PREACHING IN PRISON
Grigory Kostiuchenko, 49, was released April 1983 from his fourth term of imprisonment. Had you been at his welcome home party, you may have heard him relate this story of how God touched the hearts of criminals in his prison cell.
Christ once said to His disciples, “If ye had known Me, ye should have known my Father also.” Troubled, Philip responded, “Lord, show us the Father it sufficeth us.” “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,” Christ answered.
How good it would be if we modern disciples of Christ could say boldly to our friends and co-workers, “Friend, do you see me?” Yes.” “Well, the one who sees me sees Christ!” When he was arrested for the fourth time for faithfulness to his Lord, he desired to witness about God and live in such a way that Christ would be seen in him. But speaking about Christ to people in prison isn ‘t easy.
The cells of the Krasnodarskaya prison were small and crowded. It was 95Â° on the street and hotter in the cell. Even the
little doors through which they passed our food were closed and there was no ventilation. We were panting and drenched in sweat. The plank beds were nothing more than narrow iron strips welded to a frame. The paint had worn off long ago and my “bed,” rusty from sweat, cut into my flesh and covered me with rust. Trying to wipe it off only smeared the dirt. Trying to fall asleep at night was useless.
Worn out from the lack of sleep, I finally crawled under the narrow table fastened to the floor, spread out my clothing, and lay down. Immediately bedbugs swarmed toward me, even dropping from the table. I couldn’t sleep until morning when the bedbugs hid from the sunlight.
Food was as scarce as sleep. They fed us rotten cabbage. They ran out of potatoes and groats, and as they explained to us, they had no backup supplies.
Dirty, hungry, exhausted from the heat and the bedbugs … The right moment to share anything with these people needed careful choosing. I waited until the prisoners in my cell tired of the general discussion and then asked, “Wouldn’t you like to hear about God?” Several protested, but many said yes. So, although tired myself, I told them about God’s love. I even sang several songs. They listened with pleasure, some quite moved.
Men transferring from my cell to another would tell what they heard from me. Several times I was moved to a new cell and was asked, “Are you the one people are talking about?” “Maybe so,” I answered, “but whether it was me or not doesn’t really matter. What is important is Whom and what I was talking about!”
I rejoiced and thanked God that my preaching was making an impression on the souls of these people. I found that witnessing about Christ brought me spiritual strength. I wondered if perhaps this is why some congregations are weak and see few people receiving Christ.
One day I got very sick and requested a single cell. At first I was glad to be alone. I prayed, meditated, and sang. But as it got colder, I wasn’t able to sleep and I ran around the cell until I was exhausted trying to keep warm. Eventually I was moved back to a regular cell.
Questions bombarded me as I entered. Each cell has a head prisoner, someone stronger and more influential than the others. He asked, “Hey, buddy, which transport train did you come in on?”
“I’ve been in a single cell.”
“I see! And what did they put you in there for?”
“They just put me in there.”
The head prisoner persisted in a threatening tone, “Come on, buddy, give it to us straight. Why did they put you there?”
The other prisoners surrounded me with ready fists. They knew that single cells are used by the administration to protect informers. “Come on, tell us, how many people did you sell?”
“I am a Christian. I’ve never betrayed anyone. I’m in prison for the fourth time now because I believe in God. I asked to be put in a single cell because I was sick. I spent twelve days there and got a break from the tobacco smoke.”
“Did you know Kunitsyn?” the head prisoner asked, interested.
“I served time with him,” he said. Then, pointing to me, he ordered the others to “find this man the best place.” Immediately a young prisoner was forced from his lower bunk to an upper one. At first I protested, but the head prisoner declared, “You must respect us also.” There was no point in arguing with him.
This benevolent attitude toward believers can usually be found in any prision. But if the administration receives special instructions from the KGB, everything can change in a minute. Promises of freedom or special privileges are made to prisoners who will taunt or even viciously beat believers.
In my cell, however, the prisoners had apparently not yet been “cultivated” by the KGB. I talked a lot about God and recited poetry to them. I taught them songs. Some of them sang quite wellÂ—we even did duets and trios.
Though I was in prison for witnessing about Christ, it turned out both for God’s glory and my joy. When we are not afraid to speak about Jesus Christ, our testimony serves as our identification and defence.
I was moved to the Volgograd prison. My cell was underground between the pillars and arches of the building’s foundation. A bucket stood at the doorway; the sewer system didn’t work. Eyes and the slight glimmer of teeth helped me make out faces in the darkness. “Maybe I should keep my mouth shut here,” I thought. But then I realized, “No! God didn’t send me here to be silent!” After a while conversation lagged and the cell grew very quiet, so I ventured to ask, “I heard you saying there are thieves, alcoholics and opium addicts here, but are there any Christians among you?”
“Are you a Baptist?” asked one.
“So you believe in God?”
“Of course. If I didn’t believe in God, why would I be in prison for the fourth time now? I have a large family. Would you like me to tell you about the Passover?”
“Sure. Go ahead, Father Grigory. You talk and we’ll listen.”
So with great pleasure I told about the people of Israel and their sojourn in Egypt. As they listened attentively to this interesting story, I knew it was just right for the first evening.
The next evening I told about Moses, the flight from Egypt, the passover night, and the blood of the lamb on the doorpost serving as a sign to deliver them from death. Then I told in detail about the crucifixion and the death of Christ. Though I spoke in a low voice, the room was so quiet everyone could hear clearly. Glory be to God!
I sowed as much of the seed of truth in these precious souls as I could. And through doing so I gained strength, spiritual power and blessing. I am convinced over and over that no matter where Christians may be taken for the sake of the Lord’s name, because they are with Him, life is always good.
From information supplied by the International Representation for the Council of Evangelical Baptist Churches of the Soviet Union.