Divine Joy – In the Face of Persecution
Posted by reformed4christ
The following is a short story that I wrote back in 2006. It is fictional and based off of facts and real life events that occurred for many individuals in other countries who stood up to proclaim Christ and live out their faith. As you read through this, my prayer is that you would lift up your hearts to God, praying for those missionaries and peoples in other countries who are persecuted for their faith, and even at times killed for standing up in Christ.
“Private Svetonius!” the male voice bellowed, awakening from from a fitful slumber. He say up and looked around, disoriented, covered in a cold sweat. His dishwater blonde hair stuck to his forehead in clumps and his tongue drug across the roof of his mouth like sandpaper. Eventually he realized that he had dreamt the voice, but sleep was too hard to find again, it had hidden itself, like a thief in the night. He stood to stretch his legs, wondering what time it was. He reached into the pocket of his trousers for his pocket watch, but realized that they must have taken that too, for it was gone.
He sat back down on the musty smelling mattress and looked around, he had already committed the room layout to memory. It was a long narrow room, having cold steel walls and a cement floor. The door was made of thick metal, with a small window at the top, one he guessed to be no more than a foot wide and six inches in height. The window was just big enough to illuminate the dirt covered floors and the thick cobwebs in his cell. He buried his head in his hand, and did the only two things that there were to do…pray and think.
Ivan Svetonius joined the soviet army when he turned eighteen, longing for adventure, excited to leave behind the boring lifestyle of a farm boy. What he found was more than freedom, more than adventure, he found a Savior who loved him more than life, who offered freedom from sin and this world, adventure as he sought to know Him more and deeper, and a sense of belonging that he had never known before. This Savior had given His life for Ivan and in return, Ivan promised Christ that if given the opportunity he would give his life for Christ as well. He didn’t realize just how much this would change his career in the Soviet Army. The communist were endlessly calling him to headquarters for talks, attempting to “re-educate” him, to talk him out of his faith in Christ.
The last talk that he had was with Major Moisyeu, though Ivan had been interrogated again and again and again by many others, he had never backed down from his faith in Christ. still Moisyeu was certain that he could solve Ivan’s “problem.”
“Svetonius, have you forgotten to whom you work for ?” questioned Moisyeu.
“No, sir. I work for the Soviet Army.” replied Ivan, “but I serve my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and that takes priority over all else.”
“Oh, is that right ? Is this Jesus the one paying you ? Does He outrank even me ?”
“Yes, sir. My Lord does outrank you, for He is the One who dies to pay for my sins. Not to be disrespectful, but I’ve yet to see you do that for me, or anyone else for that matter. And though He is not paying me currently, my riches are being laid up in heaven even as we speak.”
“I am familiar with the Christian teachings, Svetonius, but what does that have to do with being a soldier ? Do you disagree with the teachings of the glorious red army ?”
“But yet you’ll not accept the principles of scientific atheism upon which our entire Soviet State and Army are based ?”
“I cannot accept what I know to be untrue. I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how he could look up into the heavens and say that there is no God. I cannot agree with this principle. “
“Svetonius, no one can prove the existence of God. Not even priests and pastors agree on this.”
“Sir, they speak of not being able to prove God, but there is no question about knowing Him. I speak with His daily. He is with me in this very room, even as we now speak.”
“So God talks to you ? Hump! I am sorry Svetonius, but your persistence will do nothing for you. However, I have found that men like you often come to your senses with a little discipline.” Major Moisyeu said this while shaking his head in frustration. “You will be placed into a solitary cell for the evening, after taps are played. You will remain in there until you are willing to reconsider all of this talk of gods and heaven.
I hope that you will quickly reconsider and agree to be sensible in this matter. Tomorrow we will plan together for your political “re-education.” You are dismissed” Moisyeu finished by raising his hand and waving Ivan away.
Moisyeu had expected Ivan to hesitate, to reconsider, to see some sense of doubt or fear in his eyes. Instead, Ivan only nodded his head, squared his shoulders, and walked quietly to the door without a single word.
When the soldier turned around, Moisyeu did not see one line of worry, anger or fear on his face. This both surprised and shocked the older man.
