A testimony is a small part of a large history, which was created by people who listened to and obeyed the voice of God. They went wherever God sent them, and they were wherever God wanted them to be, and this oftentimes cost them their lives. Abraham traveled down this path, and after him Joseph, then Moses, and later many others were to come. In Apostle Paul’s letters to the Jewish nation, he wrote about these men as heroes of faith, who created God’s history here on earth by the will of God.
All of these people, brothers and sisters, who had fulfilled their obligation have left to be with the Lord with the feeling of a fulfilled purpose (Philippians 3:10), but we, with the knowledge gained by those people, need to spread the Good News to the next generation, and we need to bring it to the next millennium.
Christian history is very rich and it is pointless to lose it or to bury it. It is important to protect it and to pass it on. It is a beacon of light in difficult times, in times of personal trails, sufferings, and pain. Christian history is a testimony that needs to be spread to others. When Jesus’ disciples began to open churches without the written gospel, which did not exist at the time, the disciples shared their testimonies and passed on the history of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Messiah and our Savior, from one mouth to another.
And then came the 20th century. This century was an intense one, a century of global changes. These changes touched upon the social, political, and spiritual sides of humanity. Civilization was moving at a fast tempo. There was the invention of the car, railroads, electricity, space travel, and new technology. Also in the 20th century, many revolutions occurred; there were two world wars, and wars within countries. As strange as it may seem, there were several famines in the 20th century, and they lasted for several years at a time. There was much destruction and death.
For Christianity, the 20th century was the most blessed and fruitful time for the preaching of the gospel. This century was a time of global spiritual change, not only in towns and cities, but all over the world. As it is written in the Book of Acts: “…and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) The wind of the Holy Spirit has blown and created waves in a once calm setting. The rivers of new, living water poured out, and life has begun. People throughout the ages always said, “Where there is a current of water flowing, there is life.” It is written in the Book of Zechariah: “And it shall be in that day that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem…” (Zechariah 14:8)
The 20th century turned out to be the time of God’s fullness as it was at Jesus’ birth. Apostle Paul tells us of this in the Epistle to the Galatians: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
In the beginning of the 20th century, in the year 1906, a strong revival took place on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. In a small church, a spiritual wire from heaven reached down and filled it with the light of the Holy Spirit.” Apostle Paul says in Galatians: “…God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6)
Many immigrants who came to the United States became missionaries, and they carried that fire of revival to Eastern Europe and Russia, and for this they paid a high price with their lives, just as their predecessors had done. Christ was the prime example of giving his life for others, and millions of Christians followed in his footsteps. (John 3:16)
Four reasons exist that make me remember this history of revival – the epoch of the Christian movement in the Soviet Union.
(1) The first reason is that for me this history is holy and priceless. I never met the missionaries of this movement. I didn’t meet Ivan Voronaev or Vasily Koltovich. In the matter of age, I could have been their great grandchild. In 1971, I finished school and went to live in Odessa, Ukraine. My sister and I rented a section of an apartment from a man. This man had grey hair and a large white beard. He was very old. His name was Peter Kuharenko. He was well acquainted with Ivan Voronaev and Vasily Koltovich. At this time in the beginning of the 70’s there were still some people alive who had worked with Voronaev: Ksenya Agarkena, Shura Boyovaya, Ivan Padalka, and many others. They often met at Peter Kuharenko’s apartment and held discussions and prayers. Their discussions lasted for many hours in remembrance of previous events of great revival. They also talked about the pursuit and repression to destroy Christians in the Soviet Union. I had a good time listening to these stories and gaining knowledge of these events from onlookers and those who served God with the families of those predecessors.
(2) The second reason to remember the Christian movement in the Soviet Union is that 45 years after Ivan Voronaev was arrested, I also was arrested for my faith and service to the Lord, and I got a chance to walk in the same corridors of the Odessa and Kharkov prisons and hard labor camps. These places are very familiar to me – they were filled with religious prisoners and convicts moving through transit cells. I am familiar with starvation. I am familiar with what bad soup, a small piece of salted fish, and a small piece of rye bread once a day is. I am familiar with plank beds, bedbugs, and lice. Remembering my history of roaming through transit prisons and labor camps, I am obligated to remember my predecessors, and to pass these stories on.
(3) The third reason to remember this history is the remarkable coincidence that occurred in my life: 50 years after the arrest of Ivan Voronaev, my brothers-in-the-Lord and I would serve as pastors in the same territory where Ivan Voronaev brought the torch of the Holy Spirit from Azusa Street in Los Angeles.
In 1980, the year after my release from prison, I was ordained as a pastor in my city, and I ministered in a church in the city of Ilichovsk, which used to be one of the districts of the city of Odessa. My ministry took place where Voronaev, with his team of people, opened the first Pentecostal church in the Soviet Union. Earlier we took for granted the privilege of using these rivers of living water, which once began as creeks, using the water from the well which someone had once dug out and was taken care of by someone else. Our predecessors did this job, and all we had to do was take this water, drink it, and pass it on to others.
We continued their ministry and tried to fulfill the mission from God. This was done during the time of communist and atheistic ideologies. It was a time of hatred towards us Christians.
In 1990, a time of freedom came to the city of Odessa, I started a new church called “Vozrozhdenie” (which means rebirth), and after that, I served as a pastor in a new church called “Emmanuel” in the center of Odessa. It was a 15 minute walk to the place where Ivan Voronaev’s church stood; it was on the same street where a hospital stood. Also, we were about 30 minutes away from his main church. If only he knew that 60 years after his torturous death, there would be more than 10 Pentecostal churches and an uncountable number of groups. Even so, I believe that Ivan Voronaev prayed to God for our city and our country until his death. I am sure that in his prayers he pleaded that God would raise new churches in our country, and the building of the kingdom of God would continue. This fire of the Holy Spirit must not be put out. The seed of life must not be destroyed. With God’s mercy and the prayers of Ivan’s teams, God raised up many churches and pastors. Praise God.
