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From Mafia Men to God's Messengers, Part 1

“Let your hold be on God, not guns.”

Although his grandfather was an imam, and many other relatives were devout in their faith, Igor himself had a very secular childhood. Excelling in sports, he soon became a leader, respected—and feared—by the other boys on the street.

That leadership, respect, and fear followed Igor into adulthood, at which time he became highly involved in the Mafia. Big guns, big money, and big deals became an integral part of Igor’s life. But in spite of the thrills and excitement that his fast life was delivering, Igor felt that something was missing. There was a hole in his life that he just couldn’t seem to fill, so he went searching for answers. 

Searching for Something

First he visited the Hare Krishna people—just out of curiosity. Then he went to the Russian Orthodox church, and then to the mosque, but still Igor didn’t find the elusive “something.”

One day a friend told Igor that he knew a man who owned a Bible. Intrigued, Igor wanted to know more, so the friend put the two in touch. “Do you know,” the Bible owner asked Igor, “that in the Bible you can read about unclean foods—and how you are not allowed to eat pork?” This was news to Igor; he thought only the Koran taught such things. 

Over the next few months Igor placed several phone calls to this believer, who always patiently explained things to Igor from the Bible. Finally, the believer invited Igor to attend church with him. 

“I will never visit your church,” Igor rudely responded. But the Bible believer didn’t lose heart, and continued to keep in contact with the tough Mafia man. Six months later he again invited Igor to visit his church, and this time Igor accepted. 

The Visit

On the appointed day, Igor got into his car (after following his usual routine of checking for any hidden explosive devices) and prepared to drive to the church. Putting the key in the ignition, he started the car, but instead of going forward, he went into reverse and swiftly crashed into the neighbor’s car. “I won’t tell the neighbor now,” he reasoned, “but will wait until after I return.” 

The church group met in a small rented facility that didn’t look like much; nevertheless, Igor felt drawn to the place, and continued to return. Some church members eyed the mafia man with suspicion, wondering who he “really” was. But as Igor learned more about the Bible and its teachings, he would compare it to the holy book of the other prominent faith tradition with which he was familiar. 

“I was fairly well acquainted with history,” Igor recalled, “and I could compare the teachings of the two books. Eventually it was the truth of the Bible that won me over.”

Before his baptism, Igor studied the Bible with the Adventist pastor, peppering him with a barrage of questions during each meeting. Then a prominent evangelist came to Kazan, and at the end of those meetings Igor was baptized.

God or Guns?

“When I was baptized, I understood that I could no longer take part in things that happened on the streets. But even though I didn’t do those bad things anymore, I was still a hooligan,” Igor admitted. 

Every Sabbath Igor would bring his gun to church, keeping it securely on his lap. One Sabbath a church member told him that he shouldn’t bring his gun to church. “Let your hold be on God, not guns,” he admonished. 

The following week Igor decided to leave his gun at home, but feeling fearful, he found it difficult to come to terms with no longer carrying a gun. As he was returning home, he saw a dark silhouette following him. Deciding not to be afraid, Igor turned toward the silhouette, only to find a man carrying a sack of potatoes!

Sharing His Faith

From then on, his faith grew stronger and stronger, and he began to tell others about the truth he had found. Igor’s wife and sister started visiting the Adventist church, and after a year they too were baptized. So were his niece and nephew, and many others with whom he shared his faith.

One day Igor was telling a friend about the truth he had learned from the Bible, but the friend wasn’t very interested in what Igor was sharing. However, a man standing nearby was listening to the conversation and wanted to learn more. 

Vasily, the man who had been eavesdropping on Igor’s conversation, had been living a very hard life. He too was involved with the Mafia, and crime had taken its toll. Scars and disfigurement marked where enemies had used broken glass to cut deep gashes all over his head, face, eyes, and an ear. Other scars showed where bullets had grazed his scalp without inflicting fatal wounds.

God had sent Igor into Vasily’s life for a reason.

To be continued next week.