September 20, 2013

Ukraine: “Tiny Little Baby Steps”

A young man’s long and winding path from atheism to baptism in the Black Sea

  • Baptism

    Slavic (left center) with his friends and TEAM missionary Kurt zurBurg (third from left) at Slavic’s baptism. The ceremony was followed by a celebratory brunch at zurBurg’s home.

Standing on the beach of the Black Sea in June, shading their eyes from the early morning sun, a small but joyful group of believers watched as TEAM missionary Kurt zurBurg led one of his best friends into the waves to be baptized.

Slavic had overcome many barriers in his journey to faith, including misconceptions he had about religion, his staunch atheistic beliefs, and personal pride.  The 25-year-old’s conversion was not the result of one dramatic experience, but of what he describes as “tiny little baby steps in the right direction.”

Like many Ukrainians, Slavic had been familiar with religion growing up. But what was missing was what it means to follow Christ. “In our culture, God is Easter bread and Christmas cake,” Slavic said. “I didn’t know anything else.” Slavic’s parents were baptized and wore crosses, but he never saw his parents’ religion affect the way they lived their lives.

By the time Slavic reached college, he was, in his own words, a radical atheist. Slavic and his friends attended a Bible study led by zurBurg’s co-worker, but they came only to make fun of the missionary and his talk of Jesus. “I thought what’s important in life is money, work, and power,” he said. “I had no concept of why I even needed salvation.” His university studies in biology taught him that humans had merely evolved, and that the world was governed by survival of the fittest.

Slavic isn’t sure when his self-confident atheism began to waver. Gradually, the emptiness of his search for worldly successes began to trouble him, and he started to ask himself, “What is the meaning of life?” At the same time, he began to observe believers for whom following Christ was not just a theory or ritual, but a way of life. Katia, a young Christian woman Slavic befriended, had been one of the first to show him the joy and meaning that Christianity brought to her life. He describes Katia as someone who is “nice just to be nice.” Never imagining that anyone could be so selfless, his friendship with her triggered in him a hunger for God.

As Slavic opened up to the idea of Christianity, everything he read or saw seemed to be about Jesus. He was greatly affected by a Polish book entitled “Where Are You Going?” and by a video testimony of a man who had been clinically dead, had a conversation with Jesus, and had come back to life to tell others.

Slavic can’t identify the exact moment he surrendered his life to Christ, though it was sometime about a year and a half ago. Even now, he struggles with uncertainties, but God has always proven himself faithful. Early in his Christian walk, Slavic remembers a day that he felt confused and frustrated. He angrily asked God, “What do you want from me?” Just as he declared, “I’m done!” and decided to throw away his Bible, a stranger stopped him and said, “Hey young man, God is looking for you.”

These experiences and interactions with believers such as Katia and zurBurg have humbled Slavic. He now realizes that a relationship with God is the one thing that matters in life. “God gives me a peace I didn’t have before,” he said. “A relationship with God, no one can steal from you. All the things people can give, you can take and borrow and steal. Even relationships with people can break, but no one can take your relationship with God, even if they kill you.”

-Written by Emily Scheie
-Photo provided by Kurt zurBurg