Ivan Voronaev followed his path, and he fulfilled every obligation that God sent him. Later, many others would follow this path. A new generation would come. For them this would be the history of their part in the Christian movement.
It had been a century after the birth of Jesus, and the church continued the missionary work which was started by the mission of Jesus Christ, and by the strong influence of the Holy Spirit. The preaching of the Gospel continued in spite of the persecution of Christians and the torturous deaths of some apostles, leaders, and followers. It couldn’t become insignificant, because for one person tortured, ten would rise and accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and were ready for death. This was the time of the Christian epoch. By the beginning of the fourth century, the persecution, suffering, and torturous deaths came close to destroying the church. An internal battle of heresy and delusion was brought upon the church, trying to destroy the reality of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. The time of fearful persecution continued throughout the establishment of the apostles’ church. Because of the persecution, pursuit, and destruction, it was nearly impossible for the Christians of that time to pass on the gospel of Jesus Christ or to set down the principles and dogma of the church so that the next generation would have an official doctrine. Following this came a time of conflict and arguments on the topic of setting down basic principles and basic beliefs. The Church couldn’t withstand. The Church and the government became one, and the Catholic Church was born. A little later it became the Roman Catholic Church.
Years passed, a century passed, a whole epoch, and long years of spiritual stagnation. Whoever could, tried to manipulate the Church in his own way.
“From the XI-XIII centuries, Christianity was forced on others by strength and war; however, this was a futile scheme. After that, a time of inquisition came. Humanity saw with their own eyes the corruption of the church and the fall of all the systems. This time frame took the lives of nine million people. This number, which was later found out, was half the European population.”
Imagine the strength and the scale and magnitude of a religious genocide which served as one of the greatest tragedies for the European continent and the world.
The beginning of reformation brings the Church to a new dawn. Opportunities arrived, and the Protestant Church was born: Lutheran, Anglican, Calvinist, and Anabaptist.
The XVII-XVIII century brought the rise of the Methodists and Baptists. The XIX century was a time of the Wesleyan revival. During this time many people were seeking out God. People were thirsty for God, asking God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They renewed their souls through transformation. They longed for the cleansing of their sins, and God answered their prayers.
Didn’t the Prophet Joel tell us of this? Many theologians and preachers read only the prophecies about the promise of the Holy Spirit, and how it was supposed to happen as the will of God. However, today it isn’t considered popular to read about the obligations put forth by God. Only in these conditions will God pour out the Holy Spirit:
(1) The first condition: “Now, therefore, says the Lord, Turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. And rend your heart, and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13)
(2) The second condition: “Let the priests, who minister to the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar; let them say, Spare your people, O Lord, and do not give your heritage to reproach, that the nations should rule over them. Why should they say among the people, Where is their God? Then the Lord will be zealous for His land, and pity his people.” (Joel 2:17-18)
(3) The third condition: “And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…” (Joel 2:28)
In the 20th Century a strong outpouring of the Holy Spirit brought the Church back to its original state, born on the day of Pentecost. (Acts 2) This outpouring of the Holy Spirit traveled at lightning speed, moving to the territory of the United States and the territory of other continents like a wind, with its strength and speed. The wind of the Holy Spirit filled every dark, quiet, and closed corner. This wind filled the valleys and ravines. Jesus taught Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes.” (John 3:8)
God’s Fullness in the time of Jesus’ Birth
There are six points to consider:
1. In this epoch, two cultures combined. The Romans took over Palestine. However, the culture was dominated by the Greeks. Sometimes they would say that the Romans only conquered them territorially. However, they could not conquer the Greek culture. It was the standard for the entire world, and to destroy it was foolish.
2. In the days of Jesus, the dominant language was the language of the conquered, the Greeks. Many countries used the Greek language for verbal communication. It was the language of all the nations, just like the English language in our time.
3. The Roman Empire was working on the establishment of its empire. Roads, bridges, and buildings were built. “The roads were built with concrete, and they served the people for many years.” (Earl Kerns). The Romans had people to build and lift up the empire so they could expand to the farthest provinces. Seventy-five percent of the Roman population consisted of slaves. Apostle Paul and his disciples used these roads, and they turned out to be a great blessing for the Christians who traveled on them.
4. Greek philosophy was greatly popularized before the birth of Jesus. However, during the time of the ministry of the apostles, it was greatly defeated. Greek philosophy was dying, like a fire that wasn’t being fed any wood. Many people lost their stamina, and they were only being fed the rational reasoning of the philosophers. Their need to get the answer to their problems was unfulfilled. Therefore, when the Gospel was brought by the Apostles, they quickly started to search for God.
5. The Roman soldiers and officers started to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, and they became Christians. When they were being deported, they told their testimonies about Christ there. History tells us: “The first Christian missionaries in England were Roman soldiers.” (Earl Kerns) With this method, new churches were established.
6. God has his own time for everything.
What kinds of obstacles were preventing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1906 on Azusa Street?
God has his time, he has his own plans and schemes, and for these purposes he has his own people. These are the people of God’s plan. God prepared David to be the King of Israel. To save the nation of Israel from a destructive famine which was destroying Palestine, God sent Joseph. Everything was prepared by God in such fine detail and precision that human reasoning could not possibly argue or think of it. God doesn’t share these plans with us, and he isn’t about to present them to us.
And so, why 1906? Why hadn’t God poured out the baptism of the Holy Spirit earlier or later? At the end of the 19th century, and the beginning of the 20th century, the United States opened up its doors to immigrants. Millions of people embarked on a chance for happiness. Statistics say that in this time period eighteen million people immigrated to the United States. People took ships to get to the shores of the United States. They went through sea storms; they did not look at the possible dangers. They were not afraid of the unknown. The most important thing for those immigrants was the land, where they could find happiness. For others it was work. Some people weren’t successful on this land. Others went into bankruptcy. But a great number of people established themselves, and as the native people say: “Dropped anchor.” Many immigrants like our Slavic people came to the United States from Eastern Europe, and they settled on the East Coast of the United States.
