Anatoliy: “Go to Your Countrymen in Exile…”

“Congratulations!  You passed!” reported the Immigration officer.

Anatoliy’s broad grin spread out from under his neat brown beard, obviously a happy man. He had just passed his citizenship exam and anticipated that moment when he would raise his right hand and take the oath of allegiance to his new country.   His family’s journey from Former Soviet Ukraine, where Christians faced discrimination, fines, and even prison for their beliefs, was about to culminate in his induction as a new citizen of the land of religious freedom.

But during his background check, a clerical error brought him under a cloud of suspicion.  Instead of being sworn in as a citizen, he was taken into custody and locked away in the Detention Center for “lying to the U.S. Justice Department”.   For a short-lived day he was a law abiding green card holder moving on to citizenship.  When the investigation process concluded, he was deprived of freedom and treated like a common criminal, losing his job and livelihood.

What had happened?  Through the fog of confusion the words of a prophecy spoken over him in church two months before came back to him.  “My son, you will have a big problem in your life.  But don’t be afraid.  You will have to experience these kinds of problems before you can help other people.”

Aching for clarity he opened his Russian Bible for guidance.  His eye fell on Ezekiel 3:11, Go now to your countrymen in exile and speak to them.  Had God, in some way, sent him into this situation?   There were certainly many other Russian/Ukrainians being held in the detention center with him.

Next, verses 17, 18, and 19 sprang out at him:  I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.  When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.  But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have save yourself.

In the Detention Center his large physique and loud voice kept him from being intimidated.  His fellow detainees from a dozen countries listed crimes as trivial as his clerical error, and overstaying their visas, to domestic violence, and dealing in drugs.

During his three months in detention, he found solace in attending the Sunday worship services coordinated by World Relief.   Fellow Russian-speakers from familiar local congregations came to minister to him and encourage him.   And Anatoliy found himself ministering to his countrymen in his living unit, seeing some lives changed dramatically.

One Sunday after three long months, as he was leaving the service, he told Cal in his accented English, “I’m getting out but I am going to come back here, with you.”   On the day he was released, he drove to World Relief and presented himself as a volunteer for the Detention Ministry.

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