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All showing how desperate the Orthodox church is to silence us


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LETTER FROM RUSSIA DECEMBER 12th 2015 

UPDATES ON WINTER PROGRESS

So far this winter there has been a continuation of the progress made in the summer and autumn, with a strengthening of those studying, despite more horrible opposition and problems. But they are all standing firm and indeed help each other a lot, despite their tender years, spiritually speaking.

Anton, the masseur, still has threats of being sacked, simply for being associated with us. It got to the point where he had to speak to the owner of the private clinic where he works. They are experiencing economic woes like the rest of the private sector here. (All public sector workers took a 10% reduction in salary last year and no increase this year. Since the Ukraine crisis inflation is now a real worry with prices having risen about 20% in the last 18 months.) So the clinic owner tried to make Anton feel that if he didn't stop witnessing to his fellow workers she would sack him. He showed her his contract and she was silent. Then she tried to make him alter his working conditions so that he would have to stay in the building 60 hours a week, whether or not clients turned up. At the moment he goes in and serves the patients and then goes out until the next one is scheduled to attend. This means he can go on the ministry between clients and he really helps me with studies and calls at moments when others can't meet me. He stood firm and the issue was put aside. She knows it would be a mistake to lose such a good staff member. He wants to pioneer and will likely be baptised soon.

Konstantine and his sisters are doing amazingly well. There was a terrible situation which arose in the family and he was more or less left to look after them himself for a couple of months. So, apart from college, where he is studying to be a tractor and excavator driver, and trying to work a bit to keep the wolf from the door he also had the task of being like a parent to them. The sisters who study with the girls, now aged 12 and 14, have also been immensely helpful and have done well to tread the fine line between giving moral support and not taking over the parental responsibilities altogether. The situation passed and we had a little pizza party for them which they just loved. For girls who have had such little love and affection they are remarkably normal and cope well. Yulia, the youngest, was the one who was doing well in the summer and Katya, the middle sister, was dragging her feet a little but now she is level with Yulia and the three of them do mini-preparation for the meetings together whenever circumstances allow.

Young sisters in the congregation gave them modest skirts to wear for the meetings and they now look so smart. They had hardly ever worn skirts before and Yulia was sighing and complaining about looking like an old babushka. But nevertheless she wears them now and quite likes the look.

I had warned Konstantine about ex-girlfriends phoning him up and trying to get back with him again. This really made him laugh but then when it did happen, one girl very insistently calling him up and feining interest in the truth, he was amazed at what I had said. They did meet, with her trying her level best to get back together again and he trying to fend her off. I said to invite her to the meetings. After one or two false starts she did appear and it was funny to observe her unfriendly demeanor as she rebuffed the warm welcomes she was given. Rada, dear, warm hearted Rada, was glared at and she got the message and tactfully retreated. I tried to engage her in conversation and she told me little apart from saying she was a classmate of Konstantine's. I, naively said, 'Oh, you're training to be a tractor driver too, then?' She leered at me and said, 'Do I look like a tractor driver?' I sort of melted away. (Actually she was a bit on the butch side and I am sure that she could manfully plough field after field with great skill and energy, changing heavy gears and clanging levers with alacrity. Her people skills need a bit of work though.) Actually she studied at school with him some time ago and in Russia people call you their classmate even if it was years ago. The term sticks for life.

Anyway, she is gone now from the scene and he is growing well. A few more weeks and we will be ready for the questions for publishing. It is a joy to see him looking after his sisters. Yulia sat in on his study just to see if she is ready for the God's Love book. Once, when she answered before he did and answered well, he leaned over and planted an affectionate kiss on her forehead, saying, 'Well done!' Both girls answer at the meetings too and are beloved by many.