The European immigrants all had different denominations. Many of them were Orthodox, or Catholic. They were all looking for groups of people with their nationality, and they joined together with them in ghettoes or their separate sections in a city.
At this time many of these groups were in Orthodox Churches, which gave the first help in clothing, housing and work. Immigrants accepted Jesus Christ as their personal savior, and they attended Church as a family. The Church helped out with Evangelism by helping people out materially. When there was a wave of revival coming from Azusa Street, it captured these churches with the Holy Spirit. Filled with the Holy Spirit, many immigrants returned to their home countries happily. They preached the Gospel. They were not concerned about the living conditions or the regimes of their countries. It became nearly impossible to hold these people, filled with the Holy Spirit, in this country. Land, work, freedom, or the prospect of a great future, could not hold back these people who were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were ready to pay whatever price it cost, just so that they could bring salvation to their nation through Christ Jesus. At this time an Eastern European Mission for centralized work was organized. Many people were called to serve in this mission.
Questions are raised: Did God overlook the fullness of this time? Who could have accurately arranged these situations to fulfill his plans? Only God.
What about Russia? It had a large territory and dominated it as an empire. There is a testimony about this:
God loved Russia just as much as he loved any other country. God didn’t need her riches or her expansive land. He wanted to save the people from the power of sin, from death, and God’s judgment. At this time of revival, God had plenty of time even for Russia, and he was preparing a person for his plan. God brought him forth, so that he could bring the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit to the Russian nation, and to other nations of this empire. At this time Russia had its own situation, which was setting it up for revival, and was bringing it up to the time of God’s fullness.
In 1905 there was the first revolution in Russia.
In 1914 there was the First World War.
In 1917 there was the October Revolution and dictatorship came to power under the rule of Lenin.
In 1918 there was the civil war which lasted for almost 5 years.
The country was filled with bloodshed. When wars come, destruction and famine follow, and where there is famine, then epidemics and illnesses such as cholera, plague and typhus follow. At this time God was doing his work. He used all the situations in this country for his own purpose and his own plan.
The Person for God’s Plan in Russia
Nikita Petrovich Cherkasov was born in the year 1886. He was a future missionary and a person in God’s plan. He was born in the family of a simple Ural Cossack. It was deep in Russia in the Orenburg Territory. In his life, Nikita didn’t stand apart from many people. He didn’t possess any special talents. He lived just like everyone else, with his family and his classmates. However, there was a special day in his life, the 12th of August, 1907. Nikita Cherkasov accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible started to transform his mind.
Nikita turned his life around 180 degrees, and he turned his face towards God. It was in this period of time that two distinct characteristics emerged within him: one characteristic was natural, and the other was God-sent. The first characteristic was the gift of a good memory. It was witnessed by many people who knew him as a Christian person. The second characteristic was that he really loved the Word of God, and he loved God. The Word of God was everything to him. The combination of these two abilities, a good memory and a love for the Word of God, gave him an opportunity to learn and memorize many passages from the Bible, which are important to a preacher and his ministry. God called him to minister as a preacher of the gospel. He answered his call with an open heart, and he became a living witness and preacher. He tirelessly passed on the history of what God had done for him in his life, with the faith and strength as is written in the Bible. At this point another ability emerged within Nikita Cherkasov: The ability to transmit the Word of God easily, understandably, and having a connection with the listener. Believe me, that is a great talent. Abilities given by God are a gift in the service of Jesus Christ.
If someone would have asked Nikita Cherkasov: “What cities and regions did you preach the gospel in?” He would answer this way: “It would be easier for me to tell you where I have not preached.” He preached in Siberia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Russia with its territories, the east coast – and wherever this young preacher set his foot on.
Life in the ministry became his life’s purpose. Nikita Cherkasov became the individual that God wanted him to be, both in his nature and his will. Courage and fearlessness gave him and his family an opportunity to put themselves on the altar in full service to God. When he left home, he would often be gone for two to three months, ministering in other regions. All of this was done with a great risk, for the Orthodox priesthood didn’t let these acts out of their sight. The Orthodox Church in Russia was always the main religion in the area. There was always pressure from the leaders and the priesthood. But Nikita Cherkasov didn’t pay attention to the persecution or the pursuits, or any other obstacles; he continued to preach earnestly. He considered a day without preaching to be a day of sorrow. It was as Apostle Paul spoke of himself:
“For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
A person in God’s gospel plan is considered to be someone that the ministry cannot be without. This ministry isn’t a service of ordination. It is a ministry to the people. In the ministry of preaching the Word of God, the minister gets a clear revelation from God and becomes a chosen vessel of Jesus Christ. These people become individuals in God’s plan, God’s character, and God’s will. There is a story about Apostle Paul, where God told a disciple by the name of Ananias:
“…Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel…” (Acts 9:15).
Nikita Cherkasov followed this decree with success and blessing. But then a tragedy struck. A story in the Gospel, and also a story of Christianity, says: “Apostles, disciples, and their followers; for the service of preaching the Gospel, there were persecutions, beatings with sticks, being thrown into prisons; but after leaving the prison, they left to serve with great happiness.” Nikita Cherkasov also faced these situations. The Orthodox priests and the government officials started to track him down, and they tracked his family, his house, and where he was at all times, and then it all turned into a great persecution. The persecutors didn’t have a problem making a case against Nikita Cherkasov, to blame him and to raise a great hatred from the people against an innocent person. To do this they didn’t need much. They would create a lie, and the Devil and his demons would spread this lie amongst the people, just like the seeds of a weed. Demons were the masters of dirty work.
