The road to Damascus

By July 15, 2011

Russia (MNN) — As radical as the conversion of Saul in the New Testament, Russian criminal kingpin Yuri experienced a dramatic change that could only have come by the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Igor Sokolov with Slavic Gospel Association leads a congregation in a Muslim area of Russia. When Yuri came to the church and experienced the saving grace of Christ, his story touched the heart of Pastor Sokolov.

Yuri used to be on top of the world. He led a gang that controlled many plants and factories in Russia, and he even had many state officials and structures under his power. Yuri owned an expensive Mercedes with a safe full of money. Even 15 years in prison did nothing to lessen the amount of influence he had over his affairs.

Eventually, Yuri started to abuse drugs and became very dependent. He realized he couldn't continue to lead his gang in this state and stepped down, suggesting they find a new leader. All seemed well until the very next day.

While walking home, Yuri heard a gunshot. A bullet sliced into his back, through his shoulder blade and by the grace of God just barely missed his spinal cord. Yuri blacked out, but woke up alive in the hospital. He realized that the very ones who used to be his loyal followers had quickly turned against him. It apparently wasn't enough to simply let him step down as gang leader. Yuri knew too much. The members of his own gang had conspired to kill him.

The doctors did not want to damage Yuri's spine, so they left the bullet in his back rather than remove it. He was furious, and from that day began plotting revenge on the person who fired the bullet.

Yuri was eventually released from the hospital and immediately started to seek out his attempted murderer. When he found out who it was, Yuri took two guns and set out to get revenge.

But the Lord had other plans. Apparently as Yuri approached the house of the man who had tried to kill him, he suddenly heard a voice. "Yuri, forgive him." At first, Yuri was confused and had no idea who or what was speaking to him. He kept walking, but the voice only said louder, "Forgive him!"

Then, Yuri saw the man he had come to kill. In that moment, going against everything his mind screamed at him to do and everything he had prepared for, Yuri did not fire. He simply looked at the man, and said, "I do not know why you shot at me, but I forgive you." Yuri then walked away, leaving a very shocked man.

Afterward, Yuri began thinking a lot about God, and he started attending Pastor Sokolov's church. He learned about Christ's love and sacrifice, and after a period of time, Yuri decided to repent. He was walking into the church, when suddenly he couldn't take another step. Yuri fell to his knees in the street and asked Christ to forgive him and come into his heart.

Since then, Yuri has been growing in the knowledge and faith of Christ. Pastor Sokolov is so grateful to have Yuri as an active member of his congregation.

Unfortunately, the affects of a sinful lifestyle are now taking a toll on Yuri. Currently, he is in the hospital struggling with tuberculosis and HIV. He still attends Sunday services and men's Bible study meetings.

Please pray for Yuri as he deals with hospital bills and failing health. Pray also for those from Yuri's home church who are coming around him in this difficult time. Pray that he would rest in the Lord.

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