Sergey Shyndriayev and his wife, Galina, are members of Christ the King Cambridge and are deeply rooted in relationship with and service to people across Greater Boston.
This is part of his story.
In 1980, I was a young student of the Military Medical Academy in Tomsk, Siberia. Like so many others living under communist dictatorship, my life was empty. As military doctors, there was a higher level of education among my peers than is typical in a Soviet military facility, but our free time was spent in the refuge of vodka. We were provided a place to live, uniforms, and a wage just above the average worker’s salary.
The government tried to put men in the place of God, and required us to attend atheistic classes and lectures with exams we had to pass. We were trained to disprove God’s existence with questionable scientific evidences loosely based on Darwin’s theories of evolution. We had to agree, believe, and refrain from challenging these teachings or risk receiving a bad grade and not finishing the course.
I remember wondering what I was doing here on earth, why was I born, and what is death. It was easy to be distracted from these questions by the temporary joys of the world. In 1979, those thoughts began frequently resurfacing, so I got atheistic books from the library and read them. These books, written against God, included some verses from the Bible. As I read those tiny bits of scripture, I started writing them down and eventually began including my new religious thoughts in letters home to my parents and younger brother. My relatives were so frightened and worried about my future that they asked me to stop sending such letters. They wanted me to finish my education before making any important life decisions.
After reading these few pieces of scripture, I began thinking about the God who is the supreme ruler over all. I had no Bible in my hands, no real believers nearby. I made conclusions from the scriptures found in atheistic books intended to mock the Bible and destroy faith in God.
Eventually, I found I could learn about Christianity by reading the classic books of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. The government would not forbid these books, because they are a treasure of the country and its history. My faith was strengthened and a way to God made clearer through the novels Resurrection by Tolstoy and The Brother Karamazov by Dostoevsky. My concerned friends, witnessing a change in my life, warned that the books were not good for me.
I had no way of knowing if there were any Christians in Russia. Nobody will tell you the address of a church, because many do not know themselves. Most often, you would see some orthodox churches, but their worship is in Old Russian requiring additional knowledge to understand what they were talking about.
Around this same time, my father was a colonel in the military, where he often conducted inspections in the Baikal Military District, named after Lake Baikal. The district, much bigger than France and including the country of Mongolia, had a lot of military facilities in preparation against China. During an inspection, an officer reported to my father that there was a soldier who was a Baptist, did not smoke or drink, and was always praying. My father ordered the soldier be brought to him, which typically meant the threat of imprisonment. The government’s propaganda depicted believers like a cult, without education or intellect. This was our first encounter with a real Christian, and we were shocked to find him to be very bright.
My father asked how he could believe in a myth when science has already proven God didn’t exist. The soldier read a few lines from the Bible easily making a point that God is real. He also explained why people were created and what death means for us. At the end of our conversation, my father asked the soldier to send us a Bible, which he did. Later, my father told me he was astonished by what he heard.
When I went home in the winter of 1980, we had a Bible in our hands. By Russian standards we lived a very decent life, four rooms for family of four people and a telephone. We had food from a special food store that carried European and Finnish brands, my father had 45 days of vacation, and I had even more when I was in Mongolia. But, the most important thing was that we had a Bible. It was very old with very small print and missing pages, but it was our most prized possession.
The Bible was an absolutely unusual book to me after having read so much literature about it. I was surprised it did not start with Jesus Christ, and I could not find anything about life after death. I expected the Bible to be a composition of prayers, laws, and stories about paradise. Instead it was filled with stories about forefathers in dusty deserts, strange laws that seemed absolutely unacceptable in our society, and wars, wars, and more wars.
Over that winter break, I memorized the Gospel of John. I now knew for sure that God was real and that he is my Creator. The understanding of Jesus Christ, his resurrection, and death came later. This was the turning point in my life and in the life of my entire family.
Shortly after, I met my wife, Galina, at Oleviste kirik, the biggest Baptist church in the former Soviet Union, located in Estonia, and we married after writing letters for two years. About a year after our daughter was born, we went to the U.S. as refugees. But that is a story for another time...