Rustem is also heading towards baptism despite great problems at school. He is so active on the ministry and chided me for not arranging meetings for field ministry on public holidays. I promptly did so and he attends them all. We had a funny situation recently where 8 people attended a meeting for ministry and 7 of them were brothers. In a country like Russia where almost 90 percent of the publishers are female this is probably a record. (Ruslan even photographed the event for posterity.) Rustem took me on a call of his and we managed to conduct two studies with him. It was his first chance to start a study and he was nervous. I agreed to cover a certain point or two and then he was to take over the rest. He was at the far end of the table so I couldn't kick him under it but looked to him and asked how he would explain this point. He looked at me dimly then cottoned on and did a great job with me not interrupting very much. Next time it was more or less a 50/50 job and he did really well. He is good with his personal study. He said that only now did he realise how much I had done to help him when I studied with him and that he now understood why I said certain things and asked particular questions. He said that the camp we had in the forest in the summer had been a turning point. I had prepared printed material for discussion for the young ones and it had stimulated many of them to action. Apparently, in the wee small hours some of them had sat around the camp fire and really poured their hearts out to one another.

Tamarind, who only started studying three months ago, said he was now thinking of publishing. He now gives answers at the meeting, wore smart trousers and shirt and bow tie today. He is absolutely drinking it in. Because he seems too good to be true, bad of us to think so maybe, I make the study quite hard for him by giving him homework and research to do. He is pretty clever and has grown in knowledge amazingly. Recently I said to him that being humble was really important and asked what would impress Jesus Christ more if you met him and he noticed we were proud. He got the point and was visibly moved by it. 'I think that is the most profound thing I have ever heard. I know why you said it. I am going to have to work on that.' And he leaned over and squeezed my shoulder.

 

YET ANOTHER STUDY January 3rd 2016

Well, I did my best, really I did, not to take this study but it was just not possible to refuse. In my life, back in Scotland even, whenever I had many studies I always felt it would be greedy to have too many so tried to pass the 'goodies' around as it were. In this case it was Natasha, Dima the runner's mother, who is very zealous, who asked me to study with her husband. I remembered him from almost four years ago, big, brawny and very unhappy about me calling on his 15 year old son. I could only talk to him in his presence he told me firmly. In the end, completely without Dima's knowledge, Natasha was contacted at her workplace and had started to study. Finally Dima found our literature in her office and she admitted she was involved with us. He told her about me visiting him and she said that she had just been told that very day by the special pioneer girl who studied with her that I lived nearby and could study with him if he ever expressed any interest. He said that he was keen but that his dad, Viktor, was opposed. Natasha said she would convince him and he did relent. Dima then studied with me and is now a publisher.

In the summer Viktor came to me to speak about alternative service for Dima. I was nervous about him coming and Natasha said that I couldn't be half as nervous as Viktor was. Anyway, the upshot was that he had been so impressed with our reasonableness, the fact that we were not pressurising Dima, that we were leaving it up to him to decide what to do. He then began to think over things and then a month ago decided to look into it for himself. Natasha asked me and, in my role as service overseer, I decided that Andrei would be the perfect brother for him. However, Andrei's mother had a serious operation the week he was due to start so he and his wife went off to another corner of Russia for a month to help her recuperate. So it was down to me. Natasha was worried about any delay so I said I would take it for the month he was away and enlisted Anton as my helper. We have studied twice a week since then and it seems he is so attached to Anton and me, Natsha said he wouldn't want Andrei now. Nice problem I suppose, if it is a problem at all.

We started on belief in God as a person and took it from there. He wrote many things down on a large wallchart. He is a lawyer by education so wanted everything verified and backed up. After a few lengthy sessions I could see what a really gentle, reasonable guy he is. Very in need of the truth. After two weeks he sighed and said to me, 'I used to laugh at people who believed in God and even pitied them. Then after a while I began to be jealous of them, much to my surprise. Then I realised that I too wanted to believe but was too proud to admit it. Today I have crossed the bridge. I am now over on the side with you believers and it feels great. A bit strange and even frightening but I am here to stay.'

He also said that now he knew why his wife would get out of her warm bed early on a Sunday and traipse through snow and ice just to get to the meeting. One time Dima was sitting at the end of the table during the study and we had just discussed a major point. Viktor let out a long breath, looked over to Dima and said, 'How long have you known that point?' and Dima answered, 'Three years or so.' Viktor tutted and said, 'Son, why didn't you tell me this ?' Dima answered, 'Dad, you never asked.' A nice moment.

