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Persecuted but not broken

Let the waters roar

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not be afraid, though ... the waters roar and foam!” are excerpts from the first verses of Psalm 45, which illustrate well enough the attitude of the Christians of the former Soviet Union towards persecutions. The Soviet system was merciless to Christians, for they worshiped God, not an idol-leader.


Christian immigrants from the USSR are familiar with persecution for their faith firsthand. In terms of the severity of the persecution of Christians, the USSR can only be compared with the Roman Empire. The Soviet regime literally “knocked out” Christians to renounce their religious activity. This was done by various methods: arrests, tortures, promises of a better life. Some, like Peter, rejected Christ, but many did not compromise with the Soviet authorities.


The stories of Christians who had to endure suffering and deprivation in the Soviet Gulags are described in detail in a book compiled by Georgi Vins called "Let the waters roar" and other works of the author.


From the very beginning of the existence of the Soviet Empire, an anti-religious campaign was carried out, information was being collected about religious communities, prayer houses were being raided right during worship. The campaign of Soviet terror did not bypass the Mennonite Brethren communities either.


Ivan Stepanovich

Now Mikolaipol is called Mikolai-Pole. Here, in a building once built by the Mennonites, a small congregation gathers.


The pastor's name here is Ivan Stepanovich. Prior to the beginning of the church ministry, Ivan Stepanovich worked as a teacher of labor at a school. Once he himself was one of the unbelievers, but at one time he began to be interested in the Bible and attend church services. After some time, Pastor Frank began to look for someone who could replace him as pastor. But no one agreed to take on this responsibility, finding various reasons for this. “Time passed, I repented my sins and was temporarily entrusted with holding services,” says Ivan. Two months later, Frank decided to transfer the ministry into the hands of Ivan Stepanovich, so that he himself would lead the church. For more than 15 years, Ivan Stepanovich has been serving in the Mennonite Church in Mikolai-Pole.


The pastor himself admits that over the years it has become more difficult to lead the church: he has problems with his legs. “I can stand on my feet, but not for long,” says Ivan Stepanovich. Despite his advanced age (the pastor is 82) and illness, he longs to be a part of the Mennonite community. Ivan Stepanovich says: “I call people from the church on the phone, we pray together. They visit me at home." In order to prevent complications, the pastor needs the prompt intervention of a vascular surgeon.


When asked what the church needs, the pastor replies: “The church does not need anything. There are people who are taking over the service. Now they even want to move to a larger building, because they no longer fit.” With the outbreak of the war, the church began to grow thanks to refugees.


Alexey, deacon of the church of the Balkovo village, came to the rescue of Ivan Stepanovich. He helps in holding church services and takes Ivan Stepanovich to them, helping him move around in a wheelchair.


“God loves me,” the pastor says with a smile. “The Bible says that if by reason of strength they are eighty years [about life expectancy], so I must be very sturdy.”


Oppression of Mennonites

The village of Mikolaipol was founded in 1870 by German Mennonite colonists. In 1925, there were 153 Mennonites in the village. But 1929 was a turning point for the inhabitants of Mikolaipol. This year, the Soviet government began work on closing churches, prayer houses and banning mass events related to "religious worship."


The Mennonites were famous for their diligence and quality of work. Their houses looked decent, they kept cattle in barns, and there was always food earned by honest labor on the table. It was precisely such people that the policy of “Dekulakization” was aimed at, and the Mennonites were called prosperous and malicious opponents of the regime.


The Soviet authorities called “kulaks” the wealthy peasants, who often used hired labor instead of personal. In the 1920s and 1930s, property was forcibly confiscated from such peasants, and they themselves were sent to special camps in remote regions of the USSR. The Soviet regime, under this pretext, carried out a campaign of terror, eliminating objectionable people.


Here is a fragment from the protocol on the Mennonites evicted from Mikolaipol from 1930: “Lammert Franz, 66 years old, son 27, son 14. Lands before the revolution 65 tithes. He had 8 horses, 4 cows. After the revolution, 32 tithes. Now he has 3 horses and 2 cows. The amount of tax is 476 rubles, the type of taxation is an exporter of 75%. A pre-revolutionary kulak, exploiting hired labor, a malicious non-deliverer of grain surpluses and a supporter of the emigration of Germans to America.


In the middle of chaos


Mikolay-Pole remains in close proximity to the occupied territory, but the Mennonite settlement still remains one of the islands of safety for refugees. The war has had catastrophic consequences, but the church in Mikolai-Pole is alive with life and is a light for those who still walk in darkness.

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