Finding Heaven in a Bolshevist Prison
Persecutions of Christians in Russia.
(Dr. A. McCraig, in the "Sunday School Times.")
IT is said that the people of Florence, when Dante passed along, were wont to say, "There goes the man who has been in hell." I have lately looked into the eyes of a man who has been in heaven, and he found Heaven where most men would have found a hell-in a Bolshevist criminal prison. He is quite an ordinary-looking person, nothing very striking about his appearance or demeanor, a plain, humble, modest man; but, hear him talk of his experiences, listen to the tones of his voice as he tells exultingly of the way the Lord sustained him, look into his face as he speaks of his joy in Christ, and you feel that you are in the presence of a very saint of God, a true martyr, one of whom the world is not worthy.
The special occasion to which I have referred was at a late stage of a long imprisonment for the sole crime of preaching the Gospel without a permit from the authorities, a permit that they would not give the minister simply because he was one of the bourgeoise. This good brother had been invited by the people of a certain colony in the Caucasus region to preach to them; there were really two adjoining colonies, consisting of three thousand homesteads or families. A hall was taken holding about nine hundred people. The first evening the place was crowded and eighty persons professed conversion. Many children were impressed, and the following day started to sing and pray in the school-a Bolshevist, atheistic school. The school-master drove them away; then they went into the courtyard and continued to sing and pray; driven from the courtyard, they went to the cemetery for their devotional exercises, but
were ultimately driven from there. Brave children these, for
it is forbidden by law to teach them religion. The schoolmaster,
after clearing the children out of the cemetery, came home and
found his own house filled with children singing and praying!
Preaching in Court and Cell.
Our brother continued his meetings. The following evening, the authorities had arranged a theatrical performance to keep the people away from the meeting, but instead, the theatre was empty and all the people came over to see what was taking place. One of them came into the meeting, and, calling out, "What sort of people are these?" fell down crying for mercy. The following day the authorities passed a resolution to send a telegram to the G. P. Y. (the head of the Secret Police Service), saying that this man had turned the people mad, affecting the inhabitants of two colonies with hysteria. The military Commissar was appointed to bring the resolution of the magistrates and close the meeting without delay. Our brother, whom we shall call Mr. M., was in the pulpit when the paper was handed to him. He laid it aside and said to the Commissar, "How will you appear before God? Don't you see how the people are listening to God's Word, and if you do not kneel down and repent of your sins and be converted like these people, you will perish." The officer was so surprised that he fell on his knees and in great fear began to cry for mercy. After the meeting, armed officials came and arrested Mr. M., but permitted him to stay at home overnight under guard. In the evening, a young convert came along and sang, "Commit thy way unto the Lord"; then our brother felt, he says, as if he were in Heaven.
In the morning the pastor of the place, the young-people's leader, and Mr. M. were brought to the office of the G. P. Y. The two others were speedily released, but he was examined very strictly, and several false accusations were submitted to him for signature. He refused to sign them, but instead, wrote and signed the following statement: "Above does not agree with facts, for I am arrested only for religious reasons." Next day he was released for five day's, but was again summoned and locked up. At his examination the Commissars asked, "What about your work now?" He replied, "My arrest is for preaching; I have received, on a slip of paper inserted in a roll of bread, information that twenty-six souls have been converted." Two officials of the G. P Y. were deeply touched by what he said as the examination proceeded and were later locked up with Mr. M., giving as the reason for their arrest that they had sympathised with him and tried to defend him and secure his deliverance.
In the course of the examination the Commissars said they would punish him severely for his work among the children. Mr. M. said, "We are willing to die rather than hand over the children to you. All believers are ready to die; keep your hands off our children, you will never get them.''
Again, a Commissar said, "What are you going to do now in the cell? Can you preach to the prisoners?" He replied, "Your comrades down there in the cell are already praying to the Lord." The
Commissar became very angry, but his prisoner continued, '' If you would come to the meeting and hear the Word of God, you would soon learn to pray." He then became so furious that he turned Mr. M. out and locked him up in a solitary cell for a month. Prom that place he was taken to the District G. P. Y. and his case again considered. Other means were tried to move him. He was told he would be released if he would sign certain articles against the Baptists. Refusing to do so, he was offered a large sum of money, and promised a regular allowance and a respectable position if he would tell who were the pastors and ministers, who were receiving money, who were poor or rich. His reply to all was, "I am not a Judas to sell anybody, nor am I better than my ancestors who were ready to die; but I will never refrain from telling of the love of Jesus Christ."
He was then taken to a tiny cell, where he could only stand in a very damp place for several hours. Then he was put in an unspeakably filthy place for twenty-four hours till he almost lost consciousness. He was then placed in another cell with thirteen educated people, one of whom was the Governor of Kharkov, who was sentenced to death, but later exiled. After being confined there for two months, he was placed in the common cell with great criminals and sentenced to death. It seems incredible, but the object of his being put there was that the criminals might fall upon him and put him to death. Three, including himself, were put into that cell, and at once the criminals seized upon him, threw him to the floor, trampled on him and broke all his ribs, and he was carried away as dead. Then they approached Mr. M., laid hold of him and said, "Let us search him," meaning to pound him all over first. He shouted. "Comrades, and all persons who believe in God," and said to the man next to him, "Do you believe in God?" whereupon they all moved away from him. It seems that in every cell, one prisoner is recognised as the chairman, and the chairman of this cell said to the rest, "If you touch this man, you will be killed." They then gave him a place on the floor, and here it was, as at the beginning of his trial, that he felt he was in Heaven and having the happiest time in his life, telling these criminals the gospel story.
Two officers, who were thrown into the prison to lie killed by the prisoners were both converted. One of these officers, transferred later and released, began to preach and was the means of a great revival and is now pastor of a large church. Meanwhile, our brother, overflowing with heavenly joy, continued talking to these men about Jesus, all seated on the floor and listening most attentively. As they came to the story of the crucifixion, one cried out at the wonder of it. Next day they asked him to repeat the story of the crucifixion; and then a third time he was asked to tell it. One of the criminals cried out, "I am a murderer, I have killed eighteen people; I confess it before you. Is it possible that there may be grace for me and that I may find forgiveness!" The testimony is that he found grace through Jesus Christ.
(To be concluded next month).
Asher & Co., Printers, Richmond.