He met me by chance, late at night as I was coming back from a meal with Anton and Ruslanchik. He grabbed my hand with his two and we had a nice, long, meaningful conversation as snowflakes fluttered around us. He wanted to tell me how much the study meant to him. His whole worldview has altered in the last few weeks. He said he needed time to make more adjustments. I said we would be there to help him all we could. He managed to come to the meeting today at last. This a good sign as he was two jobs and works far from town. I am looking forward to the next few months with him as we observe his progress.

Incidently, I told Rustem about Dima's dad studying now. Dima and Rustem are parallels in many people's minds here. They both studied with me over the same period, became publishers at the same time and are about the same age. Both have mothers in the truth and fathers not (yet) in the truth. Both are facing the military question too. I said, jokingly, to Rustem that he should tell his dad about Viktor studying now. He was unsure if it was a good idea. I said he could gauge his reaction. So he did tell him and his dad said, 'So what?' Then Rustem's little brother, Almaz, aged 11, piped up and moved over to his dad and took his arm and said, 'Why don't you study too then the whole family would be together!' The dad was bemused and unsure how to react and said nothing. But Almaz said to me, smilingly, that maybe the seed of the idea would grown inside him.

Rustem also asked me for the telephone number of a lad who used to study in the past that had stopped coming to meetings. He did call him and although there was a noncommital response I was very pleased that Rustem is showing such initiative and reaching out to help others. A future pioneer it seems.

 

RUSLANCHIK'S COURAGE

Readers of these chronicles will recall that in the last installment the story was told about Ruslanchik's terrible attacks, by a gang of knife-wielding thieves, and how they stole practically all he owns. This included his only means of earning money, the printers, small computers and other gadgets that he buys and reconditions and then sells for a small profit.

He then moved house and hoped that would be the end to the incidents. The police said that to pursue the matter with no evidence except his own eyewitness account would be fruitless. Plus the crooks could easily find him and threaten him. That was the state of play after he moved house. He was just going to put it behind him. 'Besides,' he said with a twinkle in his eye, 'as I have been forced to simplify my life, I can do more in the ministry.' All he owns now, apart from his car, could easily fit into three sports bags. Somehow, a divan, some chairs and a table appeared from the friends and he soon had a pleasant, if slightly too minimalist, flat where we can hold ministry meetings. (Actually, in the weeks before he moved, several pieces of furniture were pressed onto me by various ones in the congregation. Some sisters have businessmen husbands and it was they who asked me to find homes for their things. They had bought new stuff but were reluctant to throw their old, but still quite decent, things away. This is most unusual here where people do not

 

really have the throw away mentality we see in the Western World. I took some things in as I have two balconies and they were't really much in the way. Andrei said to me that it was all meant to be, that soon someone would need the things. It proved to be so and Ruslanchik was the beneficiary and so were three pioneer girls who also moved house at the same time. I was laughing as I recalled one huge flat I had in Edinburgh in the late 80s and early 90s which was full of settees and three piece suites I had been given. At its peak they numbered 8 or 9 or so and eventually they were all found homes, usually pioneers moving to the city to help where there was a great need.)

But back to Ruslanchik. A few weeks later, by telephone, more threats arrived. At first Ruslanchik ignored them but then more came. He decided to record them and they were indeed incriminating, the leader of the gang openly threatened him and said that they would all come and steal his stuff again, like they had already done. That was enough for him to go to the police with a case. He went to the police station and this time they took it seriously as they had clear evidence of what had happened. The detective showed him a mugshot from their files and Ruslanchik confirmed it was the leader of the gang. They said they had known the first time he had spoken to them that he was the ringleader but without corroberating evidence they couldn't act. They had been wanting to nab him and his gang for some time. He had already been jailed for similar crimes some years ago. Now they wanted Ruslanchik to identify the others.

