My name is Yana Muskulidi. I was born in Russia. At that time my country was called the Soviet Union and religion was against the law. I grew up in an atheistic family. My father was a member of the Communist Party and in our family we never prayed and never read the Bible. From my childhood I asked myself the questions, ‘Why are people born?’, ‘Why do they die sooner or later?’, ‘Why was I born?’ and ‘Is God real?’
In school I had a friend called Sasha. We were in a bad class. Very often we were mocked by the other children because we were different, we didn’t smoke or drink and we worked at school. This was perhaps the first time I wondered why people behaved in bad ways, however, a few years later we became just as bad as them.
My friend’s grandparents were Baptists. My friend came to Christ Jesus when we were 18 years old. I was shocked. Firstly, because the Baptist Church in Russia is considered to be a cult. Secondly, I always thought the church was for desperate people, like those who were jobless or very sick, or old people who are preparing to die. She wasn’t really a strong person so I put it down to character weakness. Sometimes she told me about Jesus, Church and Christians. I just listened out of politeness. The Christian life, prayers and Bible study and Church services, all seemed boring and very uninteresting. I was young, in my late teens, and I was enjoying my life, nightclubs etc.
I noticed that to get on in life, many people became selfish, proud, ambitious and this seemed ok to me too. I liked the idea of living for myself, my wants and desires. This is why I didn’t think I needed God. My friend told me more and more about Christianity, and her Church. I began to understand what she really believed and what Christians were really like. Sometimes she would use the Bible to show me why things were wrong. Once she offered to pray before a meal. I was surprised but said “Yes”. She shut her eyes and thanked God for our food, our health and other things. It was wonderful for me. I didn’t know people could talk to God in such a personal manner. I was also amazed she would thank God for everything we have.
The next month I visited her. Her mum was sick with cancer. She was dying. She died the day I called, while I was in the house. While she was in her dying moments Sasha and her sister were crying and praying to God to heal their mother. I said “Sasha, stop it, she’s already dead.” We called nieghbours and her pastor. When he arrived he was so different from what I expected. When he spoke to Sasha, he smiled and told her, “It’s ok. Your mum is happy now. She’s in a better place.” I thought, “A person can’t be happy after death.” I just went home and thought about this over the next few days. I didn’t go to the funeral, but I heard that many of the Church members were there and sang Christian songs. This was shocking to the nieghbours who were watching. It’s not usual to hear singing at funerals in Russia. I heard later that the Church collected a lot of money and gave a gift to the two sisters.
Something else was going on in my life at this time. My boss, who was rich and successful, began to make advances towards me. I kept putting him off and told him I loved my boyfriend Dimitrei. Eventually he threatened me that if I didn’t sleep with him I would lose my job. Once he even refused to pay me my month’s salary saying I hadn’t worked hard enough and didn’t do what he wanted. I wondered, ‘If there is a God, how does He let people like this go unpunished?’ Dimitrei and I got married in June 1997 and one month later my boss sacked me.
We had a small family wedding, with only a few friends there. Although my friend Sasha should have been my bridesmaid I didn’t invite her because I was ashamed of her Christian faith. She wasn’t hurt and we remained friends. In the winter of 1998 she invited me to her Church. I was interested. I don’t remember what the preacher spoke about because I was watching the people. There were many young people in the Church. They didn’t seem like desperate people. It seemed that they knew the meaning of life. In their eyes I saw happiness and peace. It looked like they didn’t face a tough life, the tough life which was normal in Russia. These people were so different. The Church building didn’t have icons or statues and on the wall was written, “Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.” It was strange for me. The service started and the choir sang hymns about Christ and about salvation. The Preachers also spoke about Christ, reading from the Bible. The service in the Baptist Church lasted about two hours with songs, prayer and preaching. Visitors commented that it was like going to a concert! I wondered what was bringing these people to these services. Maybe they didn’t like their lives before they became churchgoers?
Most of all I remember the pastor. He prayed for the unsaved who were there with tears and a trembling voice. I had never seen a man crying before. I realised he was crying for me also. I thought, “I’m not a criminal, not a sinner. I don’t need salvation.” Sasha gave me a gift of a Bible at this time. A few months later I started to read the Bible from the beginning and I could not understand the Old Testament. Probably this was because I didn’t believe it. In autumn of the same year my husband and I were in a car accident and had a miraculous escape. We thought this was divine intervention and started to attend the Baptist Church.
For me it was a beginning. I attended Church every Sunday. It was wonderful and from the sermons I got a lot of answers to my questions. I understood that everyone was born a sinner and can only be changed by God. And also I understood that everyone needs to be saved, criminals and good-living people. Even a small lie is a sin in God’s eyes. Things like adultery and abortion, which have become acceptable in our world, are sins too. Then I understood that if I came to Christ I would no longer go to bars, night clubs etc. enjoying that kind of life .I was beginning to fear God because of the life I was living but I still wanted to live life my way, so I couldn’t take that step, yet.