The Roman emperor Nero destroyed the Christians, knowing that they were innocent; he lied to the Roman citizens about who burned Ancient Rome, even though he was the one who did it; and his lies destroyed the Christians. Through this path, where lies were poured out like wet mud, went Nikita Cherkasov. He started to relocate his home so that he could hide for a short time and take a breather, but even that did not help. The government blamed him for leaving the region for a long time, calling him a fugitive. They gave his name to the police. For Nikita, life in Russia became unbearable. If he got into the hands of the officials, a trial of great magnitude awaited him, as well as a lifetime in prison; or in the best case, twenty-five years of hard labor. Those who went there did not return.
Cherkasov’s family faced a dilemma. How to get by? But even during this period of time, God came to this family’s rescue, just as God had planned. The family was comforted by the Holy Spirit, and God used friends that offered their services to save them from their persecutors. Hiding from his pursuers, Nikita Cherkasov made a stop in the city of Semipalatinsk with his Baptist brothers. The situation became very difficult. Now the question of his life needed to be dealt with, and he had to leave Russia as soon as possible. The only question was – how? God prepared this family for the next move. This time there was a great deal of responsibility. The bar was set higher. The Cherkasov family knew nothing about it. As always, God never reveals his plans, so people don’t know where they are supposed to be. God says in his word:
“I shall never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)
“May the Lord our God be with us…May He not leave us nor forsake us.” (1 Kings 8:57).
In the city of Semipalatinsk, God moved one brother’s heart, and this brother gave Nikita Cherkasov his passport. There were two variants as to how he could get across the border or preferably to the United States, which was allowing immigrants at the time: he could cross the border as Cherkasov or Voronaev. As it turned out, it would not be Nikita Cherkasov crossing the border – it would be Ivan Ephimovich Voronaev. This is how Cherkasov became Voronaev. As Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
In 1911, Ivan Voronaev left his birthplace, with her great riches, in human poverty. He left through Manchuria and came to the city of San Francisco in the United States. After he left the country, his wife followed with his daughter, Vera. In Manchuria she gave birth to a son and arrived in San Francisco with two children. The United States is a land of many nations and it promised immigrants a great future, and most importantly, freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, and the freedom to preach the Gospel. Many immigrants in this land could never find earthly happiness, and many of them accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and became Christians, thanks to the preaching of the Gospel.
Ivan Voronaev became a pastor in a small Baptist Church in San Francisco. After two years, he was called to serve in Los Angeles. After that, with a recommendation from the Brotherhood of Baptists, he moved to the city of Seattle in the state of Washington, where he would establish a Slavic Church. In the mindset of a human being, it would be time to stop and settle down, because people say, “A move is equal to a wildfire.”
In our time, when a person who was in God’s plan moved or relocated, people thought of him as being unfortunate. Or they would place him in a category of people that have a complicated character, or unsocial, or maybe even unstable. People would say, “What a strange person,” in a negative aspect. In the Voronaev family one move followed the next, and there was no time for a break. These moves were under God’s supervision, and Voronaev walked in God’s fullness and time. What sort of person could foresee this? No one.
Only God knew of this! People can only judge and analyze. Many details are seen only from a human perspective, because they are only human. God has his own plan and he pushes it higher and higher, and he moves the bar up to a service of responsibility, just like a coach trains a high jumper. After a few years of being in an organization of a Slavic Church, God called him to go on the road again. In his eight years of living in the United States, he moved a total of four times – four places of residency. Believe me, this is not an easy thing to do.
This is God’s fullness. For us humans, these details have no explanation. It’s a paradox. But for God, it is his fullness. History states: Pastor Ivan Voronaev, residing in Seattle, rented a church from the Assemblies of God. The first person to preach about the baptism of the Holy Spirit to Voronaev was E.S. Williams, who in the future would be the Superintendent of the Assemblies of God. (Fred Smoichuk) Pastor E.S. Williams planted a valuable seed in Voronaev’s heart about the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which took on a life of its own and didn’t give him peace because it yearned for life. And then, Voronaev’s family moved to New York. Again there was a great amount of work to do in the Baptist Church and great needs for the future. Many Slavic immigrants were entering the United States. After Seattle, and after long conversations with Pastor E.S. Williams, in Voronaev’s mind there was a great deal of change in the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He thought these things over for a long time and read about them in the Gospel, about these promises. When the family of Ivan Voronaev settled in New York, it turned out that their neighbor was a Pentecostal family by the name of Cerets, which Katerina Voronaev talked about. “The husbands were constantly proving each other wrong and were often arguing about these doctrines,” she said. Katerina took the position of prayer: “If this is from God, then everything will work out; we just need to pray.”
The children of the two families remained children, befriending each other and socializing. Dogma did not exist for them, and Katerina didn’t bother to separate them. As always, children have more things which unify them than separate them. Children don’t have a great amount of knowledge about how to anger someone, and they lack the memory to remember malice or to produce it. As the Bible says: “…in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.” (1 Corinthians 14:20)
One Sunday, when her father was gone, Vera Voronaev and the daughter of the neighbor went to a church called Temple of Joyful Churches. At this service Vera was baptized by the Holy Spirit, and when her father returned, Vera announced to her father, “Father, God has baptized me with the Holy Spirit!” The father became distraught and said, “Vera, please pray for your father, so that he will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Through this the Voronaev family stepped into a new flow of God’s promise and the baptism of the Holy Spirit, as it is written in Acts 2:4: “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”
And so, with the doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit being accepted by the Voronaev family, they left the Baptist Church and opened the first Slavic Pentecostal Church in New York.
They rented a building on 6th Street from a church of a different religion. In life people call these movements “sharp turns.” To make these maneuvers, you have to be flexible in God’s hands and be under his total control. It’s similar to what happened with Philip, whom God maneuvered by his will. At the time, Philip baptized a eunuch, who left overjoyed; but Philip in one instant was in Azotus. It’s recorded in the Book of Acts:
“Now when they came up out of the water the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus. And, passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:39-40)
Flexibility in the hands of God is our way of showing obedience. This is an act of deep commitment to God. This is to be fully in the will and nature of God. The church that was established by the hand of Ivan Voronaev grew rapidly. This was a time of revival in the United States. The flame from Azusa Street became a wildfire which spread through this country, as well as Canada. More and more people attended the church, and more and more of them got baptized by the Holy Spirit.