The detective put away the police files and turned to his computer and opened up the social media site V Kontakte, the Russian equivalent of Facebook. The detective opened the page of the gang leader and within two minutes all the other members of the gang had been found. Some of them had even bragged about their exploits. (It could be that one has an uncle in the prokoratura so he feels he would be free from prosecution, if arrested.) The detective said it was amazingly easy and quick to get information from social media sites and better than their own methods.

Meanwhile, the police went to visit those from the gang and search their houses for any equipment they hadn't sold yet to a fence. Amazingly, dozens of the items were in their various houses, quite openly, waiting to be passed on to fences. The gang members really hadn't expected this and tried to tip each other off but the police stopped them. However, they only arrested the ringleader, Mustafa. (You don't need to guess his religion, nor that of all of his partners in crime.) This was the best tactic as it would frighten the others and make them realise the game was up. Also if any of them wanted to find Ruslanchik and threaten him they might think twice, knowing the police were on their tail. Also if they left town it could be seen as an admission of guilt.

Another week passed then Ruslanchik was called to court and the first 'investigatory' trial took place. He was allowed to record it on his dictaphone, which they hadn't managed to steal as it had been in his pocket when they had been freely rifling through his apartment. Mustafa's lawyer stated that his client had had a clean, umblemished record for several years. The prosecution said that he had a criminal record and had served time in prison. 'My client may have, through weakness and a bad choice of associates, been led from the paths of a law-abiding citizen once...' but was interrupted by the judge. He stated that as leader of this gang and others in the past he was not imprisoned for a mere moment of weakness. He had committed several similar crimes in the past and indeed was the instigator of them. Ruslanchik said it was hard not to laugh at the absurdity of what the lawyer had said.

Mustafa's and the other gang members' fingerprints had been found in Ruslanchik's previous apartment, something which he hadn't known. The new tennants there obviously don't know a duster from a dipstick, thank goodness. Also the stolen goods had all their fingerprints on them too. The lawyer claimed that the whole matter involved merely a misunderstanding, that it was a case of a business deal which had gone wrong and that Ruslanchik was trying to get more money from the people he willingly sold the goods to at a price he later regretted. Just a matter of sour grapes.

Then the prokoratura (prosecutor) told of the telephone evidence, with not only the threats but also the admission that he had already stolen from him. The lawyer said with a sigh that the calls had been made from Mustafa's number but by someone else. The prokoratura said that, if need be, they could geolocate the calls. The lawyer gave up at this point and just sat down.

The judge then made the decision to hand the case to a full trial and meanwhile Mustafa would be jailed for 10 weeks till then. The lawyer then piped up and requested that instead of going to jail he could be placed under the supervision of the mullas in the city Islamic seminary, where he had studied several years ago. It is not clear if the 'bad choice of associates' had been from the seminary where he had studied theology in order to become an imam or indeed who had 'led him from the paths of a law-abiding citizen.' Ruslanchik had quite a chortle at this. The judge was Tartar, so clearly a muslim but he absolutely refused to accept this request. 'The imams in the seminary, who are acquainted with my client, will guarantee his good behaviour and he will board in their student complex for the weeks until the trial,' went on the lawyer. No, it was not accepted and the lawyer's pathetic attempt to make sure his client wouldn't serve any time in jail were squashed.

Ruslanchik was really appalled at the way this ex-student of Islamic theology was being protected by his co-religionists. He said that he could really see the hypocrisy and corruption in all religions now not just Orthodox.

So that is the state of play at the moment. He is waiting for the trial date. He seems not too worried about being seen about town. Although there are 275,000 people here in our city, there are times when it seems much smaller and people know each other very often. He is on the ministry every day it seems and we still can't finish the God's Love book as he keeps on saying he is busy with spiritual things. Good lad. Not letting this ghastly situation get him down at all.

 

 

 

BELARUS DREAMS COME TRUE 

There was a fine pioneer sister in the congregation called Masha who had saved up quite a sum of money from her painting and decorating work and was keen to move to Belarus, where there is such a great need for pioneers. After making sure her mother was going to be able to cope with life without her she made plans to go there for a few months to see how things worked out. Her mother has had her ups and downs in life and suffers from periodic depression. She was a publisher, then became inactive, then got married again to a man who seemed to be alright on the surface but later turned out to be very mean and gave nothing to their marriage. After some time her mother decided to divorce him and he went quietly back to his mother's house, waiting for another woman to sponge off.

