It is not a nice story but, sadly, it was a story all too common during the heyday of the Soviet Union. Understanding comes difficult at times. In Western cultures we generally believe that those in prison deserve to be in prison. But what if we lived for generations where many people in prison are incarcerated for being good rather than being bad?
Such was true for this pastor.
He was arrested simply because he was a pastor and went around doing good. He was kept in a KGB torture facility for over nine months. History books are filled with the atrocities that the USSR visited on its own people. This pastor’s experience epitomized what was endured by believers during decades of persecution in the former Soviet Union. His persecutors did everything they could to torture, humiliate, and force him to deny his faith in Christ. They fed him bread heavily laced with salt and withheld water from him for days at a time. They hung him from chains in the ceiling with his arms stretched high behind his back. They made him sit in a chair for days at a time, and whenever he literally fell asleep and dropped out of the chair, they would beat him for sleeping.
One guard was particularly sadistic. He would bring the pastor a piece of toast for breakfast with his own human waste on top of it.
This went on for nine months until the pastor was finally transferred to a labor camp where conditions were less torturous but still demeaning. He was allowed contact with his family for two hours, two times during the ten years of his imprisonment. His kids grew up without their father. One day the commander called him into the office. He was told that this was his last chance to deny his faith or he would be executed. He refused to renounce Jesus. Guards were called to take him into the yard of execution. At the door of the prison he was given another chance to recant his faith. He refused. They walked him to the post inside the execution yard and showed him the ropes with which he would be tied before being shot. He could see the stains of blood on the post and ropes. Pock-marked by the bullets from other executions, covered the back wall. Still he refused to deny his faith.
Unbelievably his guards grabbed him, dragged him to the wall of the prison, opened a rusty gate in the wall that the pastor did not know was in existence, and threw him into the street outside of the prison! He was free but free to go where? How would he get there?
He finally found someone who would give him a ride in their car near the part of the city in which he lived. He was worried when we found no one at home at his house. He made his way to the church where he was the pastor when he was first arrested ten years previously. He went inside and found his family and some of the church members kneeling at the altar praying for him! Just like Simon Peter in the New Testament, his family and parishioners were shocked to see the man of God standing in their midst like a vision.
The next day, Sunday, he stood in the very pulpit proclaiming again the Good News which had led to his arrest 10 years previously.
As he re-continued his ministry, one of the lady church members came to him begging medicine for her diabetic son. Such medicine was very difficult and expensive for the church to acquire, often from outside sources. After many efforts the pastor obtained the needed medicine and instructions on how to administer the drug to the ill son of his church member. He traveled to her house and greeted her as she led him through the small curtain that separated the living room from the bedroom of the patient.
As the pastor entered this small bedroom he cried out to God, “Oh Lord, please do not allow me to fail you now as I have served you faithfully in prison for the last 10 years! Please let me do Your will now.”
On the bed, dying and blind from diabetes, was the son of his church member. He was also the guard from the KGB torture facility who had fed the pastor his waste on a piece of toast every morning for nine months. The pastor knew if he spoke out loud this former torturer would recognize his voice and his suffering, along with the diabetes, could perhaps be even more of a pain and burden.
Without saying a word in the presence of this dying, former persecutor, the pastor administered the life-saving medicine, prayed silently over his former torturer, said goodbye to his church member, and left the house.
His actions in the home freed him from the horrors of the last ten years. As he found strength to endure persecution in prison he also found strength in his freedom to love those who had hated him.
According to Jesus, such is the kingdom of God.