The wise author of Ecclesiastes wrote: “All the rivers flow into the sea, Yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, There they flow again.” (Ecc. 1:7)
Such is our life. It does not just stand still. Some depart for eternity. Others come and take their place and continue their affairs so that they can give place to still others.
After 3 months, I married a Christian widow, Vera Dmitrievna Shiyanova, who had 2 grown sons. Her elder son was named Volodya and her younger Vitaly. The man who married us was our brother in Christ, Nikolay Gavrilov, who worked with me in the same work brigade in the furniture factory. Our wedding took place at home. Soon we moved into the house of my new life, and my home was left as a gift for my son Sergey. We gave the dacha to my younger daughter Tatyana.
Soon my younger daughter Tanya married a young man named Volodya Gerhardt, also a German by ethnicity and a Christian. Both sons of my wife were also married.
Soon thereafter began the emigration of Russian Germans to their historic homeland, namely Germany. Nikolay and my daughter Galina were the first to leave, and then Tanya and Volodya followed.
The day my wife and I said goodbye to our dear grandchildren at the beehives near the banks of the Syr-Darya River was unforgettable. They came to spend some time with their grandmother and grandfather. During the day we all swam in the warm water of the canal. At night we drank tea with sweet honey. When the mosquitoes began to bite us, we burned smoke. All of us crawled on the roof of the bee hive structure and sat on blankets and pillows. We sang hymns accompanied by mandolin from which I never separated even at the beehives. My older grandson Yura played the accordion.
The sun slowly set behind the river. The silence was so thorough that not one bird in the trees did not chirp. Even the mosquitoes became quiet. This evening even in this distant place was a setting for the farewell sounds of hymns. When Yura played “The Raspberry Chime of December” on the accordion, we all cried. Then we were silent for a while. Who knew the next time we would be able to see our dear children and grandchildren? Where would we ourselves be living? What had fate prepared for us?
It was as if the world went insane. Russian people started to bother everyone. For so many years, different nationalities lived in peace with one another, but suddenly ethnic tensions arose. Refugees appeared. Peaceful life ceased to exist. Everyone began to leave. Some departed for Israel, others to Germany, Greece, America, or Russia. But God was merciful to us, and He had His own plans in relation to us.
Exactly one year later, we received a guest visa to visit Germany. We took advantage of the opportunity and visited Germany. We saw our daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren.
During the 3 months spent in Germany, we came to know a lot about the people of this country and their wise policies thanks to which the German people ended up as one of the most advanced and wealthiest economies.
Our children received such benefits that provided for all their needs in the beginning. Words would not suffice for me to describe the life of the people of this country. You have to be there yourself and see it with your own eyes. Goods and food in the stores were in complete abundance. We were very pleased that at least our children and grandchildren could live like normal human beings.
Since we had nothing else to do, my wife and I did a little bit of work for an old German lady by taking care of her garden and flowers. My daughter and son-in-law categorically opposed our work, but we persuaded them. At the same time, my son Sergey and his wife Vera also came to visit us in Germany.
We took it for granted that all Germans were considered Fascists. Yes, during the time of war with Germany many atrocities were committed. But the German people were not to blame, but rather individual Germans like Hitler and others. Was Stalin really better than Hitler? We simply were unaware of all the barbarities committed by Stalin and those like him. Only in recent years did the world learn of those atrocities committed by him, not only against enemies, but also against his own people. We only found about them during the years of glasnost.
While we were in Germany, we visited a park in the town of Verden. This park was surrounded by a large parkway. On each side of the way stood large rocks of rubble directly across one from another. We asked my son-in-law what they meant. He answered that these rocks were placed in remembrance of those people who in 1941 refused orders to murder people and for which Hitler ordered them to be shot. So one cannot categorically put blame on the German people as a whole. While we were in Germany, we never saw one drunken bum. In the city of Bremen we saw only one poor guy who receives 10 marks a day from the German government, as they explained to us, so that he would not die of hunger. I would remember this trip for the rest of my life.
