Before diving into all the greater details of my conversion, I want give you, the reader, a bit of background information on my upbringing. I hope this will set the stage for my testimony and give you some background that maybe you can relate to. One of the hardest setbacks I’ve faced during my conversations with others is their automatic assumption that I must have been a rebel my entire life and thus, I’ve reached this stage in my life. I want to say right away, that that is not the case. For most of my life, I had been willingly ignorant and now I seek the truth. With that in mind, let me begin.
I was born into a conservative Christian Pentecostal family in Central Ukraine, still under Soviet rule in 1987, to Vera and Leonid. I’m the oldest of two and have a younger brother that was born with some disabilities, same as my father. Our family was very poor and during the hardest years, we sometimes didn’t even have enough money for food and had to accept what our neighbors could share with us. Both of my parents worked hard to provide for our family but corruption was rampant during the first decade after the fall of the Soviet Union. Through all the difficult times, our family clung to our faith and was always involved in our church and Sunday school.
From an early age, my mother turned to me for a second opinion on major decisions in the household. My father’s mental disability put our family at a disadvantage. My mother did the best she could and she raised me to be proud of myself and my accomplishments. She was a selfless and dedicated woman; she never spared herself and always sacrificed for me in everything from food to clothing to her time. She spent countless hours with me over my homework and was determined that I complete more than the eight grades she had finished in school. Although she was raised in a fundamental Christian family, she enlightened me with narrations of Russian fairy tales, cultural fibs and poetry. I was raised to hold the Bible in high regard, diligently reading and asking questions. I fondly remember Sunday school lessons and the Biblical riddles that I challenged the older crowd with, to test their knowledge of the Bible.
Our family relocated to the United States in the fall of 1999. I went on to graduate from high school with decent grades and pursued a psychology degree in college. The subject was of great interest to me but I decided to pursue another degree instead. Going from one field of interest to another, almost by accident, I enrolled into a commercial electrician apprenticeship program and found my career.
Our family joined the large Slavic community in Sacramento, CA and became members of a conservative, Pentecostal church. Church for us was not only about our religion. It was a social community that we celebrated holidays with and essentially, went through life together. Given my upbringing, it felt natural for me to become seriously involved in and devoted to church. At the age of thirteen, I received the Holy Spirit and practiced glossolalia. In our church, we believed in prophecies and visions and even my mother claimed to see prophetic visions and dreams. We strongly believed that our conservative Christian faith was the right path and the only path.
Aside from our Slavic Christian community, our family also had the opportunity to interact with our Seventh Day Adventist neighbors. They shined like a bright light to us in stark contrast to the “other” sinful, adulterous American people surrounding us. They held to a similar fundamental belief system and encouraged us to continue in our faith. These individuals were loving, kind and respected us with great dignity. I had countless discussions with them over dinners regarding their Adventists’ beliefs and my own, and we were always trying to support our own beliefs with passages from the Bible. I had many debates with them but was always eager to support my belief, even hoping that they would one day discover the true God and Jesus that I knew of.
I continued to dedicate myself to studies and church. At that time, I viewed myself as the most serious and most religious person in my social group. At the age of eighteen, I received a prophetic word from God that He wants to be “in a covenant” with me and so I announced my decision to be water baptized. I read the Bible extensively, along with numerous text books and online articles. My ultimate pursuit was truth. I was eager to find answers to all of my questions and support the Bible. I was raised to believe that the word of the Bible was the undisputed, exact, inspired word of God. In my mind, the
Bible was God and God was the Bible.
Our church had a small bible study group that was formed of other dedicated individuals like myself, including my good friend, Vitaliy. He was someone I looked up to in awe; his character and perseverance inspired me to become even more spiritual. It is thanks to him that I learned to become a critical thinker. He showed me new ways to read and research the Bible and how to solve all of its “mysteries”. Together, we brainstormed how to close the contradictions seen in the biblical texts; how to explain them all away. In my mind, if the word of God was true and undisputed, then each contradiction had to have an explanation.
I dove head first into my religion and wanted to dedicate myself to God. I invested every breathing moment I could. I researched, prayed and even fasted for days at a time. Almost every day, I went out to a quiet place at a local park and prayed for hours by myself. Then, on the weekends, I would join a few other men and we would hold prayers in the wilderness. Those prayers meant so much to me; I loved setting aside time to communicate with God and pray in tongues uninterrupted. I would pray about everything on my mind and about my future. I really wanted God to bless me in ministry and bless my future life in general.
I become an outspoken preacher and youth group leader in my church. I was in our church choir, singing every Sunday morning. I participated in a prayer group, which gathered to pray for needs. I remember praying relentlessly for hours, until we were exhausted. I felt like I was growing spiritually, and the feeling I got from praying in glossolalia was so addicting and uplifting. I would get prophetic prophecies from others that I wanted to believe to be true. I memorized ten-minute-long inspiring poems to recite to the congregation. I traveled with my church on mission trips for humanitarian support to Jamaica and Mexico. I traveled to Florida, Washington, Oregon and to regional youth conferences to preach to youth about my revelations. I wanted everyone to know about God. I had received prophetic word that God wanted me to become a great leader and teacher and everything I did, was to glorify God and become the person he wanted me to be.
In 2010, I met a beautiful girl on one of my trips to Washington State and fell in love with her. We married a mere four months later. She had a similar religious upbringing to mine. Her father is a pastor of a church and she was raised in a large family of twelve children! Our marriage has gone through the good and the bad and at every rough patch, the Bible and prayer was what got me through. I always prayed for God to get me through any difficult time because I believed that our meeting was not a coincidence and we were meant to be together. And we still are but are quite different now than we were when we met and it’s a good thing!