Sometimes a little incident takes place and you know you will never forget it. In July 2002, in the vast tent at the Keswick Convention, I watched in interest as the chairman brought a gentleman forward to introduce him to the crowd of over 3000 people. Professor Dimitry Mustafin, we were told, was from Moscow. He was asked just two or three questions, from which we learned that he was a Christian and President of the Moscow Gideon Camp, and that much of his free time was spent distributing Gideon Bibles. My heart burned. Probably all of those present had prayed for Russia for years, asking the Lord to break through that seemingly impenetrable Iron Curtain that separated East from West, the known from the unknown, Christianity from Communism. We had prayed that Russians might be converted and become missionaries to their own people, because missionaries from outside could not get in to tell the good news that Jesus Christ is the Saviour. Now here, in Keswick, I was watching and listening to the answer to my prayers! Professor Mustafin had been converted, and he was a missionary to his own people! I cannot begin to describe how I felt. Professor Mustafin, a quiet and unassuming man, was the embodiment of answered prayer, and my heart rejoiced. I have no doubt that there were many in the tent that day who remember it as clearly as I do, many who are still thanking God for hearing and answering the prayers of his people. If my eyes shone when I turned and told my husband, Angus, that I wanted to know more about this man, it was with sheer joy and amazement at the majesty of God.
The following day I discovered that Professor Mustafin was speaking in one of the Lakeland town's churches. From the number who were there to hear him it was clear that not only my heart had been moved. Unfortunately the tape recording system did not work that day, but what follows is his testimony as told on another occasion.
I expected to meet many British people from my childhood as I was told at school that after few years Great Britain and United States of America were going to start a war against my country and against me. So from my childhood I was waiting for soldiers to come to my country from Britain and America. That was why I studied English, the language of my enemy, in order to be able to fight against them.
I can't say that I enjoyed studying English very much because every time I got excellent marks in English my schoolmates called me insulting nicknames. They called me "British spy". “Why do you study English so hard, do you want to co-operate with Intelligence service?" my classmate, Sasha, used to ask me. I hated such questions. I did not like them, I loved my Motherland and I was never thinking that I could have friends in United Kingdom or in United States, - countries that are United against USSR and against me, as I got to know at my School.
I was taught at my School that Jesus Christ is a hero of fairy tales, like Pinocchio, like Cinderella, or Little Riding Red Hood. I learned that the Bible was a collection of fairy tails, forbidden fairy tails. I liked fairy tails and when I asked my teacher why these fairy tails were forbidden she answered that they were forbidden because they were written for stupid and crazy people that did not like their Motherland. I liked my Motherland, I was not stupid, but I was a good school student and I believed my teachers because I loved them and I trusted them.
Yes, I was a good student: at school I was awarded with Golden Medal from the Russian Ministry of Education for all top marks in all subjects and than I never had any good marks during my 5 years at the University - I had only excellent marks in all subjects. I was rather successful in my academic career: very early I made my Ph.D. work, published several important investigations in the field of Inorganic and Physical Chemistry and got a position of a professor at the University. Than I was invited to work at the famous chemical laboratory in Italy at the University of Milan. And the most remarkable was that I got permission to go to Italy. At that time it was very rare for Russian scientists to go abroad for a work. I felt very honoured. And also I felt that my Motherland trust me and appreciate my work and behaviour.
It was more than Nobel Prize for me. It was a great time. I was working in Italy in the famous chemical laboratory with famous scientists and I was very proud of myself. I was busy with my investigations and was very excited with my results. But on weekends the University was closed and I really suffered having free time. I had no friends or relatives near me: the government did not allow my wife and daughter to go with me: they were sure that we would never return back to Russia. So during my weekends I felt that I am completely forgotten and forsaken by everyone.
Once, having such a black Saturday, I came to have my lunch at the "Menza", a cheap Restaurant of the University. Near the entrance there was a man standing near the table. There were a lot of various books on that table, all in Italian. But than I discovered that one book on that table was in Russian! It was a great surprise for me. How it can be a Russian book at the Italian University yard? In 1986 it was very hard to find Russian books in the Italian shops, only in few prestigious bookstores in the centre of the city.
