From Communist Daughter to God’s Translator
I was raised a loyal communist in the former Soviet Union. My father was a communist political officer who served the Soviet government in Romania, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, and Cuba. My family was indeed very "Red." Although it may be hard for others to understand, my father was a good person. He was a kind, loving father. I love him very much and am grateful to him for all his care for me.
Both my grandfathers died before I was born. My grandmothers were Russian Orthodox Christians. My father forbade them from talking about Jesus or praying. Yet, every time my grandmothers saw me, they would say, "Valentina, always remember to pray!"
Those words never left my mind, and all my life I did pray. No one had ever taught me how, and perhaps I didn't do it "properly," but I prayed. I never learned to confess my sins to the Lord, or to thank Him for what He had done for me. All I knew about prayer was to ask God for things. I had no idea what repentance or, for that matter, what sin was. The concept of sin and salvation was totally absent in modern Russia before perestroika. But God answered many of my prayers, anyway. He always knows where we are in our walk with Him, and I believe He is patient enough to understand and answer us, even when we don't pray "right."
My first contact with God's Word
Soon after perestroika began, Bibles became available. Every time I was in a shop and saw a Bible for sale, I would want to buy it. But Bibles were very expensive, and each time I would say to myself, "I'll buy it next month, when I get another paycheck."
One day, a group of American ministers came to the school where I taught English, and brought religious publications for our students. Because I could speak English, they invited me to lunch and left some books with me as well. As I was sorting the books, there it was: a New Testament in modern Russian. I couldn't believe my eyes. Excitement flooded my soul. I rushed home and read it through in two days and two nights. What I read amazed me so much so that my body temperature was high for two days. I wasn't sick; it was just my emotions. A sudden light electrified my mind.
I have always loved reading, especially classical works. In my reading I sought for truth, hope, love, and meaning. The Soviet regime had outlawed religion, but some writers like Dostoyevsky--he's my favorite Christian author--dealt with Christian-like ideals in their books. I took in all these ideas, but they were not enough. Not until I read the New Testament did I find fulfillment. The experience was overwhelming.
My contact with Adventists
The evangelists who left the New Testament with me were Presbyterians, but their bus driver and interpreter were Seventh-day Adventists. They led me to other Adventists in my hometown of St. Petersburg. I visited the main Adventist congregation there, and studied with Pastor A. I. Romanov for about a year (he is now president of the Northwestern Russian Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). I was baptized on May 3, 1992.
My father and mother live in the Russian town of Königsburg. When I called my father and told him about the Bible and the studies I was taking, he was very upset. "These people are agents of the CIA who want to destroy Russia!" he told me. "They are propagandists. Don't believe a word!" My father was raised an atheist, and had been taught all his life that the United States was the enemy, always looking for ways to destroy the Soviet Union.
In the summer of 1993, John and Ione Brunt, and Darold and Barbara Bigger from Walla Walla College came to St. Petersburg with an evangelistic team to hold meetings. Because of my knowledge of English, I became their interpreter. With their help, we raised a new Adventist church in Pushkin; that church is now one of my favorites!
I also translate for and help members of the Operation Bearhug teams that visit Russia. Operation Bearhug, begun by the North Pacific Union, helps arrange contacts between Russian and American Adventists. Teams of Walla Walla College students and graduates spend a year in St. Petersburg, teaching English and Bible classes at the St. Petersburg University of Transportation. I am the main contact between those teams and the university faculty.
A new experience
In the summer of 1994, I was invited to the United States to visit Walla Walla College and several Adventist churches in the area. Just before I left, I called my father. To my shock and happiness, he told me that he and my mother had begun to study the Bible at home! I am so thrilled to know that God is working in the lives of my family, as He has worked in mine.
My host at Walla Walla College was Roland Blaich, chair of the history and philosophy department, and local organizer of Operation Bearhug. I visited classes and spoke in several area churches. The experience allowed me to improve my English. I loved my time there. I could see the difference Christian education was making in students' lives. I also appeared on a local television station to tell my story.
Later I traveled to Southern California and spoke at the Loma Linda University church. For a long time I have suffered from poor eyesight. I found it difficult to read, and a translator must be able to read! I was afraid I needed eye surgery. But at Loma Linda, a team of eye specialists fitted me with glasses that made my vision nearly perfect, without surgery!
I left the United States to return to my homeland and my teaching with the dream that I would come back soon to a place that provides freedom and encourages initiative and creativity.
I now volunteer as the main English-Russian translator for the Northwestern Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in and around St. Petersburg. When people in other countries hear that I have only been an Adventist since 1992, they often say, "Oh, you're such a `young' Adventist!" But in Russia, I am considered an "old," experienced Christian. Ninety-five percent of the Adventist members in Russia are new Christians. When Adventist evangelistic crusades began in Russia after perestroika, there were only 70 Adventists in greater St. Petersburg (an urban area of almost 9 million). Now there are 2,000 church members.
Russia is going through a crisis right now. Many factories and small businesses have gone bankrupt. The future looks bleak. Unemployment is everywhere. In the midst of it all, the church must do its work, and its primary needs are two: church buildings and education for our members and pastors. The Russian church needs your prayers.
Kristin Bergman is a student and media relations writer at Walla Walla College, in Washington State, U.S.A.