Lucinda continues the series of stories of Christian martyrs and heroes from the past. We hope you will be inspired by these histories and perhaps find them helpful in preparing for school devotions and other lessons.
Year: Sometime between 1917 and 1990
Place: The Soviet Union
Person: Dmitri—factory worker, father, man of God
Event: A strange case of prison worship
The Growth of a Church
In the days of the communist takeover, a boy named Dmitri lived with his Christian parents in a village about four hours north of Moscow. He and his parents watched as the new government began to destroy churches and kill pastors. By the time Dmitri grew to be a man, the nearest church house was a three-day walk away.
One day, Dmitri said to his wife, “I am concerned that our sons are growing up without learning about Jesus. Let’s gather our family together one night a week. I will read and explain to them the Bible stories we used to learn in church.”
And so they did.
Soon the boys grew familiar with the Bible stories and began to take a turn telling them. They started asking, “Papa, can we sing the songs they sing when they go to the real church?” It seemed only natural, after they’d been reading and singing together, to also pray together.
The village was small and the walls of the houses thin. Some of the neighbors heard what was going on and asked if they could join the family in discussing the Bible and singing and praying together. When the group grew to 25 people, the authorities threatened Dmitri.
“If you don’t stop these meetings, bad things will happen to you,” they said.
Still, Dmitri and his family kept on, and still the neighbors joined them. When the group grew to 50 people, Dmitri was fired from his position at the factory, and his wife lost her school teaching job. Their sons were expelled from school.
Still the group continued to grow. When it had grown to 75 people, the house was so crowded that at meeting time people sat cheek to cheek and crowded around the windows outside. One day, an officer came to the meeting, pushed through the crowd to Dmitri, and roughed him up. “If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that will happen to you!” he yelled.
A tiny old grandma stood to her feet and waved her finger at the officer’s face. “You have laid hands on a man of God, and you will not survive!” she said. Three days later, the officer died of a heart attack. The fear of God swept through the village, and at the next meeting, 150 people showed up. The officers couldn’t let this go, and Dmitri went to prison for 17 years.
Praising Jesus in Prison
Dmitri’s cell was so tiny he could cover its distance in a single step to the door, a single step to the sink, and a single step to the toilet. He was tortured, but worse to him than the torture was his isolation from other Christians. There were 1500 hardened criminals in that prison, and he was the only believer. Two spiritual disciplines, passed down to him from his own father, kept Dmitri’s faith strong.
One discipline was this: every morning at daybreak, he would rise from his bed, face the east, and stand at attention. Then, with his arms raised, he would sing a heart song to Jesus. Of course, the 1500 angry criminals reacted the way you would expect. They jeered, banged cups and bars, threw catcalls and food and sometimes human waste. Dmitri continued his practice anyway.
The second discipline that kept him strong was this: whenever he found a tiny scrap of paper in the prison yard, he would sneak it back to his cell and with whatever pencil stub or piece of charcoal he could find, write whatever Bible verses or songs he could remember. At the edge of his cell stood a concrete pillar that constantly dripped water—except in the winter, when the water froze. Dmitri would take his scrap of paper filled with verses and songs and stick it as high as he could on that damp pillar. It was his praise offering to Jesus.
Of course, whenever an officer found the scrap of paper, he would take it down, read it, beat Dmitri, and threaten to kill him. But Dmitri persisted.
A Miraculous Prayer and Song
The authorities continued to torture Dmitri physically and mentally. Finally, they led him to believe his wife had been murdered and his children taken by the state. At this point, Dmitri broke down. “You win,” he told the authorities. “I will sign whatever confession you want me to sign. I must get out of here and find my children.”
“We will prepare the papers saying you do not believe in Jesus and that you are a paid agent of western governments,” they said. “You will sign the confession tomorrow then you will be free to go.”
That night, Dmitri’s wife and sons sensed through the Holy Spirit that he was in trouble. With Dmitri’s brother, they gathered in a circle and prayed aloud for him. Dmitri, despairing in his cell, heard their voices through the miraculous power of the Spirit and heard the prayers they prayed for him. The next morning, when the officers brought the document for him to sign, he was a renewed man. “I know that you lied to me,” he told them. “My wife and sons are still alive, and they’re still in Christ. I will not sign your paper.”
One day, Dmitri was overwhelmed by a tremendous gift from God: a whole sheet of paper lying in the prison yard with a pencil beside it. He sneaked the paper and pencil back to his cell and filled it with every verse, every Bible story, every song he could recall. Then he stuck that entire sheet of paper as high as he could on the concrete pillar: his praise offering to Jesus.
Of course, an officer found it, and Dmitri was beaten and punished and threatened with death. The officials dragged him from his cell and down the concrete corridor toward the courtyard, the place of execution. But before they reached the door that led to the courtyard, an amazing thing happened. 1500 hardened criminals stood at attention beside their beds. 1500 criminals faced the east, raised their arms, and began to sing a heart song—Dmitri’s heart song—to Jesus.
The officers dropped Dmitri in terror. “Who are you?” one of them asked.
“I am a son of the living God,” Dmitri told them. “And Jesus is his name.”
Some time later he was released and returned to his family, where he lived to be an old man.
This story was told in the book Insanity of God by Nik Ripken. The same book tells many other miraculous stories of God at work in the darkest places of the world. It would be an excellent choice for the school library or for reading aloud to older students.
Why It Matters to a Teacher
Dmitri’s story could be used:
In a devotional: Reading it would be fine, but the natural repetition and growing suspense also make this a great story for telling aloud. Tell it with appropriate gestures (reaching high to place the paper on the pillar, standing at attention toward the east), and your students will be riveted. They will also be led to worship.
In history class: This story would make an excellent addition to a study of the communist era of Russia. Insanity of God contains several chapters telling of the persecution Christians faced during that time and includes several deeply moving stories from Russian Christians. Older students would gain much by reading them.
CONTRIBUTOR: Lucinda J Kinsinger
SERIES: Martyrs and Heroes from the PastAll items in the series:
- Dmitri: A Man Who Praised When It Could Have Killed Him
- Perpetua: A Compelling Story for Devotions, History, or Literature Class
- The Last Words of Nokseng: The Story Behind "I Have Decided"