"Somebody is thinking about me", -immediately came into my mind. I took that book and read the title –“Biblia” – “The Bible”… Oh! It was that forbidden book that I had not to read. That’s why it seemed very attractive. I opened the book and the first words that I read in it were like a message for me: “You are my Father and my God.” (Psalm 89).
My Father Isaac Mustafin was a famous scientist, but he died when I was a child. And all my life I was suffering that I have no father, that there will be never a person that can help me, that can solve some of my burning questions, that can save me from all my troubles. I was suffering that there will be never a person near me whom I can call "My Father". All my life I had that deep pain – pain of my Father’s absence. And that forbidden book was speaking to me about my Father.
I closed the book and looked at the man who was standing near the table. He was smiling.
"You can take it if you want; it is a gift for you. Free of charge," said the smiling man.
I took the book, put it into my pocket, so that nobody will see that I got a forbidden book, and run away. I forgot that I was going to have my lunch at the University Restaurant. I missed my lunch, but I really enjoyed reading the Bible that became addicting for me.
What I really enjoyed in it - was the idea that I have my Father. That my Father in Haven will never die, will never forsake me or forget about me. It was great! All my life I was suffering that I have no Father, but that book was telling me that I have Father. My Heavenly Father is rich and strong and He is always looking after me.
"…God our Father, who loved us and in his grace gave us unfailing courage and a firm hope…" (2Thess., 2:16)
I was really encouraged by that forbidden Bible. And than I remembered: I was so in harry to run away from the University with that forbidden book that I did not thank the smiling man for such a nice and rare gift. I tried to find again that smiling man at the University yard. I started to come to the University restaurant for lunches and dinners every day, and finally I met him next Saturday.
I wanted to speak to him so much. But my Italian was awful at that time: the smiling man was not able to understand me.
I tried to speak English, but his English was awful: now I was not able to understand him. Later I discovered that he was an American. His name was Martin Ditmar.
I was upset that the first man in Italy whom I wanted to be my friend was actually an enemy - an American enemy. And when he invited me to the Church I understood that he was an American spy. Because only American spy could invite Russian scientist to the forbidden place - to the Church. I was very disappointed and refused to join him at his trip to the Church. But he wanted to recruit me to American Intelligence Service and he did not let me go. He started to speak about tasty home-made food prepared by his wife at her kitchen: about American apple pie and cucumber sandwiches that he had at his house. I remembered about cucumber sandwiches described by Oscar Wild, I heard about delicious American Apple Pie - all that was very attractive.
So after a period of temptation I decided: "Why not, I will only try a piece. Nobody would ever know that I had done this. Anyway cucumbers are very cheep and may be I would learn how to do these sandwiches by myself, so I could save some money with these sandwiches and buy a pair of jeans for my family. No, I would never betray my Motherland, he would be never able to recruit me to American Intelligence Service, but there is nothing bad to try once, only once American Apple Pie and cucumber sandwiches described by Oscar Wild".
So I agreed. We had an appointment in the evening. He came with a car and after few minutes we were at his home. His wife, Brenda, prepared wonderful dinner. She taught me how to make American Apple Pie and cucumber sandwiches.
After the dinner we had a very long conversation and Martin again turned into "an American from Intelligence Service". "American" told me about sin. He said that all men are guilty before the Lord and that we need to be forgiven. His words were very strange for me, they did not touch me at all. I knew I was sinless because I was a communist. I had been brought up to believe that "Communists were the brain and the purity and the conscience of the age". I never felt guilty, may be only now because I had agreed to come for a meal to that "American spy." I listened to Martin, but I knew I was not a sinner. The "bad American" tried to explain about sin and the need for salvation but I did not really understand what did he want from me.
Than he said that he would like to pray for me, he asked if that would be all right with me. I said: "Yes, if you want you can pray for me". I knew from all that I had been taught that prayer was something very stupid, crazy and senseless, so I picked up a beautifully illustrated magazine and started to read it. I thought that his prayer was his business and nothing to do with me at all. That was in my mind as I listened to the words of the prayer my American enemy was saying.
Although my eyes were looking at the magazine my ears were listening to what Martin was saying. He was praying about me. He was asking God to forgive me my sins and to open my heart to the truth. Then I actually felt a physical change in my heart, it was beating so strongly. All of a sudden something started to happen to me, something I had never experienced in my life before. Something covered me all, something came upon me, something filled me with peace and joy. I understood with my mind, with my heart, with every cell of my body that the Lord Jesus Christ died for me on the cross. Martin's prayer seemed to be more than just the words he was saying, more than just sounds.
