This Sunday, January 18th, we'll have two special guests with us in worship and during our Sunday School hour: Dr. Sasha Tsutserov of the Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary in Russia, and Rev. Jill Carattini, writer and speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta.
Dr. Tsutserov lives and teaches in Moscow, and you can read his story below. He'll be speaking in the Good News Class, Room 101, at 10:15 a.m., and will be available for longer conversation at an informal lunch after church in the same room. (Find Your Way here).
A Saul becomes a Paul
My mother and father were highly educated members of the Communist Party and lived in Moscow, Russia. They never spoke of God or the Bible. However, when I was five years old, my grandmother insisted that I be baptized in the Orthodox church. This was all done in secret – miles outside of Moscow inside a dimly lit sanctuary. Although I was young, the Holy Spirit touched a hidden yearning in my heart for spiritual reality.
Russia had lost virtually all traces of Christian faith during 70 years of Communism. Her legacy to me was one of atheism and the Young Communist League. I went on to become a full member of the Communist Party and secured a position in the KGB, where I was engaged in vision and strategic development. I had a beautiful wife, Natasha, an equally beautiful daughter, Julia, good friends, a bright future, and all that I dreamed of as a young man. Though my dream did not include God, His dream included me.
Julia befriended an American girl whose father was a pastor in Moscow. Soon after, Natasha was engaged as their private Russian language tutor. As the head of the home and a KGB agent, I felt obligated to investigate these foreigners who had made such an impact on my family. I was awestruck by the humanitarian aid distributed by their church. And I was irresistibly drawn to their joy for life, for each other and for God. Step by step, I began to realize their generosity and joy stemmed from their love for God.
At first, I gave God a chance: 50/50. Since no one could prove God’s existence, then no one could deny God either. I stepped away from my aggressively atheistic realm. That step converted me “by mind.” Then, while praying at one of the church retreats, I had a vision. I felt I was a jar of clay. I saw God standing on the top of a mountain. God was pouring down pure gold of the Holy Spirit right inside of me. From that moment on, I needed no evidence for God’s existence, for I knew God in Jesus Christ. The vision converted me “by heart.” In July 1993, I was baptized and openly proclaimed my faith in God through Jesus Christ. I eagerly evangelized in Moscow and the former Soviet Union. Finally, the jar “cracked,” and all the clay
fell off me. And there I was, a brand new creature made of heavenly gold and shaped after the image of God. The experience converted me “by guts.”
It was at that point I learned to discern what God had prepared for my earthly life. I realized God called me to ministry in education. But Jesus wanted me to get formal theological training first. That was an inconceivable and scary thought for me – still a KGB officer! I realized that I could not keep both my faith and my job, so I quit working for the KGB. That same year I began my theological training at Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary, and in Spring 1997 graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree.
That summer I returned to Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary, where I served as Teaching Fellow and Provost for three years. To teach at Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary, I needed a doctoral degree. There was no school in Russia offering a Ph.D in Biblical Studies because the Communists had prohibited theological training. Therefore, I had to study theology abroad. My worldwide family in Christ provided me with a faculty scholarship. I enrolled at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where I earned my Ph.D in New Testament. I have returned to full-time ministry at Moscow Evangelical Christian Seminary in Russia.
The Ph.D provided by the scholarship allows me to fulfill a twofold strategic goal. First, my Ph.D enables me to restore a system of training ministers in Russia. Today, I am a Biblical Studies professor and Provost of the seminary. We are raising a whole new generation of Christian leaders to fill Russia with the Word and the presence of God, from scratch! Under Communism, more than 200,000 Christian leaders were martyred and nearly 100,000 church-owned buildings were destroyed. Second, my Ph.D gives me credibility with the influential people of the former Soviet Union.
I now have realized a new dream – not the dream I sought as a young man, which did not include God, but one of building a platform from which young men and women will go out into the cities and villages to evangelize the lost, plant churches, and build up the Kingdom across Russia and the former Soviet Union.
God reigns in grace and truth!
Jill Carattini will be teaching in the Fusion class, room 217, at 10:15, as well as participating in our worship at all three services. (Find Your Way here).
Jill Carattini is managing editor and principal writer of A Slice of Infinity, a daily reading considering themes from theology and culture to philosophy and the arts published by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. She’s a graduate of Hope College in Michigan, and is ordained as a specialized minister in the Reformed Church of America, where she serves on the theology commission. She earned her M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary and she’s also recently completed her Th.M at Duke University, studying sacramental theology and the arts. Jill is a frequent speaker and panelist on the subject of Christian writing, and is one of the key leaders in RZIM’s growing emphasis on the arts as a critical means to reach contemporary secular culture—especially in the academy—for Christ.
Jill has lived and worked in diverse ministry settings, including urban ministry and university campus ministry. She has spent time in a Native American community working within a local mission church in Oklahoma, and has studied in the Middle East, participating in a program aimed at understanding the culture, history, and politics of the Middle Eastern conflict. She enjoys reading widely in areas of theology, aesthetics, culture, and reconciliation. Among her favorite writers are John Calvin, Jeremy Begbie, Flannery O’Connor, Wendell Berry, and many of the early church pilgrims, though the writings of C.S. Lewis have been most formative in her own thought and writing. Jill is a native of Pentwater, Michigan, and currently resides with her husband Tony in Atlanta, Georgia.
Jill Carattini will also be leading a workshop roundtable for local writers on Saturday morning, January 17th, at Redemption Hill Church's The Fourhundred: 400 W. 32nd Street, RVA 23225. www.the400.org Click HERE for more details.