A Letter from Prison
I was standing before a thousand students at the Word of Life Bible Institute in Argentina as one of the speakers for their annual mission conference. When I finished, Georgi Vins took the podium. His father, Peter, a Mennonite missionary to Siberia, had died in a Soviet prison in 1943. Raised by his widowed mother, Lydia, Georgi and his family moved to Kiev after World War II. In 1959 Nikita Khrushchev began to impose tight regulations against the Baptist Church and Georgi Vins, now a Baptist leader, began to resist the new laws.
Vins led a mass demonstration in Moscow seeking to find out the fate of hundreds of brothers and sisters imprisoned by Khruschev. Instead of gaining information, he, too, was arrested and in November of 1966 was sentenced to three years. After his release he was reunited with his wife, Nadezhda, and their four children, but his freedom didn’t last.
He was seized again in March of 1974 and sentenced to five more years in a labor camp and then five more years of internal exile. Then Andrei Sakharov, a renowned Russian nuclear physicist, became involved. He brought Georgi Vins’ imprisonment and the plight of believers in Russia to the attention of the world. In 1974 Sakharov wrote, “Freedom of conscience is an individual part of freedom as a whole. Honest people throughout the world should defend the victims of religious persecution wherever these take place…”
In the first century Paul was in prison and there was no prominent scientist to protest. The Roman government was even less willing to listen to calls for the release of prisoners than the Soviet Union, but Paul does not lose hope, and he takes the time to write a personal letter on behalf of one of his new sons in the faith. He begins most of his letters stressing his authority as an apostle, but this letter begins with the humble recognition that he is a prisoner because of his commitment to Jesus, the Messiah, the King who will one day rule the world with justice, love, and peace.
“Paul, a prisoner of the Messiah Jesus…”
In 1979 international pressure did lead to Vins’ release from prison on April 26. He was stripped of his citizenship and expelled from the Soviet Union with his wife and children. He made his home in Elkhart, Indiana, and used his freedom to proclaim Jesus. And that’s why he stood before the Word of Life Argentina students, and they listened with rapt attention. A brother imprisoned for our Savior has a gravitas—a gravitas that demands our attention. Will Philemon listen to Paul, the prisoner?
LORD, as we begin 2020, totalitarian states that persecute your people are still active. I pray for Pastor Wang Yi, the leader of one of China’s largest house churches who was arrested in China. Powerfully use the letter he wrote before his arrest expressing his humble allegiance to Jesus and his Gospel to move your people to bold witness around the world.
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