When I was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped so tightly around my neck that it was strangling me. Fortunately I was released in time to take my first breath. By the time I was 3 years old, my parents divorced, and I did not see my father again.
Life became very hard for my mother and me, and she often considered taking her own life, but she was worried about who would take care of me. Finally she made plans to send me to an orphanage and then commit suicide, but when everything was ready she couldn’t tell me what she had planned to do, so she just cried and hugged me.
A few days later the electricity to our small apartment was cut off because we couldn’t pay the bill. It was so cold, but without electricity we weren’t even able to boil water for tea. Often I went to school hungry. We lived like this for several years, but by the time I was 12 my mother renewed her resolve to commit suicide.
During this time a friend of my mother’s invited her to a concert celebrating the birth of Christ. The concert was at a Seventh-day Adventist church, and even though my mom didn’t know anything about Christ, she decided to attend. At the concert she heard for the first time the story of the birth and sacrifice of Jesus. When she returned home, my mother told me that there was a God who loves us, who wanted us to live and to be happy. As she was talking her face lit up like a torch on fire, and I could see that she wanted to live.
We wanted to learn more about this God, and especially wanted to have our own Bible—but where could we get one? Even though this was in 1998, a number of years after the fall of Communism, it still wasn’t easy to find a Bible.
Then one day my mother learned where we could buy a Bible—but it would cost almost two weeks’ wages. At that time she was working in a café, where she earned the equivalent of just two U.S. dollars per week. It was barely enough for food.
“My son,” she asked, looking straight into my eyes, “would you be willing to be hungry for two weeks, but have a Bible instead?” Without flinching I told her, “Yes.”
She bought the Bible, and as she began reading it, I noticed some changes in my mother’s behavior. She was happier. She started to punish me less and talk with me more, which, of course, made me happier too!
For several months my mom attended the Adventist church. Word spread around our neighborhood that we were joining a cult, and suddenly my friends were against me. They didn’t want to play football with me anymore—when I stepped outside, they would all go home. I tried smoking, hoping that would bring my friends back. But nothing worked—I didn’t know what to do.
One day the Adventist pastor invited us to stay with his family for a while. During worship time the pastor would pray for me, but a war was raging in my heart—to really accept Jesus as my Savior, or to be accepted by my old friends. Because this war was so strong, I would leave when he was praying for me.
As my mother studied to be baptized, she often shared with me the things she was learning—about the seventh-day Sabbath, about the Christian life, and so on, and she often prayed for me. Seeing the change in my mother, learning the Bible truths she was sharing with me, and her prayers, and that of the pastor, had a big effect on me. The following year I was baptized in the city of Kirovograd, Ukraine.
But then more trouble began. I was in secondary school, and when the principal discovered that I had joined what he called a “sect,” he called me into his office, handed me my documents, and told me to leave.
To be continued next week.