231201 Sga 2023 Sga.org Stories 11 10 Social Post 1 Wordpress Preview 460x460 V1
Jan 11, 2024
Editor’s Note: The following story and images were provided by an SGA-supported pastor in Russia.

“Simple words. Ordinary people. I didn’t understand how it all worked. But then I realized that it wasn’t about the words or the people. It was about the One to Whom those simple words were addressed, the One Who heard those people, and the One Who gave me a good night’s sleep and took away my pain.”

These are the words of Dima after spending his first night at an SGA-supported Christian rehabilitation center. Dima’s way of life had led him down a very sinful path, which resulted in prison time for him. After being released, he returned to his old ways and sought out old friends. To his surprise, his old friends had been made new! Instead of offering him drugs as in the past, they offered him a new life, free from addiction. 

It was these old friends who sent Dima to the rehab center where his life would change—not without more challenges, but as Dima says, to a life full of “the best gifts God has given me.” Please continue to pray for Dima as he is ministering to others within the prison walls.  

Gifts from God—Dima’s Testimony

I was born in the city of Barnaul. My father was an example to me in many ways, including being a master of three sports, a chief engineer, and a loving husband. My mother worked her way from an ER nurse to a doctor, and she always helped other people. They were an example of a good family. However, my parents were always at work, so I was mostly left to my own devices. I tried to play sports, but at school I was a pathological, notorious loser, always on the streets, and was more interested in the lives of my so-called friends or “veterans” living in the neighborhood. As a result, at the age of only 12, I was already breaking into other people’s cars and robbing apartments. My “teachers” taught me various criminal methods of enrichment, including deceiving people, blackmail, and threats. At the same time, I also smoked cannabis, used opiates, and eventually got into hard drugs.

When I was 16 years old, another burglary resulted with me being sent to prison. In my time spent in five different prison camps over three years, I ended up becoming a blatnoy (a member of the highest of four criminal levels in Russian prisons). Unfortunately, I also ended up contracting an open form of tuberculosis. However, this did not have any impact on my character. So, after I was released, I continued to use hard drugs and learned how to break into apartments. At the time, people around me began to go to prison one after another, and together with one of my “buddies” I even went so far as to even commit armed robberies. As a result, in 2001 I was sentenced to 8 years in a maximum-security prison. Looking back, I can see that God was with me even then. By His grace, I was transferred to another prison with a lighter general regime, but I did not appreciate such a gift at that moment. I continued to use drugs, developing in myself the character of a criminal.

Six months before I was released from prison, I spoke for the first time on the phone with my future wife, Dasha. We met when I got out of prison. She got pregnant by me without knowing that I was a drug addict at the time. When she found out that I was taking heroin, we got into a big fight, and she left me. After breaking up with my wife, I felt completely devastated. In that period of my life, I began to meet my former acquaintances with whom I had previously used drugs. But this time, instead of offering me drugs, they told me about a Christian center where they had been able to overcome their drug addiction. At this center, Christians prayed for them and provided a place to sleep. At first, I thought it was all utter nonsense. But later, I began to think about it and gradually realized that I needed to change my life. I saw that, given my lifestyle, the only “alternative” to the Christian center was another imprisonment for me. It is now clear to me that the opportunity I was given was a gift from God to me.

Vyacheslav, to whom I am deeply grateful, sent me to a Christian center in the village of Sychevka, near the town of Belokurikha.  Whle there, I realized that it was impossible for me to change my life little by little. Almost from the doorstep, I was asked the question, “Do you want to change your life?” I said, “Yes.” Then I heard the following words, “From now on, you’re not smoking anymore!” That day was the first time someone prayed for me. I slept well all night and had no withdrawal symptoms. I was shocked. Simple words. Ordinary people. I didn’t understand how it all worked. But then I realized that it wasn’t about the words or the people. It was about the One to Whom those simple words were addressed, the One Who heard those people, and the One Who gave me a good night’s sleep and took away my pain. At this adaptation center, I met a group of radically changed drug addicts, including the leader, Sergei. I began to read the Bible daily, pray, and develop spiritual fellowship . . . I began learning to know God, learning to trust Him. God opened my eyes to the reality of my life. I realized somewhere on a subconscious level that I had not lived before; I had just existed. I was filled with the feeling that what was happening in my life was so right. And this is where my true journey began. But the most important thing was that my heart turned to Jesus Christ, the One Who had died in His time for me, so that now I could receive His full forgiveness for all my sins and iniquities. I believed that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead and that He would raise me up as well. At that moment, I had a desire to do something good for Him and for people. So, for a year and a half, I served God at this adaptation center, ministering to people suffering from various addictions.

Having entrusted my family life to God, I began fasting and praying for my pregnant wife, who had broken off the relationship with me and moved 435 miles away. The way God orchestrated our meeting a week later, and even prepared Dasha for repentance was a real miracle! Then our daughter was born! Those were gifts from God! I am genuinely sorry that I didn’t thank Him enough for that back then. We moved to the countryside, where I tried to earn money for my family. And now it is bitter for me to remember how I went back to a sinful life again. However, God did not abandon me. He strengthened my wife in her faith, and she supported me a lot. We found a local church and began attending it.

In 2017, at the suggestion of my pastor, I began to serve God in rehabilitation centers in Novosibirsk, helping addicts and people without a fixed place of residence. One day, a drunken man was brought to the rehabilitation center. He was swearing and fighting and was behaving inadequately. I attempted to calm him down with words, but to no avail. I tried to explain to him that he had nowhere to go at night and that we could bring him back to the street in the morning. In order to bring him to his senses, I slapped him. But he became more aggressive, so I hit him in the side with my hand. Eventually, the man calmed down and went to bed . . . but he didn’t wake up the next morning. Since I was the last person to contact him, his death was blamed on me. I ended up going to prison for almost 10 years.  

My daughter was 7 years old at the time. There were many years of imprisonment ahead of me. I didn’t understand then why God was putting me through all of that again. Inside I was really hysterical, and it was unbearably hard on my soul. And that’s when I told my wife that we need to get a divorce. I am so grateful to God for Dasha, who firmly reminded me that Christians should not divorce!

In the prison camp, I found a Christian Bible study group, which I began attending daily. Later, I became the leader of the group. God showed me that He was the One who had brought me to this place. I am currently serving my seventh year in a correctional center. I serve God by ministering to people around me. God entrusts people to me, and I tell them about His love. But most importantly, my character has finally changed. God teaches me to love evil, hateful, and rejected people. And I am grateful to God for the opportunity to serve Him in this way.

My wife and I have been together for 18 years already, and our daughter is 14 years old now. Most of my family and friends have also turned to God. And these are the best gifts God has given me.”

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