Increasingly the word that came to Peter Vashchenko's mind early in the 1960s was Doroga-- "the road." He must find a road out of the atheistic Soviet Union. Did not the Bible warn, "Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins"?
Years before, Peter's father, Paul Vashchenko, was converted to Christianity during World War I. Back in Russia, he told others about his faith. When he married and had children, he passed his belief on to them. Peter married Augustina, a non-Christian. They moved to Chernogorsk in Siberia. While visiting Peter's family, Augustina read the Bible. It became her favorite book. She was impressed with her in-laws' loving home. What a contrast it made to the drunken quarrels she had grown up with. In 1953, she gave herself to Jesus and repented of her past sins, which included belonging to atheistic organizations.
The Christians experienced the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Christ's love caught fire in their hearts. Their teaching and honesty won others to Christ. By 1961, the Chernogorsk community had over two hundred believers.
They were ordered to register their church with the authorities in order to be allowed to continue meeting, and were told they could preach only on approved topics and might not hold special meetings for their children. They refused to register.
Authorities sent Pastor Grigory Vashchenko and his assistant, Andrei Miller, to prison. The athiestic leaders rammed the church with a mine truck while a service was in progress. Through a broken window they sprayed the worshipers with high-pressure water from a fire hose. The Christian men leaped up to the window and took the blast on their backs to protect the women and children.
At school, teachers mocked the Christian children and gave them lower grades than the other pupils, even when they did their work perfectly. So Peter and his brother pulled their children out of school. The authorities threatened to take the children away. For several months the believers hid them, but in the end the youngsters were discovered and taken to juvenile homes that housed unmanageable criminals. Months passed, and the Vashchenkos did not even know where their daughters were. A cook, while drunk, took pity on them and wrote telling where their children were. After that, the family took turns traveling to meet the girls secretly and encourage them in their faith. It was exhausting and expensive.
Some Christians wanted to emigrate. Peter and a few others went to Moscow to make arrangements. When they learned that they would not be allowed to leave the Soviet Union, they formed the desperate idea of entering the American Embassy, hoping the Americans would take them out of the country. Buying tickets at different times, thirty-two slipped off to Moscow without raising the suspicion of the secret police. In Moscow, on this day, January 3rd, 1963, they overwhelmed the policeman at the gates of the American embassy and entered.
The Americans did not offer any hope. Smooth-talking KGB officers promised better treatment. The authorities just hadn't known what was going on, they lied. Some of the Christians believed the KGB. The Americans told the rest that they could do nothing for them because the USSR refused exit visas.
Persecution continued. Peter and other Christians went to prison. After his release, he again tried to emigrate, this time with his daughters, who had run away from their juvenile home. He was unsuccessful and state authorities seized the girls. Their ordeal might seem futile, but the families' repeated attempts to take the road created an international stir. The persecution of Soviet Christians came to world attention. Eventually, this resulted in an easing of the harsh treatment of believers.
- Pollock, John. The Siberian Seven. Waco Texas: Word, 1979.
Last updated May, 2007.