We returned home in foreign-made cars loaded to the ceiling with goods and produce. We went home via Poland, Belarus, and Russia. We spent 7 days on the road. It was an amazing trip.
When we traveled along the endless expanses of our former indestructible Union, we observed the wide gap in standards of living and human relationships one to another. We were quite sad for our country which had such vast wealth, but lacked a wise leader who went to extremes and about whom it is shameful to mention. Was it really so impossible for our peoples to live how they deserved?
For a second time, my wife and I with her sons visited Germany. This time, our goal was to help our daughters who had bought land and took a 25-year mortgage from the government to begin construction.
We spent 3 months in the winter which passed by as if they were only 3 days. Construction in Germany was a pleasure. They do not pour burned bricks out of dump trucks, turning them into a pile of trash from which they put up walls. In Germany they prefabricate everything from basic material to universal molds. Prices for building materials appeared awfully expensive to us. But for them, they were completely affordable. While we built, we never lacked food, clothing, or materials.
Maybe our people someday will live this way, too. May God grant that opportunity! And God desires this, for God all people are His children. And there is peace, abundance, and prosperity. But wherever they do not accept him, where they blaspheme His Name is no peace and utter chaos.
One example of this is our own country that has suffered so much. 70 years ago, the rulers of our land proclaimed to the whole world that we would live without God somehow. The success of such a policy – we and you are witnesses of that.
In the spring we returned home once again in cars, but road conditions were not as good as before. These conditions can be compared with the time in Russia during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. There were bandits who robbed merchants and traders on the roads and fled to villages and the countryside. And there was no way to save yourself from them.
Something like this took hold on the roads starting in Poland and in all the former Soviet republics. Organized crime in the form of all varieties of crime rackets armed to the teeth with modern weapons, machine guns, and pistols controlled the roads. Neither governments nor police forces were up to the task in fighting these crime gangs. Yes, and the police needed something to live off of. You could not avoid stopping at a police checkpoint without giving them either Deutschemarks or goods or at least a can of beer or a piece of chocolate. Passing through Moscow, one policeman stopped us. When he saw that we had nothing much of value, he told us, “Well, at least give me a piece of gum!”
Many of our friends who visited Germany and returned back home suffered raids from gangsters. We also encountered them. To spend the night on the road, we gathered into a group of 5 or 6 cars for safety and spent the night at a police guard post or near towns at gas stations. These were the conditions under which we returned this time from Germany. As we left, we asked the church to pray fervently that God would protect us on the road. God heard the prayers of his people and sent protection.
We spent 10 long days on the road and endured many difficulties because of poor weather conditions. March is the most capricious month, and we had to traverse snow banks and ice. We had to repair technical damage in temperatures of -30-35 degrees Celsius. On the eleventh day, we finally make it home in one piece. The prayers of the church and our children were heard. We bowed our knees and thanked God for His protection and love for us.
Life in Kazakhstan became very difficult. In the city of Chimkent, there used to be 11 factories. All of them closed down. There was rampant unemployment. There was neither electricity nor gas for heating homes. People in multi-story, concrete buildings particularly suffered. The darkness of poor people, both adults and children, appeared. A great number of thefts and murders rose. It was not safe to go outside at night.
Then trading grew like never before. Instead of 2 bazaars like before, the number of bazaars in the city grew to 44! Long fall evenings dragged on under kerosene lamps and candles.
And once again, our children in Germany invited us to sit out the difficult winter in Germany and paid for our tickets. We agreed.
We traveled by train up to Alma-Aty and saw the following picture: in the past on both sides of the railroad grew forests full of fruit and decorative trees. Now instead of trees protruded small, short stumps. Yes, those people also came and chopped them down. There was nothing to heat their homes with, and it brought in people from cities and villages to come and chop down trees.