Many immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Poland went to that church. Many of them attended not because of difficult situations in their life, but because of the Holy Spirit. In the spiritual labyrinth, it is necessary to remember this: when God’s fullness and the Holy Spirit are poured out, people come to God because of the Spirit. Ivan Voronaev, as an earnest preacher, couldn’t sit still in his office. Many Slavic churches were calling him to preach the Gospel.
When he visited the churches, he made many friends amongst the Pentecostal brothers. Many of them saw that Voronaev was anointed by God and had many leadership abilities, and he had the desire to serve God. Joining Voronaev’s team were Belarus-born Vasily Koltovich and his family: his wife Anna, and two daughters. At one of the services, at the peak of the service, during the time of prayer, the Holy Spirit poured out on Anna Koltovich, and God’s word came through her: “Voronaev, Voronaev, Voronaev, go to Russia.” (Fred Smoichuk). Going back to Russia was not an easy task. Four great concerns were raised about leaving the United States for Russia: First, Ivan Voronaev left Russia for the United States. This took place only a few years ago. Also, he left with false documents, so the tracks were still fresh. It was dangerous and risky. Second, two revolutions, the First World War, and the civil war in Russia showed that the end was no where in sight. There were organized gangs, an unstable political situation, and most of all was the question of what would the new system bring. And what kind of relationship it would have to Christians. Third, there was famine in Russia, which led to epidemics such as cholera, plague, and typhus. Everyone had families, and the families were young, and they had young children. The Voronaev family had five children. Fourth, much of the spiritual work in the United States was with the Slavic people and the immigrants. At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, people were wandering around, looking for worldly happiness. They were looking for a place of work. The United States took in over a million Slavic people, and they settled on the East Coast of the United States. Many Ukrainians left to Canada.
Those were the four great concerns about going back to Russia. But after the voice of the Holy Spirit spoke, there was something to think about and to pray to God about. It was a difficult time for the Voronaev family. Looking from the sidelines, it seemed humanly unrealistic to go through with it. But this is only from a human viewpoint. Where there is an unrealistic situation from a human viewpoint, there is realism in the eyes of God. God himself said: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Ivan Voronaev was God’s chosen vessel. He was led by God’s word and his instruction. He considered himself a failure if he went a day without preaching the word of God. He was filled with the fire of preaching similar to Apostle Paul, who wrote:
“…a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1)
Ivan Voronaev was once again fasting and praying, looking for a confirmation of what was said earlier by the Holy Spirit through Anna Koltovich. From a human standpoint, there was not a single reason to go back to Russia. But God will not give peace in the soul, in the mind, or in sleep. There wasn’t a single night that went by where Ivan hadn’t thought or prayed about all the details to the finest point. To return to Russia, after all the events that took place, was a mission only from God. If he was to go, he wanted confirmation.
The following story was written by Vladimir Franchuk:
“The brothers went to the forest to pray to God, and they prayed, ‘We know that there is war at our place of birth. Lord, what do we do? Must we go preach to our people in these circumstances? And they heard an answer from the Lord; Go and I will bless you spiritually, and I will give you everything you need to survive. Open your eyes, get up and look in the bush and see and know that I, the Lord, am speaking to you.
Under the bush there was a basket full of produce, and when they took the basket the Lord spoke to them once again: I will send you everything you need in your birthplace, and you will be blessed.”
The brothers got their confirmation from the Lord. They really had to leave, and they had to get their families ready to travel to Russia. A large team of brothers, and their families, were on a missionary journey to fulfill the will of God. Ivan Voronaev’s friends, M. Nagorni, I. Antonyuk, and P. Ilchyuk left to Poland. The Voronaev family left with the Koltovich and Zaplishno families. The Zaplishno family would stay in Bulgaria, and the Voronaev and Koltovich family would continue on to Russia. The documents were ready, and the prayer of blessing was given by the Superintendent of the Union of Christians of Evangelical Faith, and the Eastern European Missions. On the fifteenth of July, 1920, Ivan Voronaev left on a ship from New York to Europe. On the trip to the Soviet Union, he made a stop in Bulgaria and had many fruitful services there until they left for Odessa. Bulgaria went through a fire of the Holy Spirit revival. Many people came to Jesus Christ and gave their hearts to God, and many were baptized by the Holy Spirit. This was a time of great harvest. The Soviet Union continued to close her borders, political and economical stability was declining, and the border war was still being fought. Families that stopped in Bulgaria on their way to Russia had to wait for their time, and wait for God’s fullness. They had to live by faith only. This is how God works. This is his fullness in his time. The Bible says: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” (Psalm 1:6) “For he knows the way I take.” (Job 23:10)
When we read about the stories of the heroes of faith, our thinking comes up with facts and numbers, but what really happened to them in life, we don’t know. This is like building a house and putting up a frame. Then we look through it. The frame gets filled in later on with walls and ceilings. Facts and numbers are like these frames, and in life they get filled, and we often don’t pay any attention to them. However, these frames are filled with pain and suffering, survival, and sometimes happiness. There is little happiness in life, and it does not continue with time. Just like life, it is a constant battle; and sometimes it is a waiting list for death.
We talk about these families of missionaries, about their blessed paths. They were on earth, and they had a typical family life. Two years, without a permanent home in Greece, then Bulgaria, and many places in Turkey; no home, no work and no stability in anything or anyone. But they served, and the Holy Spirit blessed them in circumstances where others couldn’t do anything in that time. That’s how in life people serve God and his plan. Based on their experiences, they seemed strange and like newcomers on this planet. Earth didn’t let them get used to anything. Christ’s promise led them: “I will be with you always.” They drifted on that promise.
