Monday, November 26, 2007

Remembering Sergei Bessarab

In the decade that I have been ministering with The Voice of the Martyrs, I have read numerous reports of those who were killed for their faith. There are so many that one starts to lose track of them, to be honest. So, it has been meaningful for me to read through our newest book Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs and to read a number of stories that I reported on over the years and to be reminded yet again of their courage in the face of death; stories like that of Sergei Bessarab who was killed on January 12, 2004:

The shots rang through the air and shattered the glass window of Pastor Sergei Bessarab's front room the evening of January 12, 2004. The first bullet hit Sergei's hand that was gently strumming his guitar while singing songs of praise to God. The second shot got him in the leg and the third in his chest, ending his life on Earth.

Pastor Bessarab's wife, Tamara, heard the shots and frantically ran into the room. She stared in disbelief at the scene before her-the shattered glass and blood spattered on the chair, carpet, and on her husband's guitar. She dropped to the floor to avoid additional bullets and began to sob as she lay next to her husband's body.

Tamara could smell the acrid scent of gunpowder as the gunman continued his rampage and fired into the house and at Sergei's car. Finishing his task, the gunman turned and fled down the narrow, dusty alley behind the house, disappearing into the darkness.

Suffering wasn't new for Sergei Bessarab, and he was prepared to die for Christ. Just five years ago, however, the idea would have been inconceivable. Bessarab had gone to prison five different times as a leader in Tajikistan's organized crime underworld. A fellow prisoner who had come to know Christ through a prison ministry began to minister to Bessarab as he served one of his sentences. This prisoner continually prayed that Jesus would become real to Sergei.

"Pray for someone else," Sergei would growl. "Don't waste time praying for me." But the man persisted and prayed every day that he would come to accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Finally, three years later, in August 2000, his prayers were answered. Sergei Bessarab began walking with the Lord and eventually began a Bible study in the prison. After his release in November 2001, he returned often to bring Christ's message to his former prison mates.

Sergei traveled all over the country. He was a passionate preacher with a great love for people. He planted a church in Isfara, a city in Tajikistan with no Christian presence but a strong, radical Muslim one. Accompanied by his wife Tamara, Sergei traveled to Isfara on Sundays to hold services; in early 2003 they moved to the city. The church began to grow, and new people were accepting Christ, but their ministry was not unnoticed by enemies of the gospel. A week prior to Sergei's death, the local paper carried the headline: "What's going to be done about Sergei Bessarab?"

Sergei's life for Christ was like an exploding star, burning hot and fast and spreading much light. Even after Bessarab's death, Tamara received numerous letters from prisoners all over Tajikistan. They had either heard Sergei speak or heard about the remarkable way Christ had changed his life. They were challenged to know God more, and to rely on Him.

Pastor Sergei Bessarab was a man of prayer. For two hours every morning and two hours every evening, he spent time with the Lord. He read his Bible, prayed, and sang praise songs while strumming his guitar. His favorite passage was John 12:24: "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."

Those four hours of prayer were the source of Sergei's continual spiritual fervor. In fact, in the weeks before his death, he had been asking the Lord to open up two more hours-in the middle of the day-for him to commune with God. God answered his prayer in a way no one expected- not just two more hours, but an eternity with Christ.

Before Sergei's death, he and Tamara prayed alone for Isfara, and then with a small group of believers in Tajikistan. One of their requests was that God would raise up an army on their knees for the city He had called them to. God answered Sergei and Tamara's prayer, using the death of one prayer warrior as a seed to raise up a bountiful harvest of prayers for Isfara from around the world.

From Foxe: Voices of the Martyrs (pages 294-295)

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