From Alma-Aty we flew to Germany by plane, and thanks to our children, we spent the winter in warmth.
We safely flew back home in the spring, excluding some difficulties caused by a lack of fuel for the planes.
At home we learned that my wife’s sons Vitaly and Volodya obtained visas for America. The parents of our daughters-in-law already had already immigrated to that country.
My son Seryozha moved to the city of Kaliningrad where he was needed as a choir director by a church there. My wife and I decided to travel with our son there in order to help him get established. In Kaliningrad I managed to locate a parcel of land, and my son decided to build his house. We liked Kaliningrad so much that I found yet another piece of land, and we also decided to move to this place and began with great enthusiasm to build our future nest.
With great difficulty we acquired the needed amount of molten brick. We hired a truck driver who for big money brought to our land bricks and dumped them on the ground. Half of the bricks turned into waste. For several days, my wife and I gathered bricks in order to wrap them in cellophane and protect them from rain and snow. We lived in the apartment of one Christian widow who out of the kindness of her heart did not accept from us any rent for the apartment. Our land was located 7 kilometers from the city, and we traveled there by train.
One day early in the morning on the first train, we went to the land in order to finish packing up the bricks. When we came to our land, through the morning sunrise we saw the running figure of a man with a white sack on his back. He ran from our piles of laid bricks and ran on the gray autumn field toward a ravine behind which were dacha houses. I realized that he stole our bricks, and apparently, not the first time.
I chased after him, but since he knew the area well, he went down into a stream bed, crossed the stream on a bridge, and hid himself. When I ran up to the edge of the stream bed, he already stood on top of his house and looked in my direction. Well, if you are not caught, then you must not be a thief! But I was utterly convinced when in the evening all the dacha visitors had left and I passed by his house. Through the glass in the window I saw in his room white bricks covered by a cloth. When I returned in the morning to our land, then we were missing 12 bricks. The next morning, once again we were missing 12 bricks. That day, we finished gathering the bricks and covered them well with old cellophane. On top I fastened a wooden board and wrote in big letters, “Take, go ahead, but understand that God all the same will punish you.”
For the winter my wife and I went back to Chimkent in order to return again in the spring. We sold our car and used the sales proceeds to shuttle back and forth between Chimkent and Kaliningrad, buy building materials, and feed ourselves.
In the winter time I actively participated in the construction of the church in Chimkent. The construction was in full swing. At the church they organized a kitchen and eating area. All the builders, young, old, and children, ate once a day. My wife worked in the kitchen and helped the cooks. Everyone worked ferociously without any pay. If someone could not help in the building, he or she baked bread, biscuits, cakes, and brought them to the work site. Many brought fruit, vegetables, and flowers. There was an overall atmosphere of excitement.
In this manner, for 3 years, exclusively using our own means, the Christians built out a wonderful church building. It was so professional that city officials came and gave a good evaluation of the quality of the construction. My wife and I could not attend the christening of the church building, but I wrote a little poem, which I present below, called “Construction of the Chimkent House of Prayer”:
- On one of the streets of old Chimkent
Stood an ancient, clay construction
Not of brick, and not of cement,
But covered simply with bulrushes.
- In it on weekends on their way
Christians, who on the earth dwell,
Here in quiet they did pray,
Sang hymns as well.
- Windows closed with blinds
From rocks and mockery
Lamps burned at nights
So all the people one could see
- After persecution it was a difficult time
After prisons, camps, and dungeons,
But… winter passed and the spring’s light
Warmed fathers, mothers, and children.
- God pronounced, “If something I close,
Then no one can that door open,
If the door of freedom I open,
Even the devil lacks power to close.”
- Encouraged by the Lord’s voice of thunder,
The house of prayer filled with people by occupation,
Suffering from spiritual hunger,
They came to accept the gift of salvation.
