new place in Ust-Kut city, Siberia. Praise God we could make that first step of faith and He blessed us!
Later, people asked us:
- How could you move so far away from your comfort zone to a city where you had no friends at all?
- How could you survive with your three little children without any financial support?
- What could you do in the city if you were the only Christian family there?
Our answer for many questions like these was, “We obeyed our God and He blessed us.”
To be pioneers was not easy at all, but with His help and guidance we accomplished our task. Please do not do the same thing just because we did it that way! It’s really hard to survive! But if you know for sure that God calls you to do something for Him, trust Him completely and make the first step of faith! After the first step of faith will come other steps of faith but your destiny always starts with that first step. If you feel a call of God on your life but are doing nothing, you will never be satisfied in your life.
“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” (2 Peter 1:10)
We moved to our first ‘assignment’ town to plant a church when our kids were 7, 5 and 4 years old. In the beginning, we were happy with our new jobs and new room to stay in (a single room about 200 sq. ft. for our family of 5 people)and a two-room (not two bedroom) flat about 600 sq. ft. altogether, 6 months later. We tried to make new friends at our work places and invite them to get together, but the people were only interested in getting together to drink wine and vodka; spiritual questions were not on their mind.
Our old friends were a thousand miles away from us. Even though many of them said that they would come and visit us, their lives got busy and the visits never happened. Once in a while, we would travel two days on a train to meet with fellow believers. Every time, their very first questions would be: “How is your church going? Where is your Halleluiah?” We didn’t have a church yet and our Halleluiah was getting weaker and weaker. We learned the hard way not to rely on our friends. Many times, we cried out to God for His help. God Himself was our everything in those years (and still is now). It was hard to plant a church even though we had been sent to do this!
Our daughter’s recollections: “The move to Ust-Kut was not difficult for me and my brother and sister, since we were too young to miss our friends too much. But we had another challenge facing us being the only Christian kids in town – the expectations for our behavior were very high. We were expected to act properly, be responsible, and never cause problems. If one of us did anything worth talking about, it was talked about by all the neighbors. So when my brother set our basement on fire trying to test how flammable the fiberglass was, everybody knew what God’s kids were up to!”
About 2 years later, we decided to invite people to the local library and try a Bible study for the first time. We labeled our class, “The Bible and the Life Club.” A few people came. People blamed God for everything that was going wrong around the world. We tried hard to present the Bible despite so many political discussions. Little by little, different questions about life occurred. We have had to re-evaluate the traditions that we came with from our church and decide what was important to teach in our new church and why. We have had to search what the Bible said in order to answer numerous questions that people had.
About three years after we moved to Ust-Kut we had a small group gathering in our two-room flat. We celebrated a first conversion and a first baptism. Also, every Sunday we ran a Sunday school for children and some of their parents became interested in the Bible lessons. It was fun and a great opportunity for the families to get together. Once in a while we had a game for parents and children, and guess who knew the Bible stories better?
In 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart and freedom came. At that time our town started launching its own new television channel, and Yuriy had the opportunity every other week to preach on TV, reaching many in our town. Eventually, the gathering moved to a rented room a little bigger, and then as the church grew to over 120 members, to a town’s theater.
Satan did not like the work we were doing and tried to take the opportunities to discourage our work by hurting where it hurts the most – our children. When Yuriy went to Bratsk city (nearest church – 250 miles!) to bring a Christian choir for a crusade in our city, our 8 years old daughter was in a car accident and was rushed to the hospital. A few years later, Yuriy organized everything to bring the Jesus Film to a small town, and another daughter broke her arm. Later our family moved to that town and planted a second church there. All the time when we expanded our territory, the devil tried to scare us and stop us. We did not know much at that time about spiritual warfare but learned as we went. And the Holy Spirit taught us many things about how to pray and how to resist the evil one. Later when we had access to international, Christian books, we were surprised to find out that God taught the authors the exact things he was teaching us, even though we had been far away in Siberia! With Him we were able to plant a church in spite of Satan’s attacks.
Miracles and Passing the Baton
We trained disciples and they became good leaders. In 1994, just 3 years after becoming a Christian, our first baptized person moved as a missionary to plant a new church in Ust-Ilimsk city! He had a heart for people addicted to drugs and alcohol and later on he started 10 rehab centers to help these people. Those rehab centers continue to operate to this today! In the same year, our church organized our first conference and hosted about 40 people from different churches. The main theme of the conference was worship. We wanted to share this because we found how important it was for us.
When we shared God’s word, signs and miracles followed us. We prayed for the needs of many people and they were healed and set free. We remember one seven-year-old girl having a speech problem. After a short prayer she started to speak right away trying to catch up what she missed for seven years! God is great!
One amazing miracle that we have witnessed is definitely worth sharing – God brought a dead person back to life! Oleg was working in the forest taking down trees. One of the trees fell right on his head. He fell and started to turn blue. At the hospital the doctors said that he was dead. His wife was there with him; she cried out to God to resurrect him and he started to breathe. The doctors performed several surgeries and said he would become handicap for the rest of his life with permanent brain damage (his brain was without oxygen for too long). We prayed for him at our church and God did an amazing thing, not only brought him back to life, but healed his brain damage! Oleg is healthy and serving the Lord today, sharing his testimony.
Other great testimonies came from the prison camp. The Lord opened the door for ministry to those who were in the prison for many years (most of them were repeat offenders). Many of the prisoners accepted Jesus and experienced a changed life; most of them never went back to the old life style again. Some of them became good Christian leaders and some are serving in prison ministry. One of the former murders accepted Jesus in the prison through Yuriy’s ministry and became a pastor for others in prison. A few years later, he was released from prison and got married. Since that time, he followed Jesus and is serving God with all of his heart as a Pastor in another church.
In 1997, we started a children’s camp on beautiful Lake Baikal (the deepest lake in the world that contains around 20% of the world’s fresh water). Every year 40-100 children participate in Christian teaching and enjoying the outdoors for 2 weeks. That camp works well for evangelism, we capped a balance – around 70% non-Christian and 30% Christian children. The majority of the kids who attend have an opportunity to hear about Jesus for the very first time. Many of them accept Jesus. We have a special story about Anna. She came to our camp from a broken family (her parents got divorced and lived far away from each other). At the camp, Anna could feel the love from our staff. The Bible stories and the name of Jesus were absolutely new for her. The girl could feel Jesus’ love for the first time. She became a good friend with our three children. Later, in 2005 Anna and our son got married. They love Jesus very much and serving as a missionaries in Siberia. Our two daughters are happily married, too. God blessed us and our children. All of them are involved in ministry in one way or another. So far, we are blessed with eight grandchildren.
This is the only beginning of our missionary work. Now we have the privilege to go to other countries! We have already ministered around the world: Russia, United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, India, and the United States of America.
“Go and make disciples” is still a command from the Lord for today! And Jesus gave this command for each of us! God wants to do something new today! Just trust in Him and go. He will bless you there!
May God bless you!
Yuriy and Olga Drozhzhin