Saved in the Sky
“I realized that the worst thing I had ever done was deciding to leave God.”
Editor’s note: Pastor Nikolai Zhukaljuk has served the Seventh-day Adventist Church for more than 40 years as a pastor, writer, publisher, and president of the Ukrainian Union Conference. In this story, he shares a pivotal moment from his time in the Soviet military.
My time for mandatory service in the Soviet army was nearly finished. One of my responsibilities was to serve as a journalist for the military newspaper. My superiors were pleased with my work and wanted me to continue as senior editor. They offered me an apartment in Leningrad, which during that time was very difficult to obtain. There was just one condition—I would have to become a Communist, and that meant denying my faith in God. During Soviet times, a person couldn’t work in such positions without being a Communist.
In a few days I was invited to meet with the general. He told me, “You can continue with military service. We’ll give you officer rank, and you can stay with us. You will have business trips, travel to different places, and work with the military district. You can stay in the army and work here.”
So now I had two proposals—to become a chief editor or a military officer. This was a great temptation—I was thinking of what it would mean to become an officer, and of all the things I would get. On the other hand, to have an apartment in Leningrad? This was a dream for me! I seriously considered accepting one of these offers, even though it would mean renouncing my faith in God and becoming a Communist.
The Last Jump
At that time I also served as a military skydiver and had participated in about 80 jumps. One day, as we prepared for another jump, the chief commander told me, “I’ll go first, and you will be the last one to jump. We will have 15 soldiers in between.” The parachutes of all the soldiers ahead of me would open automatically, but I would need to open mine manually. I thought this would be fine—I’m brave, I’m very experienced, and I’ve done this many times before.
I jumped last. After a brief free fall, I pulled the rip cord. Nothing happened. Trying not to panic, I reached for the emergency cord and pulled. Again, no parachute appeared. Nothing but blue sky above and the ground coming up fast below. I understood that this was the end. The feeling that overwhelmed me at that point is something only someone who has been in the sky can fully understand.
I opened my heavy coat and tried using it to break my free fall. Then I began praying the most earnest prayer I have ever prayed, believing it was probably going to be my last. “God, there’s nothing I can do to save myself, but I really want to see Your hand at this moment.”
I realized that the worst thing I had ever done was deciding to leave God. What would happen to me now? An apartment in Leningrad and all the military honors in the world didn’t matter anymore.
Looking below, I could see the open parachute of my commander. All of a sudden, some wind came and pushed me right into his parachute!
But you can’t stay on top of a parachute for long. As I slid off, my commander grabbed me with his strong hands and held on with an iron grip! We were falling fast, and he told me how to hold my feet so we could land as safely as possible. After landing, we were taken to the hospital with only minor injuries.
The next day a story appeared in the newspaper about this extraordinary experience. Everyone recognized that things like this just don’t happen. It was a miracle.
From then on my prayers were different from what they had ever been before. Two weeks later, when I had my appointment with the general, my answer was ready.
As I walked into his office, he looked at me and smiled. He was quite sure that I would agree right away to his proposal.
“Sir,” I told him, “I have thought about your generous offer, and I have decided not to stay in the army.”
Shocked, he asked, “What will you do?”
“Well, sir, I will follow the call of the party. I’m going to go to new places and cultivate new territory.” At that time, the Communists were wanting to develop land in Siberia and were encouraging people to settle there.
The general stared at me. “Well, soldier, I’ve seen many crazy people, but you are the craziest of them all!”
After his time in the military, Pastor Zhukaljuk secretly worked as a pastor and organized the underground work of publishing religious books and materials for the Adventist believers in the Soviet Union. He and his wife, Yevgenia, were imprisoned for this work and later released. They have been married for 60 years.