After this the mother, Rita, came back to meetings again and finally qualified for baptism. (She had the joy of finding an interested man in group ministry and handed him over to a brother to study with and he will soon be getting baptised.) Once she was settled and steady in the truth off went Masha to Belarus with her small fortune which she reckoned would be enough to last her a year without having to work. She did well and had many studies. However, the law changed in that land, where literally hundreds of pioneers from Russia and Ukraine are serving. The new law stated that to live there you had a have an official job and have an official residence permit. One is impossible to get without the other so Masha returned and tried to see what she could do. While she got things organised with that she stayed a few months here with her mother.

When she returned I was glad as I really needed someone to redecorate my kitchen. My landlord is a good lad who has kept the price of my rent very low for the almost 6 years I have been here in his apartment. So I do most of the repairs and replacing of things that fall off or explode. (The truth is, I don't actually do them. Marcel, Andrei and others come to the rescue as I don't know a mallet from a marshmallow.) So when I was melting some margarine for banana cake in a thick bottomed frying pan and it spluttered horribly I panicked and then the blobules of margarine spat out all over the kitchen walls. It was a ghastly mess. The landlord had, of course, not bought washable wallpaper and it looked really unsightly for months. Then I found a roll of the exact same pattern in a shop and bought it pronto. Nice and yellowy and kitcheny. Masha put it up for me around the cooker and where the blobules had landed. It looked much better. However after a couple of days it was becoming obvious that it was actually a slightly different shade of yellow. More mustardy. After a few more days the two strips that had gone up were actually developing into two different shades. So, above the cooker was a sickly mustard and to the right of it, above the toaster, more sort of beige. I would pass it off as an eccentric idea to have multi-coloured wallpaper and that it was all the rage in the West, wasn't it?!

Anyway, I decided to just get the whole kitchen re-done and so, with a washable green, she started with gusto only to realise she was one roll short. She scuttled back to the shop and got another one and put it up. She said that it had been the second last one so we were happy that we had been quick at spotting the mistake. Then she noticed that, once again she was short. I went back with her and saw that the last roll in the shop was gone. When the shop assistant looked oddly at the manager as we were looking for it, I was suspicious. I overheard her say to the manager that she would, 'Get it back and to try to distract' us. (She obviously took me for a stupid foreigner and didn't know I could follow what she had said.) I said to Masha to distract the manager for a few seconds while I followed the shop assistant. She was sidling, nonchallontly, to the other side of the shop. Then I realised she was going to the 'Bargain Box' where odd rolls are sold off for a fraction of the price. I, none too challontly nor gentlemanly, overtook her and whipped out the familiar green wallpaper which was going for 170 roubles, instead of the 550 we had paid for the others. The reception we got at the cash desk was somewhat frosty. I piped up, 'I'm rather smart, amn't I?'

So now I have a beautiful newly decorated kitchen. The only problem is that the wallpaper facing the window on the far away wall seems to have been put up slightly squint. Only I can notice it as I always sit at one end of the table and face it. I always conduct studies from there, eat from there too. I thought, at first, that it might be the effects of a G+T I was imbibing one night as the sunset filled the room. But no, it really has been put up not quite straight as the flowers on the right side don't appear at the top of the wall and are only half in view near the door. Oh, well, not to worry. There are more important things going on than that. One kind brother said that maybe it was the wall that was not quite true. It's a possibility and so when someone visits me with a plumline instrument thingy any time in future I shall ask them to check. I want to clear Masha's name of any blame.

But back to Masha and her return. There was also another reason she came back. Her brother, Idris, fresh out of prison, was now living in their small flat and causing problems. One thing he did was to bring a girl to live in his room but Rita and Masha threatened him with a court order as it is only possible to have someone legally living in your apartment with the other two owners' permission. (The flat is owned by the three of them.) The girl was given her marching orders and that was the end of her.