A great desire grew in my heart to repeat the words of the prayer after my "enemy". Without my will, I started to pronounce the prayer word by word after Martin. Not knowing what I was doing, I asked the Lord to forgive me my sins, to come into my heart and to be my Saviour and my protector. I spoke these words with my mouth, although my mind did not really understand what I was saying, but I felt that something very important had happened in my life. I felt that my whole world was changing.
When we finished praying, I saw that Martin was crying. And the strangest thing of all was that I was crying too. I embraced Martin and realised that he was not an American enemy for me, but my beloved friend.
You know the rest of the story. I gave my life to the Lord, I joined the Church and I was baptised before leaving for Moscow at the Bible Church of Milan on Corso Lodi.
While I was very satisfied with the scientific results of my time in Italy, I know that God's reason for me being there was that I should discover my Heavenly Father and receive his Son, Jesus Christ, as my Lord and Saviour.
I got a great desire to share about the Lord with my friends and relatives in Moscow. So I put few Bibles on the bottom of my suitcase and experienced all feelings of a smuggler. I am not a very brave man, I was afraid of customs examination: I understood that for Soviet scientist it was forbidden to have illegal books in the suitcase. And I knew that I was doing forbidden things. I was not sleeping in the train at all. I was very nervous waiting for control. When the customs official looked into my pail face and asked me: "Do you have something forbidden in your bags?" I was silent. I did not know what I have to answer.
Actually there could be only 2 answers, and both answers were bad. What could I answer? I could say truth: "Yes, I do. I have forbidden Bibles in my case". But it would mean that I would loose my position at the University, I would have problems with having my flat: it was the property of the government. I also realised that my daughter, my wife, my mother, brother, all of us would have very big problems.
Another answer could be lie. I could say: "No, I have no forbidden things in my case". But I felt that as I was a Christian now I was not allowed to lie.
I was absolutely lost but the Lord saved me again and helped me: the customs official looked at me and continued his question: "Oh, boy, I have asked you: do you have forbidden staff in your bag? Do you have pornography?"
"No, I have no pornography, you can check it, if you want". - I said, and that was true: I had no pornography.
He looked into my heavy bags full of scientific papers and articles, gave a deep sigh and went away. My Bibles were saved and I was also was saved. I was so happy to enter my Moscow house with my first illegal Bibles. But when I gave the Bible to my mother she became very pail and very serious. And she told me a sad story of my family that I had never heard before.
My grandfather, Fedor, was a Christian. In 1936 many Christian Churches were closed and became forbidden. The Bible was claimed to be dangerous, many active believers were put into the prisons, among them was my grandfather Fedor. It was rather strange: he did not look like a criminal at all. Fedor was an old noble man, absolutely non-aggressive, he was honest and peaceful, and he was very friendly and kind. But he was a Christian and the Government considered him to be dangerous for the communist society. He was killed as a criminal with the words from the Bible on his lips. He was praying about his executors. My mother, is 83y.o. now, but she is still afraid when somebody is knocking loudly at the door. It still reminds her KGB people knocking at their door during the nights in order to make a search. She was always afraid that they would find her Bible and confiscate it. It was dangerous to have Bibles at Home. So she took away the cover from the Bible. It became difficult to recognise weather it was a Bible or an ordinary old book. And it became possible to keep such Bible between her textbooks.
For many, many years this old Bible was kept in a secret place at our house. But now it shines at my flat. We keep it on the most important place in my house near the vessel with the fire of Gideon’s International. This old Bible without cover reminds me about my past, about my dear grand father Fedor and about many other Russian martyrs that were killed only because they were Christians.
I am thankful to the Lord that now I am His child and part of a great Christian family with brothers and sisters all over the world, even in America and Britain where, when I was a child, I thought I only had enemies.
As soon as it became possible for us to speak openly about the Lord, we started to preach about salvation in Moscow with my brothers and sisters in Christ. We got permission to preach the Bible at the biggest Russian prison "Butirka" that is situated just across the road from my University. We were able to establish very good relations with the warden of that prison Colonel Alexander Volkov. He considered that we were doing very useful work for the prison and he treated us just like the stuff of the prison. We participated at the every day life of that prison. We were invited to take part at the picnics, at the outings, and parties of the staff.
