“For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:24
I have been blessed. I’ve truly been blessed to witness God’s hands in the lives of a few young people who have caught their faith. I have met a lot of people over the years who have caught their faith in a variety of ways, I want to share one of those.
I met a Messianic Jewish Rabbi a few years ago. Messianic Jews believe Jesus was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament and they accept both the Old and New Testaments as the divine word of God. He was born in Romania during the Communist control of the country by the USSR. His father was a member of the Communist Party and was a government official, which afforded their family an upper-class lifestyle with many privileges. He was fortunate to attend a university and was being groomed to be a member of the Communist Party, like his father.
Part of the Communist required curriculum was for students to study the world religions. He described how his university professors guided the students through a rotation of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, offering the fundamental flaws with each to instill that atheism and allegiance to the Communist Party was the only true belief. They came to the study track of Christianity. Each student received a copy of the Bible and just as they had studied the Quran, they spent the next several weeks reading both Old and New Testaments. As this young man read the Bible, the words became real to him. He described to me how he suddenly felt the presence of the Lord, a tangible encounter, and he began to pray and accept Jesus as his Savior.
He had been lost, but now he was found. He couldn’t contain his faith and began carefully and secretly sharing his faith with other students. His siblings heard about this and told his parents, who immediately confronted him to stop this insanity or face serious consequences. But he continued to speak about Jesus and was arrested a few months later. Quickly released, he was again warned by the police and his father that further profession of Christianity would lead to serious prison time and possible hard labor.
He didn’t stop. He began leading secret small groups and organizing those groups to provide for the needy in this poverty-stricken country caused by Communist rationing. A year later, he was captured by the police, was convicted of promoting Christianity, and sentenced to a labor camp in Ukraine. He continued to pray to God and profess his faith in Christ, so he was placed on a transport ship and taken to Cuba where he was placed in a jungle labor camp. He would spend the next twelve years in this Cuban labor camp and would suffer the loss of two fingers and near complete loss of sight in his left eye from an engine explosion.
The fall of the Berlin wall and subsequent Perestroika in the Soviet Union during the 1990’s ultimately brought release and freedom to this now middle-aged man. He said had that not occurred he would have spent the remainder of his life in the Cuban labor camp. But when he was released, he was penniless, and without a home. He journeyed back to Europe, was able to gain access to a theology school, and became a rabbi. He returned to his former home in Romania where he ultimately led most of his family to Christ; his father had died a few years before his return.
When I met him, he was traveling between the U.S. and Europe to speak with both Messianic Jews and Christians about the importance of defending our faith against a world and culture that is set on destroying it. Defending my faith… Here was a man who had all but died defending his faith in Christ, and I felt really small in my lame efforts of ever defending my own faith.
I share this story as a testimony of how powerful an encounter with God can be. I share it because God can encounter any of us at any time and in any way He chooses. I witnessed one of those encounters with a young man this past weekend! I’ve been celebrating it all week! I will leave you with this photo as he prepares to be baptized in the chilly lake water of the camp at our retreat. Praise God today with a grateful heart for what He has done for you.