That problem was just out of the way when a man, very much a thug-like creature, started coming to their house looking for Idris and threatening them with all sorts of things. The man claimed Idris owed him a large sum of money, which he denied. Most likely he had stolen something in league with the threatening man and was refusing to give him his share. Then, in a nearby shop, Rita was cornered by the thug and beaten up in front of many witnesses, who all scarpered sharpish. This was to show Idris what could happen if he didn't give him the money. The police questioned some of the witnesses but they all claimed not to have seen anything. After returning from hospital Rita was terrified to leave her house and Masha too was under great pressure.

Within a few days they decided to sell their house and move to another part of Russia as the threat was still hanging around them and they simply couldn't go on living a catacomb existence forever. The sale went relatively quickly with the . Then they were worried about where they were moving to. This was a town with 19,000 people, where Rita's brother lives. Would there be a congregation there or only a group? After quite a few calls to Bethel we were able to

 

ascertain that it was only a group which was attached to a congregation 45 km away. But the good news was that out of the 11 publishers there, all sisters, 10 were pioneering. About 20 attend the meetings, one mid-week which they conduct

themselves and one on Saturdays when brothers come from the main city. This was good news as Rita does need support in any case with her depression but especially after what had happened she would be better with an upbuilding circle of friends.

I imagined that Masha too would be happy just to be in a place with so many pioneers. Not a bit of it. Once they had bought a flat, which they found within days, off went Masha to Belarus, after making sure her mother would be well looked after. In a Jepthah-like spirit Rita saw her off at the station, wishing her well as she returns to the city in Belarus where she started her dream of pioneering in that country with such a need.

Yes, despite the interruption to her plans and all the unpleasantness it entailed, she is back on track, being her energetic, positive self there again. Dreams can come true if you really pursue them.

 

ATTEMPTS FROM THE TOP TO BAN US

One journalist, Russian, wrote an article saying that it seemed to him all the legislation which had been passed over the last few years regarding extremism was definitely framed with Jehovah's Witnesses in mind. There have been attempts to stop conventions by trying to make us ask for permission from local authorities to hold them. The police or FSB have arrived at our local ones and tried to stop them but a quick call to the 24 hour legal desk at Bethel soon stops them in their tracks. Especially when they send an e-mail within a minute or two to the brother who called them up and in it there is a chapter and verse explanation of the law and how the supreme court said that we did not have to inform anybody. The brothers then show this on their planchette to the irate officers of the law and they huff and puff and go off to get more ideas from their higher ups.

Now we are using the 'Bible Study Plans,' which are simply a precis of the material found in The Bible Teach book. They are not numbered and have no indication of who published them. They are designed to look as if they are merely our own notes so they cannot really be banned. I have numbered mine as I wanted to have an easier system for studying with people. There are 42 themes and I have laminated them, taking up only four two sided A4 sheets. Others publishers and pioneers have nice files for them and some have even got them bound in a spiral notebook. It is the very diversity of styles and how they all differ from each other that will make it difficult to ban. We give a copy of them to our studies and ask them to prepare in advance. However it has been noticed that some subjects cannot really be covered fully without additional material. We have printed out from other publications (not on the banned list) information regarding the Issue of Sovereignty, more prophetic examples and other material that supports the subject. One thing is clear that we all getting better at formulating questions to draw out thoughts and also in our general use of the Bible.

Literature is still stuck at the border as I write this. Some items which have been purged of any reference to JW.ORG have been received but it is just a trickle and it went into the hands of grateful brothers and sisters within minutes of being released.

There was discussion in the Duma, Russia's parliament, about dealing with dangerous sects and how to use the law to stop them. The deputy talked of the need to carefully draft laws that would restrict us but not conflict with the constitution. A missionary law has been enacted in several provinces which means that anyone engaging in this activty has to have a license from the local authorities. But there is no clear legal definition of what 'missionary activity' involves. These laws are made, they say to 'Protect honest citizens from outrageous evangelising attempts.' Also regularly, local media outlets are fed information about sects and they have a campaign once or twice a year, called 'Anti-sects initiative,' wherein for a week on TV and radio the public are bombarded with propaganda against us. Video clips, interviews with ex-zombified 'Witnesses' are trotted out regularly. Tearful relatives of those who became Witnesses, they claim, cry into the camera and plead for us to return their relatives whom we are supposed to have kidnapped. All showing how desperate the Orthodox church is to silence us.