Finally the Soviet Union let them through. There was a full gathering of the families to prepare to leave for the port city of Odessa.
Again there was a heartbreaking pain in the soul, because this time there was eighteen churches that were established in Bulgaria. These were new people who came to God through their sermons, and it was hard to cut off ties with them, and even harder to say good bye and to leave them. The family of D. Zaplichno remained to continue the work in Bulgaria. His ministry was successful. In 1935, there were five thousand members of the Pentecostal denomination in Bulgaria. (Fred Smoichuk). The families of Voronaev and Koltovich crossed the border of the Soviet Union at the end of the summer of 1921, and their ship took them to the port of sunny, but famished, Odessa. The Soviet Union became a new country under a new leadership. The “dictatorship of proletariat” was the start of a new epoch, which was called Communism. To the tired people who went through all the revolutions and wars, the new system promised many happy things. In the future this system would take millions of lives through genocide against its own people. The whole world spoke of this system, but to the people on the inside they couldn’t speak of it because they saw it with their own eyes. They saw how political processes went, without any hope for a way out. There was no guarantee that something was going to be better in the future.
And here is how Odessa welcomed the families of missionaries. Upon disembarking from the ship and making their first step in the Soviet Union, the Voronaev family was arrested in the Port of Odessa. The communists knew where these families came from and how the unwritten law of the “proletariat” said: “Share quickly with those near you.” The Communists confiscated their clothing and their personal belongings. After a few weeks, everyone was released. They were hungry and sick. (E. Voronaev) They were not welcomed with pretty flowers and fragrant roses. Instead, they were welcomed with new trials, pains and sufferings. No one welcomed them in the port, and no one asked, “How are you?” Everything went the other way: an arrest, an investigation, and confiscation of things needed for everyday life. They were thrown out into the streets.
When Jesus was met with these trials, we can understand why he was born in a manger in a stable. He had to go through things like this from the day of his birth. Voronaev’s son, Paul, wrote: “Winter came, the famine was unbearable, men and women on the streets looked like skeletons, they looked like ghosts instead of humans. Their clothing was torn, their boots were wrapped with cardboard. Famine and illness brought death to thousands of people in Odessa. Dead bodies of men, women, and children lay on the streets for days, even weeks. Those who were alive were too weak from the famine to bury the bodies of the dead. Driven by hunger, many ate the rotten meat of animals such as horses, dogs, and cats. The only way to get produce was to exchange your clothing, blankets, or footwear.” (P. Voronaev)
Communism took away everything from its people. This genocide led the way to strength without compensation. Everything in the country went backwards, like in a world gone mad. The intelligentsia, businessmen, and bankers were all sent to the Siberian north. Many were shot; many were destroyed in two years, building roads to the far north. The dictator, Lenin, proposed NEP, the New Economic Policy, which in a small period of time would pull the nation out of famine. In the future, this was found to be a lie to the people. They were sued and sent to the cold North and destroyed in the late 1920’s. NEP was a step away from communistic practices. It was created for one reason: to oppress the workers and the revolutionaries. So it didn’t last long, and many knew nothing of it. In the summer, it became easier to live. There were fresh vegetables of the season, like potatoes, which gave life to the people. Life began to revive. Voronaev’s ministry began in the first days of his arrival in Odessa and his release from the port. Visiting the ill and the suffering, visiting the Baptist and Evangelical churches, Voronaev and Koltovich found acknowledgement from them. He preached to them about being saved by Jesus Christ, and about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
A great revival began. God started to pour out the Holy Spirit like rain to the whole city. However – “If only.” If only life would be a lot simpler. Voronaev and Koltovich faced a new trial: in the churches which the missionaries visited, the people announced a rebellion against the teaching of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit was announced to be a heresy. The brothers were shunned from the church, and there was a label placed on them – “heretics.” Now they were known as people who turned away from God’s teachings. But even through these trials, God gave them strength and wisdom on how to overcome.
Ivan Voronaev was on the path to creating a new church. In these situations a firm step is taken forward, and that is what the missionaries did. In February, 1922, the first Pentecostal Church was established in Odessa, Russia. It was called the Full Gospel Church. The pastor of this church was Ivan Voronaev. The Church grew quickly, and God blessed it with showers of his grace. The river of life was flowing through the city of Odessa. As Zechariah wrote: “And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem.” (Zechariah 14:8)
The city was dying of famine and the cold. The city was in a post-war period, but God prepared his promise to heal this city, to heal the people’s pain, and to give them salvation through Jesus Christ and baptize them with the Holy Spirit. This was God’s fullness in his time. This church went in the direction of a missionary plan. It didn’t contain itself within the city limits; it spread outside the city, where many churches were quickly established in nearby territories.
However, even after this result, the missionaries didn’t stop. Now the revival of the fire of the Holy Spirit took hold of central and eastern Ukraine, and from Ukraine it moved to other republics of the USSR. The revival from God never stops at one point; it needs to continue to the ends of the earth. Then it is considered to be a revival. Voronaev’s church became crowded; the people prayed for a bigger building. New people are like dynamite -- just tell them what your request is and they will put their hearts and souls into it and give everything for the service of God, and for the freedom which they have received from the Lord. God heard their prayers, just like he promised, and he answered them, just like it is written in the Scriptures: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
The church received a building on Checherina Street. “For decades, this Russian religious sea was sitting calmly, then suddenly just like someone who was startled, it lurched and started to move in every direction.” (Journal of Evangelists, 1928, p. 20) When God’s fullness comes in time, even though there are many misunderstandings, one cannot stop these flames of revival. God’s fire is unstoppable.