Once a year on Victory Day, Russian people bring greetings to their veterans and military retirees. Once I was invited to such a celebration in the Butirka prison A nice dinner with delicious food, tasty fruits, vodka and wine was prepared for retired people and the prison staff. I was seated near the warden of the prison, Alexander Volkov, who was a big man with a nice smile and was very friendly with me. (PHOTO)
When the concert program was over, Alexander Volkov turned to me and said, “Dimitry, I want to introduce you to a very special man. He is our honoured veteran. He worked in the prison for 30 years as ... an … executioner.” The warden pronounced his position very slowly and very quietly, than he showed me an old, skinny man with red face and small eyes who was in his eighties.
It was his job to kill the people, and among his victims might have been my innocent grandfather, Fedor, who was killed in the prison because he was a Christian.
I condemned this old ex-executioner. I blamed him. I hated him with all my heart.
I did not want to shake his hand—I was ready to punch him.
I could not speak to him—I had so many bad words for him.
I was not able to look at him because I saw the noble faces of my dear relatives who were killed by the executors of the soviet times.
I did not know how to behave myself, so I prayed and than I remembered that I am a Gideon and he is a military man. I always have a few Gideon Bibles with me, so I decided to start Bible distribution right then and there. I gave the ex-executioner a Bible, but I did not want to communicate with this man. But he wanted to communicate with me. He started to ask me questions. I tried to remain calm as I told him about the most powerful book in the world—about the Bible. I told him that he could find all the answers for his questions in the Gideon Bible that I gave to him.
I was really not ready to communicate with that ex-executioner. He had killed so many people. It had been discovered now that a lot of his victims were absolutely innocent men and women. So the ex-executioner knew for sure that he had killed a lot of people for nothing.
“Yes, I know that I am a terrible sinner,” said the veteran, “But how I can be forgiven by the Lord?”
It was such an ordinary question - one that I had been asked many times during Scripture distributions - but it was so difficult for me to give him an ordinary answer. It was so hard to tell him that our Lord loved him and He was ready to forgive him. I myself was not able to forgive that man. I was speaking to him about the love of Jesus, but I myself did not believe that it was possible to love a former executioner. Then I told him about the two bandits that were crucified with Jesus and about the prayer that makes us closer to the Lord.
“Please, pray for me,” asked the ex-executioner.
“No,” I answered immediately. I did not want pray for him. But then I felt confused and I told him, “A prayer is a conversation with the Lord. You have to pray by yourself.”
“I do not know any prayer,” said the ex-executioner, “Teach me how to pray. Please, lead me in the prayer.”
So I was forced to lead that ex-executioner in the prayer. I agreed to do it. I closed my eyes, but I was not able to open my mouth. With closed lips I asked the Lord to come into my heart and fill it with love. Then I started to pray about myself because I realised that I myself was very bad, that I myself needed to be forgiven.
I started to pray loudly and I heard an old man near me repeating the words of sinner's prayer word by word. I asked the Lord to bring peace into his life and forgive him. I asked the Lord to become his Saviour and Protector. I asked the Lord to be always with that old man in his every day, in his every step, in his every moment.
When we finished our payer, for the first time I was able to look at the veteran's face. He was crying. His eyes were full of tears, but he looked happy.
Then he shook my hand. He gave me a hug and he kissed me. It was really a burning kiss for me. I felt that my face was flaming after that kiss—the kiss of an ex-executioner, the kiss of my present brother in Christ.
Only our Lord knows what is going on in our hearts. I have never seen this ex-executioner again. I hope that this man was sincere in his desire to be with the Lord and in his prayer. I hope that he is forgiven and saved now.
Probably I will meet him one day in Heaven near our Lord. And we'll all be together: my brother-executioner, my grandfather Fedor, and I myself. And all three of us will be happy and joyful, full of love and peace.
It was also a great lesson for me. I realised very clearly that I am not a good preacher at all. Many people can preach and speak about the Bible much better than I can do it. I am sure that there are many people that have really loving hearts, bigger than mine. I do not know why our Lord used me to bring that ex-executioner to salvation, but I am very thankful that he used me as His instrument for His purpose. I am very thankful that our Lord called me to be a member of the great Christian family of Gideons.