Nicolai, leader of a drug rehabilitation ministry
I came from a good Christian family. My grandfather was a deacon in the church, and my father is a preacher. But I was a sinner. I was a criminal and drug addict. I am the ninth of eleven children. From my young years, I was already arrested and imprisoned. I tried everything to rebuild my life by my own strength, but nothing worked.
My mother prayed all of the time. My father was very dedicated to all of his children, but he died at 49 years old. We felt very bad for my mother, but it didn’t bring us closer to God. Instead, it moved us farther away from God.
It’s like a prodigal son story. I lost everything. I had nothing to eat, just nothing, since everything was destroyed in my life. One day, I finally sat down and thought, “Why do I even live on this earth. I hate myself.” But when I closed my eyes and planned to kill myself, God started to talk to me in my mind. He reminded me of my mother and brothers and sisters and how it was in our family—and he said to me, “Come to me.”
So this was 3 AM, and I went to the church. They accepted me, and someone put me in a car and took me to the hospital to fix my broken leg. He waited for me in the hospital while they put a cast on me. When I exited the hospital, he was waiting for me, and he took me to the church. They sent me to the rehab center.
After 1 year at the center, I already was a helper. But because I was so sinful and had such a big criminal past, the police came to get me and took me away to prison. The church blessed me and prayed for me. They said that, since I had done things in the past, I had to repent and pay for them.
And so I really became a missionary in prison and started to witness about what the Lord had done for me. I was already a believer and had God’s Word in me, and when I witnessed to the prisoners the criminals and drug addicts, some with hunger would listen to me. Some people were so hungry for the salvation message that they would just run to me and say to me, “Please tell your story again, tell about Christ.” Of course, some others would say, “You are crazy right now.” But God really rebuilt me and inspired me. He gave me strength. And I continued to preach in one prison and then another prison.
When I came to trial, my testimony was really about Christ, about his love. And the prosecutor stood up and started to defend me. The state prosecutor became my advocate. I was like Isaiah seeing God’s glory. They sentenced me so lightly.
The prosecutor proved that I was innocent in one case, but I was still convicted and sent to the prison where one of my older brothers was imprisoned. He had 8 convictions. Within two months, my brother repented. After that repentance, God helped to remove all of his external sins. God gave us 8 months together. We built a prayer group. Other brothers came to the prison to visit and join us, and they fed us physically and spiritually.
The leader of the prison saw my behavior—I started to work, and I started to work on my education. And because of my behavior, he changed his thinking and said we need to release this man. Then in court, it was like the year before. The prosecutor again took my side and tried to get me released. It was a miracle in the prison camp. The leader of our prison camp department knew my brother so well and started to witness about his changed life. He said, “I know his brother, and he was a dead body, but his younger brother brought this faith, this witness, and his life absolutely changed.”
Not just his life but many other lives have been changed. There are now 7 released prisoners who are now members in the church. When my older brother finished his full sentence, he was released and came to this rehab center. He went through the program and started to visit the women’s prison, and the Lord gave him a wife who was a new believer from the women’s prison. Now they are missionaries with their family in another region of Russia, and they are building a new church there. I also got married, and my wife had gone through rehabilitation as well. Then the Lord called us here to do ministry. (Nicolai and his wife lead a drug rehabilitation ministry in another region of Russia.)