Once at a local pentecostal church we heard the moving testimony of Ilya Bantseev, an ordained pastor representing Teen Challenge in the community of Novokuznetsk in Siberia.
Born in that city; receiving ministry credentials in North America; back in his home town these past sixteen years, and shouldering a charge with Teen Challenge for the rehabilitation of young drug addicts and disillusioned youth.
Together with his wife Janet, he is presently a life-line to two hundred young men and thirty young women from the community. This is the approximate ratio of males and females, suffering the bondage and hopelessness of drugs in his country and province. Death from this addiction takes its toll of 100,000 young lives each year.
But Ilya is there with his Christ-given passion and a mandate of strict and constructive discipline, a growing local church and a youth group on fire with the energy to hit the streets with food, gifts and the message that “Jesus saves, Jesus heals, Jesus baptizes in the Holy Ghost, Jesus is coming again.”
He says that he is often reminded of Jesus’ words, “I must work the works of him that sent me while it is day. The night cometh when no man can work.” There is presently disturbing legislation under consideration in Russia to prohibit gospel churches from evangelizing publicly the youth, from distributing Bibles and helpful literature, and even from welcoming the youth inside their walls! It is as if the “honeymoon” of Gospel opportunity so apparent in the nineties is drawing to a close.
“Catch the imagination and ardour of the youth and you have the entire country!” We saw this before in the Germany of the thirties and forties. We see it presently in our own “Hollywood continent”.
Ilya shared an ongoing burden concerning a neighbour next door to the church. Sergei is a proud and godless man of business with Mafia connections. He constantly objects to the local authorities and council regarding church program, numbers, traffic, schedules and much desired renovations. But Ilya is undaunted. He states that he has told Sergei face to face that the masterful Jesus has plans for him, and that people as far away as Canada have been praying for God to show mercy to Sergei. The “self-made” man smirks and replies, “Canada. That’s interesting.”
Meanwhile the work goes on with Teen Challenge. The story was told of one youth whose mother brought a prayer request to Ilya’s church. Her son had gone to prison on a thirty month sentence for robbery to support his costly habit in heroin. He had no use for the church and at one point told his mother to stop soliciting prayer. He was never going to change. Repeatedly he dreamed of getting out of prison and hooking up immediately with his old source.
But then a significant new development. A Bible-carrying new inmate with a straight- forward expression made the offer to talk and to lend the scriptures at any time the youth wanted. What followed, up on the third bunk in his cell (in an effort to avoid the mockery of his mates), was a genuine gifting of repentance, insight and a transfer of allegiance to Jesus. His mother’s prayer was answered. His unchurched father eventually came to the cross as well, acknowledging that only a merciful God could have reversed his son’s fate.
So the work continues in Novokuznetsk. Pray for Ilya and Janet. Pray for the youth being set free.
Note: Today I noticed some blog visitors from the Russian Federation. I chose to re-post this article. Yesterday an interesting development in the news as well. Apparently larger Soviet communities are allowing New Testaments with Psalms in the hotels as a “matter of sensitive tourist hospitality and affirmation”. Bibles, friends. Pray for the continuing open window