Being a Christian Behind the Iron Curtain: Children of the Storm

children-of-the-stormChildren of the Storm by Natasha Vins

“There are no greater riches than Christ, and you feel this especially keenly when they want to take Him away from you, when they forbid you to share these riches with people . . . But people need Him so much! Jesus—is there any name more dear to a redeemed soul?”— Georgi Vins

As Americans, we have enjoyed increasing freedom and prosperity as a nation over the past 200 years. While not every individual has experienced the same level of prosperity or opportunity, generally speaking, we are currently more privileged in many ways than the majority of the rest of the world. We often take our comfort and liberties for granted until we feel they are actually being threatened. We may look at other countries that have had oppressive governments, both in the past and the present, and worry that America could one day find itself moving in a similar direction. One such country that is often used as a comparison is the Soviet Union, the nation behind the dreaded “Iron Curtain.”

In her autobiographical account entitled Children of the Storm, Natasha Vins, born in 1952 in Kiev, describes what it was like to be a Christian during the 1960’s and 70’s in the Soviet Union. While living conditions were difficult for most Soviet civilians, as Christians, the Vins family had it even rougher as they faced serious consequences, threats, and persecution because of their faith. From her earliest childhood memories, Natasha recalled being different from other children because her family believed in God. But they were still able to enjoy the freedom of attending their Baptist church. Natasha explains that religious persecution began to escalate when she was 8 years old.

That year, “Atheistic indoctrination had intensified after the first Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, flew into space in April of 1961.” Natasha’s teacher explained to her students, “Yuri Gagarin never saw in space any sort of God. He went up very high, as no one before him did, but he didn’t see God.” Natasha wondered why she was taught at home that believing in God was right and good, while at school she was taught just the opposite, and was singled out as ignorant and foolish for her religious beliefs. On one occasion, her parents’ names were mentioned in a newspaper article criticizing Christians, and her teacher pointed it out to the class. From that time on, as the only Christian in a class of 30 students, Natasha sensed that she was an outcast. As a result of the article, her mother lost her teaching job, her father was demoted at his job, and Natasha began attending private “atheistic instruction” sessions twice weekly. She was pressured to join the Young Pioneers, an atheistic youth program which had as one of its goals to oppose religion.

Natasha tells of the government regulation of churches, which included the restriction of children from attending church services. Although Christians began to meet in secret for worship services, the meetings would be raided, and those perceived to be leaders were arrested, among whom was Natasha’s father, Georgi Vins.

On numerous occasions, the Vins’ home was searched unannounced and ransacked, and materials confiscated. At one point, officials threatened to remove Natasha and her two younger siblings from their parents, who were considered to be unfit. One day, on the way home from school, Natasha was attacked and beat up by some school mates. In spite of the pressure, ridicule, and threats, young Natasha resisted and refused to take the easy way by denying her faith.

After Georgi’s first brief jail term in 1963, he was terminated from his job and went into hiding to avoid another arrest. This only delayed the inevitable, and in 1966, Vins was arrested again, along with several others, and sent away to a prison camp. This imprisonment was to last three years, but was not to be his last.

At about this time, Natasha’s “Babushka,” Georgi Vins’ mother Lydia, became involved with the Council of Prisoner’s Relatives, a group organized a few years earlier. The purpose of the Council was to provide support and aid to families undergoing religious persecution. They wrote petitions on behalf of the prisoners, and published newsletters to inform churches how to pray. Soon “Babushka” was elected to be the president of the Council. Natasha explains,

Our home became a refuge for all who were persecuted. Our address was passed to Christians all over the country and often the doorbell would ring in the middle of the night. When we opened the door, there would be the mother or wife of a newly arrested Christian from a faraway city…Christians came to our house from all over Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia, even as far as Siberia.

As a result of this activity, the Vins home was constantly under surveillance and was often searched. Then Babushka would be arrested and sent to a prison camp as well. Natasha describes the difficult prison conditions that both her father and grandmother experienced, and the corrupt court system that tried them – a court in which all the attorneys were atheists, and the only witnesses called were recommended by the prosecutor, offenders rather than victims, to testify against the accused.

Natasha also shares some of what she was personally feeling. As she grew into her teen years and began to contemplate her future, her faith started to wane. She reflected:

My parents, being Christians, were able to receive higher education because they entered university soon after the Second World War, when the state needed educated people to replace the millions who were killed at the front. Now times had changed. For my generation the situation was very different. I knew of many instances in which Christians, after being admitted into the university, were kicked out as soon as they refused to join the Komsomol. Thinking all this over, I came to the conclusion that I was not ready to part with my dreams for the future. Making such a sacrifice for God’s sake seemed too high a price.

But the Lord was to use a message at a youth rally to draw Natasha’s heart to Himself and to grant her a true heart of humility and repentance, and to give her a desire to follow and serve Him, no matter what the cost.

Natasha continues with her story by telling about how she was expelled from college just short of graduating, and fired from a job, both because she was a Christian. Soon after this she began working with an underground printing house that printed Christian materials.

The ministry of secretly printing Bibles, New Testaments, hymnals, Christian magazines, and children’s materials held a strong appeal for me. In our atheistic country, where all Christa nooks were confiscated and destroyed, I could see no higher calling than to help fill that need.

The Vins family on their way to visit Georgi in prison, 1968. Natasha is the tall girl on the left.

Meanwhile her father, Georgi Vins, was to be tried for various religious, “anti-Soviet” activities and speech. He really needed a Christian lawyer to represent and defend him, but none were to be found in the Soviet Union. And without the proper representation, he was once again given a prison sentence, and this time he was to be sent to a Communist prison camp in Yakutsk in Siberia. Here he spent half of his 10-year sentence, at which time, by the will and hand of God, he was miraculously released.

the-gospel-in-bondsThat year, 1979, the entire Vins family were expelled and removed to America. After settling in Indiana, Georgi Vins began a ministry which eventually became Russian Gospel Ministries. Vins wrote other books, including The Gospel in Bonds, and after the political situation in the Soviet Union changed around 1990, he and Natasha took numerous trips back to their homeland to share the gospel there. Natasha and her husband Alexander Velichkin are currently missionaries in Russia, working to reach the lost in small Siberian villages.

I first read Children of the Storm aloud with my children years ago. It’s not a great literary piece; it’s written in the personal, unpretentious voice of its humble narrator, and is both a moving and inspiring story of a faith that endures under severe persecution.

Unfortunately, after only a few decades of relative religious freedom in Russia, it would appear that Christians will once again find themselves under the oppression of its atheistic government, as President Putin signed into law an act restricting evangelism in Russia. May we who live in America never take for granted and be ever thankful for the great religious freedom we have to worship publicly and evangelize the lost as our conscience and God’s Word so dictates. And may we always keep our persecuted brethren in Russia, North Korea, the Middle East, and other oppressed countries in prayer.

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