In the winter of 1999 I was at home alone and suddenly I could see. I needed to confess to God. I understood my life had no meaning. I knew that my priorities were all wrong. I realised that everything I was living for could be taken away. I had no foundation. I knew what would happen to my soul if I died and faced God. I knelt down but I couldn’t speak for a while because I had never prayed before. It seemed odd to pray to nothing, no statues, no icons, just the void. I started sobbing and praying for the first time in my life. I asked God to forgive me for my unbelief and for what I had done in my life. Then I asked Him to take my life in His hands. When I stood up I felt as if a weight had been lifted off me, that I was forgiven. A few months later I was baptised in the local river.
My life was changed. The first months of my new life I was happy. I went to all the services in the Church. I listened very carefully to all the preaching. I liked it. I understood a lot of things. But to be honest I didn’t like the idea of eternal life. I didn’t tell anybody in the Church because I was ashamed. I tried to appear to be a good Christian, to be active in the Church. I was happy in my new life, I was forgiven, I thought God would give me everything. I wanted it to be like a slot machine, I’d put money in and out would come the winnings! I couldn’t understand that God could love the real me, with my faults and failings. In Church I was often alone and very few people would speak to me. In spite of this I liked these people more than non-Christians. I even joined the choir to make new friends and to be seen. I was still a bit proud!
My parents didn’t understand what had happened to me. They said Sasha had lured me into a cult and once when she phoned me, my dad yelled a lot of bad things at her. Dimitrei wasn’t against me going to Church. He came with me a few times at the beginning but then only occasionally after my baptism. I was angry. I wanted to bring him to the Lord! Later I knew he was reading the Bible on his own. He even stopped this too, maybe because of me. Maybe I didn’t trust God in this matter. Every holiday I invited him, because I was in the choir. Each time I hoped “This time he’ll be saved and everybody will see us together!”
I spoke to my sisters a lot about God. Soon after me, my middle sister was saved. But my father stopped her going to church and sometimes even hid her Bible. He would say things to her like, ‘If you go to that church you’ll end up like Yana, narrow-minded and ignorant!’ My father didn’t accept God’s forgiveness. He was an alcoholic and drank a lot and finally killed himself in the year 2000.
Our family was shocked because of this. His last day he asked me about God but, because he was drunk, I said, ‘Let’s talk about this tomorrow.’ That night he killed himself! My family was concerned for me because I was pregnant. My brother and sisters in the church were prayed for me and everything worked out fine. Our son, Artem, was born one month later. My mother cried a lot and considered herself guilty because of her husband’s death. I also felt guilty because I hadn’t taken that last chance to tell him about God.
My mother began to look for some comfort so she began to come to church. Later she too was saved. Of course, my sister was able to attend church again. She made a lot of friends and I was happy for her. My youngest sister also said she was saved but I’m not sure it’s genuine. After 2 years she stopped attending church and went back to her old way of life. But I do believe god will bring her back to Himself.
At first I was ashamed to speak to my relatives about my faith. Our best friends, Dmitrei’s and mine, knew about my faith and came to church a few times. But they are still Russian Orthodox christians, not real christians. My relatives have no contact with us since my mother was saved.
Shortly before we came to Ireland there was a teenage boy from a christian family who got saved. He had been very sick for a long time and the doctors had not been able to help him. He got saved and got well very soon afterwards. He matured very quickly and had a great knowledge of the Bible and an understanding of people. What happened to him transformed my view of God. God used him to change me in many ways. Now I want to live my whole life serving God. Eternal life is now something wonderful!
Dmitrei decided to move to Ireland to work. For a year and a half we saved and prepared. I didn’t want to go. I prayed all this time. of course, I knew I would accept God’s will. I arrived here a few months after Dmitrei, in late December 2001. Now most of the people we met were non-christian Russian-speaking people who had moved here too. This was strange for me. Back in Russia most of the people I knew were christians. I found it hard to tell these people about my faith. I realised they would be washing how we lived, thc’s so important!
In March of 2002 I found the Dundalk Baptist church. It was so small. The church at home had about a thousand members, this one had only a few dozen! But I found they had a real brotherly love. When our second son, Denis, was born the ladies of the church arranged to have meals sent to our home for several days afterwards. This was a very welcome blessing to me!
It seems that God plans to keep us here for the moment. Recently Dmitrei was offered a job in Tullamore. I prayed to God, trusting in His will. The job was switched for a local one instead.
Since we arrived here many more Russian-speaking people have moved into the area. My hope is that the Lord will use me to witness to them.