“Do not attend dinner with the rest of the men. You are not to eat until further commanded. That is all.”
That night, after the bugle sounded, Ivan was transported to his cell, where he now remained. Ivan began to pray.
“Lord, I place my life in your hands. My heart I give You, Lord, eagerly and entirely. Please take it and make what You will out of it. If it be Your will, help me to make the most of my time here…..” For hours he prayed. Finally, he heard the click of the thick door opening. Light flooded into the room, cutting through the heavy darkness like a knife. Ivan rose, squinting, trying to make out the figure who was standing in the doorway.
“Private Svetonius!” A deep male voice bellowed, a voice that Ivan recognized as Colonel Rouchefoucaulds.
The Colonel walked a little closer, and as Ivan’s eyes adjusted to the light, he could make out the stern features that made up the man’s face. He was middle aged with close cut dark hair, and thick dark eyebrows that made his eyes seem even smaller and more daunting. Ivan was much taller than the man, but the Colonel was built stockier and held himself with pride.
“Have you changed your mind Svetonius ? Are you ready to reconsider this “god” of yours ?” the Colonel clenched his lips tightly together and furrowed his brows even lower over his eyes as he glared up at Ivan.
“As much as I would love minor comforts, I cannot and will not disown my Savior. No man putting his hand to the plow and looking back is fit for the Kingdom of God. I will never agree to remain silent about my Lord God. “
“Svetonius, I didn’t want to do this,” growled Rouchefoucaulds turning away from Ivan, “but Moisyeu warned me that you might be this stubborn. Tonight you will be transported to a refrigerated cell, where you will remain for twenty-four hours. If by the end of that time you still are not cooperative, the temperature will slowly be dropped until you do decide to cooperate.”
Rouchefoucaulds began to walk out of the room, then paused and turned back to Ivan.
“Oh, and Svetonius, you are to obey that order in summer uniform. That is all.”
After he left, Ivan sat back down on the edge of the worn out mattress, and began to pray again. This time more fervently than ever before. A bright light suddenly filled the room and as he looked up, he saw and Angel of the Lord in front of him, bright and powerful. Ivan’s heart filled with joy and fear.
“Do not be afraid Ivan, for you have found favor with God. The Lord of Hosts sent me to tell you, ‘I am with you, so do not fear them. As they persecuted me, they also persecute you. But be of great courage for I am with you, even to the grace. Take heart, I will keep you strong to the end.’ “
Then, just as quickly as he appeared, the Angel was gone again, leaving Ivan again in the dark, but his joy was like a fire within him, so unspeakable that he could hardly move. The only thing that Ivan could do was to fall on his face on the cold cement floor and praise God. That was where he was found that evening when the guards came to transport him to his new cell.
This new cell was much different than his previous one. As Ivan stood in the dark and cold cell, he could feel the wind from the vent above the door. Exploring the cell, he found only cold steel walls and a freezing cement floor. He wondered how long he could stay alive in this room. He felt weak and dizzy from lack of food. He was so tired, but it was too cold to sleep. It was too cold in this room to do anything at all except pace back and forth to try and stay warm. He tried sitting on the floor, but it was unbearably cold, and he began to realize that pacing back and forth only brought him closer to the vent above the door. Finally, he found that the only position that would work was to stand leaning his forehead against the wall.
Yet through this all, Ivan’s heart stayed light. He was full of joy and peace and he was completely on fire for the Lord.
For the next two years this was Ivan’s life. He was transported from one cell to another and the torture only worsened. At times he was beaten so badly that he was hardly recognizable, and there was once that he was hung upside down on a ceiling fan by his feet and left there for days until he passed out. There were other times when he would be clothed in a special rubber suit and air would be pumped in until he could hardly breathe. Still another attempt to break his faith, he was sat in a room with a few men who pulled out both his fingernails and toenails one by one.
But through all of this torture a miracle occurred, when the torture was at it’s worst, Ivan began to love his torturers. He pictured each torturer as a future Apostle Paul and in his jailers he saw the potential to be like the jailer in Philippi who became a convert. He dreamt of the day when he would be asked, “What must I do to be saved ?”
