Around the world tonight, children will put on pajamas, crawl into bed, and
snuggle under the covers. Parents or grandparents will settle beside them
and recite fairytales and folk stories to usher their little ones into
dreamland. It's a ritual hundreds of years old—so familiar, most of us know
by heart variations of the same stories from "Little Red Riding Hood" to
"The Tortoise and the Hare."
Bedtime stories are common in Moscow, too, where I grew up. But the stories
my parents and grandparents told me were no ordinary fairytales. They were real—colorful, true stories that always pointed to the
truth: there is a God who loves us.
Grandfather Walter especially is an amazing storyteller! He knew how to
create intrigue in every story and leave space for our imaginations to fill
in the empty spots. He told tales of Great Grandfather Arthur rescuing a
woman from drowning, protecting his home from a thief, and winning the heart
of his soon-to-be bride while in prison for proclaiming the gospel—a
sentence he would receive at least two more times in his life.
Walter also shared the intense poverty and persecution his family of eight
endured after Great Grandfather Arthur was released from prison and they
were banished to Siberia, along with the ridicule he endured as the son of
a pastor and, later, for the choice he made to sacrifice medical school when
Christians were banned from education.
Naturally, as a young boy, stories about heroes fascinated me. Knowing
Great Grandfather Arthur survived both world wars, I had questions:
What did Nazi Germany look like? How did they defeat their enemies?
I didn't understand how harsh and evil war is, how it is the saddest, most
destructive thing humans do to each other.
I once asked Grandfather Walter
if he had been a war hero. In reply, he began sharing new stories about
Great Grandfather Arthur, who didn't take action in those wars but was a
hero of a different war—a much bigger one that is still going on today. He
was a hero of faith, who fought and won many spiritual and
physical battles of staying faithful. He shaped in my imagination what a
real hero looks like.
The real heroes of my family have been changing the world for Christ for
more than eight decades! I, along with my brothers, Tim and Elijah, and my
sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, have the lives we do today because our
parents, grandparents, and great grandparents took Deuteronomy 6 seriously:
"Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. . .
. Commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving
you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you
are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed
and when you are getting up."
My parents and grandparents have never failed to tell us about their faith
in Jesus Christ and what they have learned from His Word intentionally and
passionately . . . literally as we were going to bed and getting up!
In 2012, my brother Elijah and I asked Grandfather Walter to write
down some of those true bedtime stories he shared with us and our siblings
while we were growing up. I have been working on translating this slice of
personal history into English. Here are a few of my favorite entries from
In 1937, my mother—your Great Grandmother Maria—boarded the train with
me and my five brothers and sisters, headed for Siberia where your
Great Grandfather Arthur was imprisoned. It was amazing to be traveling
on the train!
At one point, we went into a huge tunnel under a mountain. Suddenly,
the smell of coal from the engine flooded our passenger car. The tunnel
was completely dark. Immediately, everyone began to panic. Some cried
out. Then, a flash of light appeared, and we saw the light of the sun.
Laughter spread through the car. I remember thinking,
We didn't fall into a hole! We are heading to my father, who is by the
sun. He is not in the darkness!
From early morning until late night, KGB officers would search our
house, taking anything suspicious. Even children's games were suspect!
We had one called "From Moscow to Leningrad" that had a map. I had to
explain to the officers it was just a game, not some spy map.
Being a small boy, I was quick and managed to hide in my pocket a
small New Testament as well as our hymnal. Everything else was
taken by them forever—even our game . . .
On May 5, 1945, your Great Grandfather Arthur received freedom. He came home skinny as the bones are—all long hair, unshaven, and barely alive. How badly I wanted everything to change for the better at his return! But we didn't have enough room in our house or enough food for another person. Still, the main thing was that he came alive, and he came with Jesus Christ in his heart.