- And already those walls could not contain
All the sinners who came forward and repented
And then they thought and ascertained
And to this conclusion they assented
- To wreck the old house – and a new
Bright one out of glass and brick
To build. Time passed, and it grew
To stand. Where a hut could not stick.
- We fly like wind over Chimkent
We circle over all its bounds
And so many fine homes were sent
But others like our house cannot be found.
- “House of Prayer” on the sign they did write,
Everyone can enter for free.
God to Himself does invite,
All who wish salvation to see.
- Here Christians slaved
Voluntarily whoever could do so was here
Strength and means they gave
All who to God were dear.
- And now the house is filled with saved souls
Hurry, friend, and don’t be late
To the temple of saved, revived ones who are holy
To His feet hurry, don’t wait.
- Run while the time is not yet done
While Heaven still pours out grace and does not desist,
While the Holy seed is still being sown,
Soon the time will come to gather the harvest.
- Because God will close
The door to Heaven through which anyone can come
And which no one will later be able to loose
Life or death – look and choose to come!
In the spring, we returned to Kaliningrad to continue the construction of our home. Coming to our land, we saw that our bricks were untouched. The sign on the board remained in place. I do not know, but I am certain that God intervened for us. Apparently, the thief read the sign, and his conscience spoke to him. In the past, I saw him every day at the train station stop, but this spring and summer, we no longer saw him. Pity the man, if God did punish him for his sin.
During this season, my wife and I as a twosome poured the foundation, built up the walls, and covered them with cellophane. Inside we laid fabricated window frames and doors. We installed windows and doors. Then we prayed and departed for the winter to Chimkent.
Now we visited a brand new church building. Despite that massive emigration from our country had begun, our church was not empty. People came and repented. Soon when we exited the church after the worship service, we already had challenges in finding familiar faces.
And so approached the third and final summer of our construction in Kaliningrad. That summer we nearly finished building our home and moved into one room to live. During that summer, my wife and I dug a deep well. I dug the well from within, while my wife dragged away a bucket with water and dirt. We worked hard so that her sons would move to Kaliningrad. But God had other plans for us.
During our 3 seasons in Kaliningrad, we became acquainted with a young family of Christian believers. A friend and I often traveled to visit small churches in the towns of Sovetsk and Bagrationovsk, 120 kilometers away. My friend was also called Viktor Aleksandrovich like me, only with a different last name. His wife was named Tonya. God’s love brought us close, and we were nearly inseparable. In our free time we also participated in the early construction phase of the church building in Kaliningrad.
My friend told me how he came to God. His father was a drunk. He cooked up homemade alcohol and got drunk with his son until they passed out. One time after getting drunk, they closed the gutter in the oven and overheated. His father died, and Viktor barely managed to crawl out to a house next door to some neighbors. They helped him come out of it. When he met Tonya, who was already a Christian, he repented. They had one daughter and lived well. When we traveled to go on visits, we loved to sing.
By the fall, my wife fell seriously ill as a consequence of working hard at construction and digging a well. During this time, my wife’s sons returned from Germany through Kaliningrad to our house. Seeing their sick mother, they told me to urgently take her back to Chimkent. I had to put the house up for sale and urgently flew out to Chimkent. We asked the church in Kaliningrad to pray for us.
We also asked the church in Chimkent to pray for my ill wife. The prayers of the church, children, and grandchildren were heard, and God sent recovery to my wife. This would be the final summer we spent in Chimkent.
My sister Pasha went to America. My sister Anya with whom I lived in Karlag had died. Soon Volodya, the older son of my wife, departed with his family for America. Finally, our call to America came. We went to Moscow to the meeting at the US Embassy and received “Refugee” status. We quickly sold our things, did not bargain over our house, and gave everything else to our neighbors. We bid farewell to the church with our whole family, our children and grandchildren. We embarked on their long journey. Farewell Kazakhstan! Farewell my second motherland, where I had lived for 62 years. And greetings to American the land of the free, about which I read and heard many good things. What awaited us there? Only God knew.