'I Was a Good Communist'
|Yuri Davydkin spent much of his life as a Communist trying to destroy the church. Now, as a pastor, he leads a Bible study in his home. Photo by Jan Snider|
By Jan Snider
Pastor Yuri Davydkin of Gatchina, Russia, worked tirelessly as a young communist to extinguish all traces of the church during the Soviet era.
"I was an active communist and a Komsomolet," explains Davydkin. The Komsomols were an influential group of young people used to propagandize the Communist Party. Davydkin was educated in Marxist-Leninist atheism and became an atheist lecturer.
There are still mementos of Davydkin's younger days displayed on the walls of his two-room "Khrushchev apartment." The standard issue, mid-century living quarters still has its original wallpaper and fixtures, but is reborn as a home church where parishioners share tea and Bible stories. He sits among a small group of parishioners as he shares his modern-day Paul story.
"There was no sense in fighting with the Orthodox church, so all my arrows, all my hatred and aggression ... was directed against Protestant churches in my city and my district," explains Davydkin, "I went to the factories, schools, organizations and lectured about Protestantism and what an awful thing it was, what a horrible cultic teaching it was. I taught that all Protestantism was sponsored by the CIA and that the United States wanted to destroy our communist country."
In this activist role, Davydkin learned of a small group in a nursing home where a nurse was leading Bible study. He wrote a report about it to the Department of Propaganda and Agitation of the General Committee of the Communist Party, and the report ended up in the hands of the secret police. Davydkin later discovered that all group participants were reassigned to other nursing homes. He never knew the fate of the leader other than she was no longer there.
|Parishioners gather in Davydkin's home to share tea and Bible stories. Photo by Jan Snider|
"In 1989, I realized that ... we were not able to build communism and my perspective started to change," he explains. "I was making a lot of money but I got into drinking little by little. By the fall of 1989, I was the kind of person who can't live without a couple bottles of beer, without vodka and wine." The hard living began to take its toll and Davydkin twice attempted suicide.
"I was working my third suicide attempt; I prepared everything very well. I took off the light fixture on the ceiling, prepared the rope, soaped it and I got myself ready. It was a Sunday morning," he recalls. "Then I got some kind of lump in my throat; I simply could not breathe. So, I decided to go outside and breathe a little bit, freshen up and then I would come back and hang myself."
But, instead, Davydkin just kept walking until he ended up in front of a home that was known to be a Pentecostal church. He knocked on the door and the pastor's wife answered. Davydkin explained that at that moment he just had to know if all that he had espoused about the Protestants was true.
"The first question that I asked was if they eat children in their church. She said, 'Yes, we have just finished one group and are waiting for another.' Later, I understood that it was a joke."
It was on that very day that Davydkin turned to God. Today, he pastors Mercy United Methodist Church in Gatchina. Before he started the church, however, he felt compelled to start a Bible group in the very same nursing home where he destroyed a faith community so many years ago.
"As a communist, I destroyed churches," he says, "And, today, as a United Methodist, I build churches."
--Jan Snider, producer, United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.