He Used to Traffic Heroin in Central Asia, Now He Smuggles Bibles
Throughout Central Asia, illegal drugs are rampant in the former Soviet countries. A 2017 report on Central Asia’s drug problem states that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, there has been a tremendous increase in both trafficking and drug use throughout the region. Drug addiction is growing, especially with the youth. Here, Viktor* shares how drug trafficking was his life, even in jail–until the day his prison cellmate received a package in the mail that changed the trajectory of Viktor’s life and the eternities of thousands of others.
While many would consider their 20s an adventurous stage of life, *Viktor’s story takes that theme to new extremes. Like many this age, he moved away from home and began exploring a new trade.
Unfortunately, however, Viktor’s trade of choice was smuggling illegal drugs in Central Asia.
At first, Viktor’s early adult years were filled with adrenaline and adventure. Viktor led an operation that ran drugs from Tajikstan to the state where he lives in Central Asia. He seemed to have natural abilities to covertly network across communities. Viktor’s success rate, in fact, was so high that he was offered the chance to smuggle drugs across the Afghanistan border as well, which would’ve expanded his operation into three countries.
But in 1996, things went south when Viktor was caught with four kilo–almost nine pounds–of heroine on him. He was immediately arrested and jailed.
‘I read about eternal life’
In jail, Viktor’s life took a turn for the worst. As his sentence wore on, Viktor grew suicidal. He describes how his state of mind deteriorated:
“I felt empty inside and did not want to live anymore. I did not know how long I would be in jail.”
Viktor’s daily life in confinement continued to burden him until the day his cellmate received a package from his mom. It was the Gospel of John, which his friend offered to Viktor.
At first, he didn’t touch the book. But as he continued to struggle, after 10 nights of poor sleep, Viktor finally picked up the book and began to flip through it.
Initially, the Bible made little sense to Viktor.
“Words like ‘the Word was first and the Word was God’ made no sense to me,” he remembers. “What did it mean? I put it away and stopped reading.”
But then the strangest thing happened. Once again, Viktor encountered a series of sleepless nights. In a moment of exhaustion and desperation, he again turned to the Bible and, this time, he couldn’t stop reading.
“I read about eternal life.” Viktor explained. “Reading about eternal life caught my attention. Thinking about it, I really desired eternal life, even more than I desired to be released from jail.”
As he read, Viktor began to feel God’s presence. He didn’t know about prayer; still, he called out to Jesus.
“’You know I am not sure that you exist, but I want eternal life and I want to be born again.’ I continued reading in the Bible alone in my cell with no Christians around. It was just me and the book.”
When fellow prisoners later tried to smuggle him a package of drugs, Viktor refused it.
“Looking at the drugs, I knew that they would drive me insane. ‘This is death!’ I said. I made the decision to choose life and sent the drugs back.”
For such a time as this
In the midst of this, Viktor got bad news. The prison doctors diagnosed him with a disease and told him he probably only had about 18 months to live. But as Viktor drew near to God, the news didn’t have the crushing impact on him that you might expect. Instead, Viktor began to feel confident he would go to Heaven. He had a sense of visible joy his fellow inmates couldn’t understand.
When the disease didn’t worsen, Viktor and others started a church.
They began gathering in small groups, playing instruments, and praying. Viktor even tried his hand at preaching. Not too long after they began, the prison administrator came to respect Viktor and his house of prayer so much that he suggested Viktor preach over the prison’s microphone system that was usually used for announcements.
The prison official became a supporter, encouraging Viktor’s leadership in the faith. When winter arrived, for instance, and Viktor had to stand out in the cold to deliver his sermons, the administrator encouraged him, “Do not care about the cold, you have to preach about Jesus Christ!”
Modern-Day Bible Smuggler
When Viktor was released from prison, he decided to continue his role as a pastor by attending a seminary Bible college. During his studies, he started to work among drug addicts in a rehab center and began sharing the Word of God with them.
Today, he is the pastor of a very special church in Central Asia. His church can’t be formally registered, so it does a lot of its work in a barn filled with animal feed. Thanks to Open Doors support, Viktor is able to sustain himself and his ministry by selling blocks of salt for cows and grain and rice for chickens, while he also secretly stores resources and materials needed for evangelism. Where he lives, Bibles and Christian literature are illegal.
When asked about his safety, Viktor acknowledges there is risk involved.
“We have so many secret things here,” he shares. “But we operate wisely and only let trusted people in our yard. The customers come to our barn and no farther. When people come for books, we close the gate or put a car in front of it. Neighbors cannot see what we are doing. And there is no reason to come and check. The only visible activity is our animal food we sell.”
The believers gather discreetly in a rented facility, using a home-based evangelism method where they identify people who want to learn more about God and then go to their homes to teach them.
At nights, the church members go into the village to interact in the public spaces. They can’t publicly evangelize in the streets, so they just socialize and answer questions.
“If a lady asks about baptism, for instance, then we suggest going to her home to drink tea and talk a little further,” he says. “We use any opportunity to enter their homes to share the gospel.”
While Viktor and his friends started his ministry on their own, it was further developed through a microcredit from Open Doors.
“We realized it was not our own plan,” he says. “God led us to this ministry. It is hard work and does not produce a high profit, but it works.”
We asked him what we can pray for and what we can pass on to our brothers. His answer was quick:
“Please do pray that my testimony and my life can bring many people to Christ, and pray also for my relatives.”
*representative names and photo used for security reasons
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