When I was four years old, while your Great Grandfather Arthur was in
prison and your Great Grandmother Maria had to work, I was the
babysitter for my baby brother, who was about two years old. My ears
remember only the sounds of neighbors' radios and babies crying. My
eyes were always looking at my smaller baby brother but also outside
the window. My heart was always waiting for my older siblings to come
home or for our neighbor, Anna, to come. My baby brother had stomach
pains, and I didn't know how to help him. Sometimes, when he screamed
for a very long time, Anna would come.
My dear mother, your Great Grandmother Maria, would come home very late
from work only to work more to take care of us and our home. I remember
seeing her at night, on her knees by the fire, praying with a look in
her eyes I will never forget.
"Our whole family was in the arms of the Lord," she would say. "And
we are on the side of the Lord in this battle between the evil one
and the good One. We are on the bright side."
As I read through Grandfather Walter's memoir, I can hear his voice telling
each story, as he has done so many times before. I can see his tears and feel his
pain and joy. I know this story is about a righteous man who surrendered
everything to God—his life and his family—just as his father, Great
Grandfather Arthur, did before him. The patriarchs of my family embody one
of my favorite hymns: "I Give Everything to Jesus," better known in English
as "I Surrender All."
Remembering their stories—our stories—is important, just as it was
for the ancient Israelites (Deuteronomy 8:2). They're more than just
memories; they're instructions for life, for how to live, and even for how
to be ready to die. They are rooted in Scripture, so I cling to them
(Proverbs 4:13). They have made me look at life more maturely with an
understanding that while there is bitterness and suffering, through Jesus
Christ, there is also joy, light, and warmth.
My family's legacy motivates
me to be courageous and put life in the proper order: 1. A free and
personal relationship with God, 2. Family, 3. Everything else. Their
stories teach me to be grateful for what I have—for freedom, copies of the
Bible, and open churches.
Learning the faith of those who came before me has taught me to be humble,
obedient, and faithful, reminding me, as the writer to the Hebrews put it:
Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do
I, too, am pursuing full-time ministry right now as a student at Dallas
Theological Seminary (DTS). I'll never forget my first day of classes. I
was excited to gain knowledge and wisdom from the world's best Bible
scholars, but I also was excited because my father had studied here. I was
thrilled by the thought that I would sit in classes he sat in, even learn
from the same professors! I love him very much and wish to be like him and
my faithful Grandfather Walter and Great Grandfather Arthur. Our lives are
different, but they all have one core unity—a love and faith in our Savior
and the desire to share Him with others.
Our trials are different too, but the Lord has put each of us in a position
to learn to trust and rely on Him alone. As soon as my wife and I made the
decision to come to DTS, everything began changing. We saw God's hand
guiding us as never before. Mighty excitement stirred within us! But
questions soon followed.
Where would we live? How would we live? How would my wife and
children, who didn't know English, adapt?
My daughter, who was less than two years old, broke her leg the night
before our flight. We worried, Is this a sign? Should we not go?
Then our 16-hour flight, which is long enough with two small kids—one in a
cast—and a pregnant wife, turned into a two-and-a-half-day flight, topped
off by lost luggage. What's going on? we wondered. Lord, haven't we left everything to fulfill Your will?
These and other questions came to mind, but I remembered the words
Grandfather Walter spoke to me before I left. I had gone to visit him to
receive his blessing. I expected he would be proud that I was following in
his footsteps. To my surprise, the conversation turned into an "interview."
He asked over and over: "Are you sure you want to do this? This is not
Eventually, I realized he was giving me a hard time because he loves
me and didn't want me to go through the same struggles that Great
Grandfather Arthur and he had gone through. Ultimately, he gave me his
blessing, and remembering his blessing has helped me overcome my struggles.
Grandfather Walter was right! Following God's call meant leaving everything
I had: a dream job in the aviation business, a loving extended family,
grandparents nearby for my children, a local church I loved and served,
friends we sorrowed and rejoiced with. However, with the heritage of my
family written in my heart, I can testify without a doubt: Jesus is worth
All to Jesus I surrender . . .