The thirsty land was filled with blessed waters, which poured out bountifully from God. They filled lakes and basins, filling extra water for later, when it will really be needed. In the future many dry zones were to greet them. A time came for seeking out God, and how long those times would last – only God knew. Now in our time, we look back and we see that this period only lasted seven years. In September, 1924, the first Conference of Pentecostal Christians took place in the city of Odessa; during this time more than a hundred churches were established. Church life called for organization – to look for teachers with experience for the contemporary apostolic church. During this process the devil was standing in the path. Like the law, he wages war in different directions. First, he chases people down with fear and destruction. Second, he uses different types of heresy, which enter the church. In the organizational work of the churches, there would be several measures against heresy. This would expand the work fruitfully in the territory of Russia, the former Soviet Union.
In September, 1925, the second Conference of Pentecostal Christians took place. This time the churches doubled. There were now more than two hundred of them. In 1926, there was a gathering of the first Ukrainian Conference of Christians of the Pentecostal faith.
In October, 1927, the second Ukrainian Conference of Pentecostal Christians took place. And also the first Russian Conference of Pentecostal Christians. These were years of strong spiritual revival.
The Voronaev family was greeted with another trial. This one was not a simple one. The oldest daughter, Vera, died. She was only eighteen years old. She was a significant part of the movement of the Odessa Church. She served as a great blessing, and she possessed many great talents. For the Voronaev family, her death was a fatal hit. But this trial did not break the family’s spirit. It did not throw them into mourning or depression. It didn’t make them think of questions that could not be answered. One fact is clear: children should be the ones to bury their parents, not the other way around. This was painful for the family, but it was the path of God. He often leads us through pain, suffering, and tears. People often say, “Life goes on and you have to live it.” Ivan and Katerina buried their daughter and went ahead with their ministry without delay. The Holy Spirit was leading them, and they understood that their daughter’s death was a decision made from above.
The church in Odessa continued to grow, and three other places of gathering were opened in different neighborhoods of the city. The first one was on Hospital Street in the Moldovanka neighborhood; the second was on Slobodka, in the Flea Market area; and the third was in the area of the Starokonovo flea market. As the Bible says: “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47).
The secretary of the Pentecostal Union gave the following information to the journal, “The Traveler”: “The Pentecostal Union in the year 1929 counted five hundred churches and about twenty-five thousand members.” (Journal Putishestvinik, Feb. 1930, No. 2)
On January 7, 1930, by the Orthodox calendar it was the birth of Jesus Christ. A long deep winter night stood still. An unexpected knock came to the Voronaev apartment, and a voice was heard, “In the name of the law, open this door.” Ivan Voronaev was arrested on this cold winter night. He was separated from his beloved wife, Katerina, and he was separated from his young children. Ivan Voronaev went down his personal Way of the Cross. He was separated from some of the members of his family forever. Now the road led him to a special, secret prison in the city of Odessa. It was located on Babel Street. (That was the name of the street in Soviet times) In Odessa there was a joke: “The tallest building in the city is on Babel Street. If you go inside, you will see the North, Magadan, and Vorkut.” (These were Soviet prison camps.)
Ivan Voronaev was faced with the following charges: “International agent, who spreads religious propaganda, with the hope of turning Russia into an American colony. He was hired by the capitalist ruling class of the United States.” Questioning began in the KGB method called “The Carousel.” Investigators switched spots and continued questioning and torturing, and Ivan Voronaev was sitting in one spot without any food. This carousel continued for many days, and they drove him to unconsciousness. This was how the KGB worked. The Odessa prison sent Ivan Voronaev to the Kharkov prison for the trial and punishment. This method of transporting the prisoners was worse than transporting animals. Wagons made for transporting bulk items were filled with planks; there was no food and no water. This transportation for the prisoners, and the conditions, was worse than concentration camps. At the prison in the city of Kharkov, Ivan Voronaev was sentenced to hard labor for six years. He was sent to the far North.
Again the inhuman transportation, and being thrown in prisons, hungry, and distraught from the conditions – this is how the prisoners went to the GULAG Camp. To even imagine what the North held in store for Voronaev, one would have to look at the history that Voronaev’s son, Paul, wrote -- about how his younger brother Peter tried to get to the Camp in the North where their father was. It was crucial to get to his father, who needed clothing and food for his destroyed digestive system:
“From Odessa to Moscow, Peter traveled by train for a day; on the second day he got on a train in Moscow and headed for the North. He would travel on the Trans-Siberian railroad. Peter traveled for four more days to the end of the railroad. There was a city named Kotlas. From there it was crucial to get on a ship and sail on a river for three days to get to the North. The ship was filled with prisoners, who were headed to the far North. In the city of Ustume, he got off the ship and continued his journey on pick-up trucks. When Peter was in the truck, he could see everything that was happening along the road – forests, mud, where a human never set his foot on.
The main thing that caught his attention along the road was the graves of buried people. But the greatest thing that caught his attention was human skeletons that were scattered alongside the road. The truck stopped. It was necessary to refuel the truck. Peter got out and asked the driver, “Who were these people?”
The driver responded, “These were the people who went against the communist regime. These people were farmers who wouldn’t give their farms to communists; these people were bankers, home owners, manufacturers, businessmen, and the intelligentsia of Russia – all of them destroyed. They would not give the communists their belongings without compensation. In the beginning of the communist regime, three officials judged the people in the trials. And those that were charged were taken into carts fit for animals only. They were taken out here to the North to build roads. They died from hunger, and the cold, and all the diseases. And whoever was physically weak and could not work, they were killed on the spot. And no one bothered to bury them. Their bodies were eaten by wild animals, and the only thing left was their skeleton. This is the road of human bones,” the driver said as he sighed, “they took your father down this road, which is more fearful than fear itself.”
They came to the end of the road, and now they had to travel on foot to get to the North. On the second day, Peter came to the camp where his father was held. Peter was on the road for eleven days – from Odessa to the end of the camp where Ivan Voronaev was held. He got there by train, ship, truck, and walking.
There is an account of Peter’s testimony about what the camp was like:
“There were many barracks built out of wood. Inside there were three levels of plank beds where thousands of prisoners lay. They slept and ate in the barracks. The barracks were not heated, and when it rained, the ceiling leaked. There were worms inside of the mattresses; the food consisted of soup, a small piece of salted fish, and a small piece of rye bread. The dishes were made out of tin.
