By Mark Ellis —
Viktor* once smuggled illegal drugs from Tajikistan to the state where he lives in Central Asia.
“He seemed to have natural abilities to covertly network across communities,” according to a report by Open Doors. He was so good he was offered the opportunity to smuggle drugs across the Afghanistan border, which would expand his illicit operation into three countries.
But in 1996, Viktor was caught with nine pounds of heroin and sent to jail.
Once incarcerated, he became depressed and suicidal. “I felt empty inside and did not want to live anymore. I did not know how long I would be in jail,” he told Open Doors.
One day Viktor’s cellmate received a package from his mother that contained the Gospel of John. The cellmate offered to let Viktor read it.
Viktor didn’t want any part of the book at first. But after 10 nights of poor sleep, he picked up the book and began to peruse it.
It didn’t make any sense to him. “Words like ‘the Word was first and the Word was God’ made no sense to me,” he recounted. “What did it mean? I put it away and stopped reading.”
But then something unusual happened. He had more sleepless nights. Thoroughly exhausted and despairing, he picked up the Bible once more and this time, he couldn’t stop reading.
“I read about eternal life.” Viktor told Open Doors. “Reading about eternal life caught my attention. Thinking about it, I really desired eternal life even more than I desired to be released from jail.”
The more he read the Bible the more he felt God’s presence. He didn’t know how to pray, but he called out to Jesus.
“I am not sure that you exist,” he said aloud, “but I want eternal life and I want to be born again.”
Touched by the power of God’s Word and moved by the Spirit, God answered his prayer and Viktor was reborn with new life from above.
He continued to read his Bible as God nurtured his growth as a new believer.
Other prisoners offered to smuggle Viktor a package of drugs, but he surprised them by refusing. “Looking at the drugs, I knew that they would drive me insane. ‘This is death!’ he told them. I made the decision to choose life and sent the drugs back.”
Shortly after this, Viktor received terrible news from prison doctors. He was diagnosed with a disease and told he had 18 months to live.
But the news didn’t have a devastating impact on him. He felt God’s peace and had an assurance about Heaven. He continued to radiate joy in a manner that confounded his fellow inmates. He continued to pray and grow in God’s Word.
The disease didn’t seem to get any worse, so Viktor joined other inmates in launching a church within the confines of the prison.
“They began gathering in small groups, playing instruments, and praying. Viktor even tried his hand at preaching. Not too long after they began, the prison administrator came to respect Viktor and his house of prayer so much that he suggested Viktor preach over the prison’s microphone system,” according to Open Doors.
After winter arrived, Viktor braved plunging temperatures to deliver his sermons. On one particularly harsh day the administrator saw him and called out, “Do not care about the cold, you have to preach about Jesus Christ!”
Viktor attended Bible College after his release from prison. While in seminary, he worked at a rehab center helping drug addicts and ministering the Word to them.
Today, he is the pastor of an underground church in Central Asia. Viktor supports his ministry by selling blocks of salt for cows, and grain and rice for chickens, while he secretly stores Bibles and other Christian media useful for evangelism in his barn.
Where he lives, Bibles and Christian literature are illegal, according to Open Doors.
Viktor gets Bibles and Christian resources into the hands of Christians, with help from Open Doors. He seems unfazed by the risks. “We have so many secret things here,” he says. “But we operate wisely and only let trusted people in our yard. The customers come to our barn and no farther. When people come for books, we close the gate or put a car in front of it. Neighbors cannot see what we are doing. And there is no reason to come and check. The only visible activity is our animal food we sell.”
The believers congregate secretly in a rented facility, using a home-based evangelism method where they identify people who want to learn more about God and then go to their homes to teach them.
Sometimes in the evening, church members will interact with townspeople in the public square. “They can’t publicly evangelize in the streets, so they just socialize and answer questions.”
“If a lady asks about baptism, for instance, then we suggest going to her home to drink tea and talk a little further,” he told Open Doors. “We use any opportunity to enter their homes to share the gospel.”
Viktor marvels at the way God turned his life around. “Please do pray that my testimony and my life can bring many people to Christ, and pray also for my relatives,” he said.
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*name changed for security reasons