Finally, when he was about twenty-one, Ivan realized that his time on earth was coming to an end. He knew that communist Russia was not going to put up with him much longer. He was too much of a nuisance and already hundreds of soldiers had come to Christ while witnessing the strong faith that Ivan had in Christ.
Ivan was transported to a solitary cell, where he awaited yet another interrogation. He spent his time in prayer to God, praying that he would be equipped with the right words to speak. He also prayed for every soldier he knew or knew of, he prayed for his family, friends, and most of all, for his tortures. It was finally announced to him that Major Moisyeu was waiting for him in the interrogation room. When Ivan was seated, Moisyeu began to talk.
“Svetonius, we have given you chance after chance to become ‘re-educated’ to our political background, but instead you have become stubborn and have decided that you will not follow our ways. No amount of discipline we have shown you has proven otherwise. But to show you my mercy, I will allow you one last chance to see my mercy, I will ask you again, will you renounce this so called ‘god’ of yours and these simple ideas, or will you pay the ultimate price ?”
Ivan raised his eyes to meet those of Moisyeu, and did the last thing that Moisyeu expected, he smiled, joy shining across his rugged and bruised face.
“Sir, God is my hope and my refuge, my strength, what He wills, I will. I do not care about my own life. The most important thing is that I complete my mission, the word that the Lord Jesus Christ gave me to do – to serve Him with my whole heart, soul and mind, to bring glory to Him in every possible circumstance and to tell as many as possible about Him. I have done all of those things. “
Moisyeu stared at Ivan for a moment, confused. His brow creased in frustration, not understanding how such a young man could give his life for something that he didn’t even see.
“Very well, Svetonius. The choice was yours. Tomorrow you are sentenced to execution by fire. I want you to be an example to everyone in this Army that this is the result of someone who dares disobey the Glorious Red Army.”
Moisyeu stood to leave, then turned back to Ivan and said, “You have strong perseverance, Svetonius. Too bad you let it go to waste on such foolish notions as these. You would have made one heck of a Soldier, son.” And with that, he turned and left.
That night, Ivan spent his time in prayer, praying for strength for the next day, but also praising God for His gift of words and the strength to stand firm in Christ, even when presented with the knowledge that he was going to die.
The room suddenly filled with a bright light that almost blinded Ivan. He recognized the Angel of the Lord from years before, standing in front of him. For what seemed like hours he and Ivan just stared at each other, and then Ivan fell to the floor on his face. Finally, the Angel spoke;
“I come bringing a message from the Lord of Hosts. ‘You are pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed. I am with you, I will keep you strong to the end. I will you my perfect peace, and joy will fill your soul. My praises will be on your lips to the end. I am with you, do not fear.”
After a long while, Ivan finally lifted his face from the floor and looked around. The Angel was now gone, but Ivan’s heart was full of joy and peace. He began to worship God and praise His Name. The next morning the executioners found Ivan on his face on the floor, hands in the air, praising singing and praising God.
As the guards led Ivan out, everyone there, including fellow Soldier, followed to witness the execution. some were there to cheer, others there to offer support and encouragement. When he reached the place of his execution, he knelt down and began to pray Psalm 31 and Psalm 51, ending with, “Into Thy hand, O Lord, I commit my Spirit. Thou has redeemed me, O most good and merciful God!”
He was jerked up onto his feet from his prayers and tied to a stake with wet ropes. Bundles of sticks piled chin high were placed all around him. Given one last chance to renounce Christ, Ivan replied;
“What error should I renounce ? He whose head is in heaven need not fear to put his feet in the grave. Of this I am certain, that no one has ever died who was not destined by God to do so. Why should I hesitate to go this way when this is the way that God came to me ? For the Gospel I am here with a cheerful disposition and courage, ready to suffer death. What I told with my lips, I am ready to seal with my blood.”
As the fire was lit, Ivan Svetonius began to sing a hymn with such a loud voice that he could be heard over the crackling of the fire. “He shall present my soul unblemished and complete before the glory of His face, with joys divinely great”