“The people never stopped their work schedule, even if the land was covered in snow and ice. Their clothing was light, and it barely covered the prisoner’s body, even though the wind chill was -30 (below) to -40 (below) degrees Celsius. “Their footwear was worn, and for many of the prisoners the shoes were wrapped in rags.”
The time of separation came. Before he left his father, Peter gave him his own boots, and he tied the boots with ropes so that the soles would not fall off. Afterwards, he gave his father his coat and shirt. They went into the forest to pray to God. The father took out his small hidden Gospel, and – in tears – read several verses. Then they prayed. Afterwards, they came to the entrance and said farewell. The separation was difficult and filled with tears. The father hugged his son and held him close to his chest and cried long and hard. Peter started to leave slowly. Looking back, he saw that his father’s tears were falling down his cheeks, and he stood rigidly. Apparently there was a feeling in his heart that told him that they were never going to meet again on this earth. This separation was forever.
Shortly after Peter’s return, before his mother’s arrest, Peter and his two children left Russia. They were born in the United States and therefore were automatically considered citizens; their names were Alex and John. In 1933, Ivan Voronaev’s wife, Katerina, was arrested. Paul was left as the oldest son, and his two children, Timothy and Nadya, who were born in Odessa. Nadya was nine years old, and Timothy was six. What awaited Katerina was harsh Kazakhstan and a labor camp. They transported her from Odessa the same way they transported her husband. Afterwards they took her from Kazakhstan to Komi, ASSR (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic), to the same area in the far north were her husband was. Not long after, the oldest son Paul was arrested. Two little children were left in Odessa - Nadya and Timothy. He was taken to the North in Siberia to build roads. The closest railroad to his camp was 600 miles.
This was really far North. This was the fate of the people of God’s plan. It is hard to explain, but it’s what God did. Why was this? Because he was God. In 1936, Ivan and Katerina Voronaev were released from the labor camps. They went and settled down in the city of Kaluha, south of the city of Moscow. The family was scattered, the brothers were almost all arrested, and everyone was sent to labor camps to be destroyed. After three months of relief, Voronaev tried to get a hold of his children in the United States to ask them to help him get back to the USA. But their request was not granted. Their fate was to be in the land where they did a great job for God, and there they were to pay a great price with their lives. On the 16th of October, 1936, Ivan Voronaev was arrested again. His freedom lasted for only three months. And in December of 1936, he was sent to far Siberia. To the Peter-Paul Fortress. They sent him there to his death. The day of his death, and where they buried him, no one knew. The only thing that existed was the area.
Paul served his time, 3 years and 4 months, and was set free. It was hard to think of the fate of his young children, Nadya and Timothy, for at this time they were orphans. In 1937, Paul took his children, and through his brothers in the United States, he left to Europe, and then to America. The only person left of their great family was their mother. It is hard to talk about this. They came to Russia as a whole family; some children were born in Russia. And now the family was broken, the children were scattered, and only one was left. After the children departed, Katerina Voronaev lived almost 25 years in labor camps and prisons.
They released her because of her age and her health. Through the influence of the children and the oldest son, she was allowed to return to the United States. This was in July, 1960. She came to America when she turned 73 years old. And after only living for five years in the United States, she went to heaven to come face to face with her savior, Christ Jesus. And also to meet her husband, who died for Christ; and to meet her deceased daughter, Vera. They were waiting for her in heaven. The children buried their mother in the Rose Garden in Whittier, California.
God’s fullness. It is hard to understand it with the mind of a human. It’s hard to draw a picture, or to even explain it, because it is God’s fullness in time. It’s his fullness in his will and his understanding. In his time, he has prepared those who will carry out his plans, and those who will fulfill his work, and those who will pay the price with their lives if it is necessary.
Look at the path this family took. Let this path be an example of heroic faith:
1. Ivan Voronaev – known for his preaching of the Gospel in Russia, he went through hard labor and was sent to the far North, where death awaited him.
2. Coming to San Francisco, preaching and serving as a pastor. A young family, with young children. Many immigrants came to the United States for material happiness, but the Voronaev family didn’t look for material happiness.
3. After two years, God called him to Los Angeles to serve as a pastor, and after three years to leave to Seattle, where he established a new Slavic church.
4. Once again he had to go on the road to serve in New York.
5. After two years, God called him to Russia, where the war, famine, cold, and diseases met them.
6. The move, roaming around in Greece, moving to Bulgaria, and then Turkey, and then Russia, then the port of Odessa, and the arrest.
7. Eight years of fruitful work in the Soviet Union. More than 300 churches were established; five thousand members were baptized with the Holy Spirit.
8. The death of their 18 year old daughter, Vera.
9. Afterwards there was pain and suffering to last a lifetime. The arrest, questioning, and the six year term in the labor camp. Three children leave the country, saved by their move to the United States. The arrest of the wife, the labor camp in Kazakhstan, and then the camp in Komi, ASSR (Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic). After the arrest of the older son Paul, the labor camp in the north awaited him. The two youngest children were left in the streets. Ivan and Katerina were set free in 1936. Ivan was arrested three months later and was taken away to the Peter-Paul Fortress, and no one leaves that place alive. Paul is set free and leaves to the United States. Katerina serves 25 years in Soviet prisons.
This is the scheme – the plan, the design – by which this family of missionaries moved. These are the people who preached the gospel, who loved God. Is there an explanation for this scheme? There is only human unrealism. The most important thing is that it is realism to God. God leads many down the road of tears, pain and suffering. Many go through torturous deaths. Jesus left the glory of God and gave his life so God’s plan could save the people. (John 3:16) Thousands of people went down this road, maybe even millions; this is God’s fullness in his will.
[Note: This short historical account was translated from Russian to English by Inna Zavgorodniy. It was edited and narrated by Paul John Wigowsky.]