I saw in Russia in 1991 a people starved for grace. The economy, indeed the entire society, was in a state of free fall, and everyone had someone to blame. I noted that ordinary Russian citizens had the demeanor of battered children: lowered heads, halting speech, eyes darting this way and that. Whom could they trust?
I will never forget a meeting in which Moscow journalists wept — I had never before seen journalist weep–as Ron Nikkel of Prison fellowship International told of the underground churches that were now thriving in Russia’s penal colonies. For seventy years prisons had been the repository of truth, the one place where you could safely speak the name of God. It was in prison, not church, that people such as Solzhenitsyn found God.
Ron Nikkel also told me of his conversation with a general who headed the ministry of Internal Affairs. The general had heard of the Bible from the old believers and had admired it, but as a museum piece, not something to be believed. Recent events, though had mad him reconsider. In late 1991 when Boris Yeltsin ordered the closing of all national, regional, and local communist party offices, his ministry policed the dismantling. “Not one party official,” said the general, “not one person directly affected by the closings protested.” He contrasted that to the seventy-year campaign to destroy the church and stamp out belief in God. “The Christians’ faith outlasted any ideology. The church is now resurging in a way unlike anything I have witnessed.”
In 1983 a group of youth with a Mission daredevils unfolded a banner on Easter Sunday morning in Red Square: “Christ is Risen!” it read in Russian. Some older Russians fell to their knees and wept. Soldiers soon surrounded the hymn-singing troublemakers, tore up their banner, and hustled them off to jail. Less than a decade later, all over Red Square on Easter Sunday people were greeting each other in the traditional way, “Christ is risen!”…. “He is Risen indeed!”