Ukraine | September 6

From Cigarettes to Castles, Part 1

Ruslan

I grew up in a non-religious home in Ukraine. My father told me that in the year 2000 the world was going to end. As a child, I believed him, and was certain there was no hope for the future. 

I have two older sisters, and since my parents seemed to always be giving more attention to them, I felt free to do whatever I wanted to do. From a young age I was constantly smoking, drinking, and trying different drugs. Life for my parents became very hard, as I started stealing within the family as well as outside our home. My parents became deeply concerned. 

When I was away for military service, an evangelistic series being run by Adventists came to Krasiliv, Ukraine. My father was baptized in 1994. 

When I returned home, I started living a wild life even more intensely than before. My mother became so ill with rheumatoid arthritis that she became an invalid. On top of this, my parents’ lives became a nightmare because of me. 

My father asked the church to pray. They would fast and pray. I could even hear my mother, who wasn’t a church member, praying for me in another room. Since the church didn’t have a place of their own, they would often gather in my house. During the service I would leave. 

But little by little, my interest was awakened. And after some time these people were no longer afraid of me, and they started talking to me. Then a group of young people—literature evangelists (LEs)—were invited to our city to distribute Christian books. My father invited me to come see these visiting young people. There were hardly any young people in my father’s church.

I had the concept that only old or crippled people who didn’t have any purpose came to church. Besides, the New Year’s holidays were coming up, so for nearly a month I was drunk. But afterward, I felt some sort of emptiness within my heart.

So, with my father’s invitation, I decided to check these young people out. I imagined that they would be crippled,  mentally crippled or lacking something. But when I saw them, I saw nice, strong, healthy-looking young people who were smiling and happy. I saw happiness in their eyes. I saw cleanliness of speech; they were not cursing. Suddenly I realized—it isn’t them who are not fitting in, it’s me.

I could clearly see two groups of young people in my mind: one group included my old friends who were always cursing, drinking, smoking. And then I saw another group who were pure and honest, who did not curse or swear, who didn’t drink. I could say only positive things about them.

The LEs even invited me to distribute literature with them, although I had cigarettes in my pocket! They teamed me up with a responsible man, and when we went door to door, I sometimes walked away to smoke, and wouldn’t open my mouth because I didn’t want anyone to smell the cigarettes. But even though I didn’t say anything, I could still be a silent prayer partner.

I started coming to church every Sabbath. Sometimes my new friends invited me to youth meetings in other cities, and as my vision broadened, the warped picture I’d had in my mind earlier was completely destroyed. 

One day at church I heard the invitation for an upcoming baptism. Whoever wished to be baptized were given sheets to fill out, including a review of the church’s fundamental beliefs.

This whole experience happened very rapidly—in less than two months. With cigarette in hand, I began filling out the baptismal request form. As I continued reading, I came to the point about abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs. I couldn’t figure out how I was going to quit. Although I had left my old group of friends, they would still come and invite me to go with them. But I firmly decided that I wasn’t going to go there

So in February of 1997 I was baptized. While I was able to stop drinking right away, I still struggled with tobacco. I tried everything to quit smoking—down to one cigarette a day, eating candies, chewing gum . . . but nothing worked. Finally I prayed honestly to God, asking Him, “Lord, please take it away from me.” And in a miraculous way He did. 

My aunt, who lives in another village, invited me to come help her around the house for a week. There was only one store in her village where one could purchase cigarettes, and it was not close. When I arrived, I told my aunt that I was now a Christian and was no longer the person I used to be. But she didn’t know I still struggled with smoking. Every day she gave me work to do. Four days passed without cigarettes. The fifth day I came back home, and hadn’t smoked a cigarette in five days. When looking back, I can see that being at my aunt’s was like being at a rehab center. I was amazed at God’s wisdom and how He had found a way for me to quit smoking.

To be continued next week.

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