One question came to my mind often: How did so many Russian and Ukrainians keep their faith strong over decades of communist oppression of believers?…Often, in interviews, I would simply blurt out: “How did you (or your family, or your church, or your people) learn to live like this? How did you learn to die like that?
One of the first men I said that to answered me by telling me this story:
“I remember the day like it was yesterday, Nik. My father put his arms around me and my sister and my brother and guided us into the kitchen to sit around the table where he could talk with us. My Mama was crying, so I knew that something was wrong. Papa didn’t look at her because he was talking directly to us. He said, ‘Children, you know that I am the pastor of our church. That’s what God has called me to do–to tell others about Him. I have learned that the communist authorities will come tomorrow to arrest me. They will put me in prison because they want me to stop preaching about Jesus. But I cannot stop doing that because I must obey God. I will miss you very much, but I will trust God to watch over you while I’m gone.’
He hugged each one of us. Then he said: ‘All around this part of the country, the authorities are rounding up followers of Jesus and demanding that they deny their faith. Sometimes, when they refuse, the authorities will line up whole families and hang them by the neck until they are dead. I don’t want that to happen to our family, so I am praying that once they put me in prison, they will leave you and your mother alone.’
‘However,’ and here he paused and made eye contact with us, ‘If I am in prison and I hear that my wife and my children have been hung to death rather than deny Jesus, I will be the most proud man in that prison!'”
When he finished his story, I was stunned. I had never heard that kind of thing in my church growing up. I had never encountered that in my pilgrimage. I was sure that I had never been told that a father should value his faith over his family.
Almost immediately, though, I caught myself and I thought of some biblical examples of that very thing. I guess that is part of our story, I silently concluded. But it’s a part of the story that we have kept very hidden.
This was one more thing that sounded insane to me. Is this really the way that God intends for His people to live? And am I so certain about the resurrection that I would actually be willing to live that way–and maybe even be willing to die that way?
– Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God, p. 176-77