All the measures they have taken over the years are designed to slowly squeeze and squeeze us, in the hope we will burst. The harsh measures against out dear brothers and sisters in Taganrog have simply had no effect on the activity of the now almost 180,000 publishers here. Kingdom Halls keep getting built, in secret, dozens each year, about 100 get baptised each week somewhere in Russia. We seem unstoppable in their eyes.

 

WHAT HAS HE DONE?

I came home one day to find someone had spray-painted on my stair landing the words, 'When I find you I will break both legs.' But don't worry, it wasn't meant for me but the rather shifty looking guy next door who always looks like the morning after the night before. I wonder what he had been up to? What criminal activity? Judging by the company he keeps I somehow doubt it's selling My Little Pony accessories.

 

PROPISKA SITUATION

This is what I call the 'dreaded residence' permit system, one of the strictest in the world, apart from maybe North Korea. Every Russian citizen must have a registered address. Whether the person has to actually live there is a highly debated question and the legal uncertainites of this question can be used by the police and judges to prosecute (and persecute) people they happen to dislike. Let's take the example of a brother, Maxim, who came here to serve 12 years ago. He left his home city, about 16 hours away by train and bus, where he was registered in his parents' house. But he cannot live and work here without a local registration. The company where he found a job wouldn't employ him unless he was registered locally. How can you get a local registration? If you buy a house or flat, then you can get a registration after a long documention process. If you only rent then you can ask the owner of the flat where you live to go with you to the registration office where the owner has to show them all 11 ownership documents and then they will register you at his place. However, in practice, no flat owner ever agrees to do this. There is technically no obligation for the owner to allow the person to live there. But if the person ceases to pay you rent and no longer lives there it takes a court order to remove the registration from the property without the permission of the one who asked to be registered there. Have you got that?

Because of massive state control during the Soviet period it was considered a crime not to be registered and so anyone who doesn't have one even today is viewed with suspicion. So Maxim, as he was only renting, had great difficulty living here with no registration. The fine for being caught without a registration is about a month's wages. He finally found one sister who had her own apartment and she agreed to having him registered there. He was able to get a job and now pioneers here very successfully. But the other month the sister decided to sell the apartment and so there was a panic. He is now married and said that even his wife doesn't have a local registration. She is registered at her parents' house in B_____, about 4 hours bus journey away. She goes there every 90 days to re-register. If she is late even one day she can get fined so she carefully counts all the days and shuttles back and forward to her hometown. She has done this for the last 11 years. Maxim could in theory also do this. But his father- in-law didn't agree to it. His arguement was that if they ever divorced he would have to go to court to remove Maxim's registration.

So it looked like Maxim would have to go back to his home town every 90 days and re-register there, all 16 hours there and 16 hours back again every 90 days. However, there was sister in the congregation, kindly and willing to help. She had 12 people registered in her apartment, of which only three actually lived there. In the end she had to say 'no' as her relatives were unhappy about more people being registered there. The good news is that he came into some money unexpectedly. It was not enoughm to buy an apartment but he can buy a room in a hostel with it. That is enough to give him and his wife a registration. So both of them can live here legally and not have to re-register anywhere every 90 days. Joy all round. And, good lad that he is, he isn't even going to live in the room but give it free to a family to live in.

In these terrible economic times here this is a really kind gift as this family simply have not the means to rent a flat. He feels the money he got should be used to help others.

Other pioneers who came from the far south of Russia also have this problem with registration. Three sisters have to go on a 40 hour train journey back to their home town to register every 90 days, costing them about 20% of their income. Our special pioneer couple also have to go back to Volgograd every 90 days, which is a 38 hour journey, one way. Although the Society pays for this it is still unsettling to have to be on the move all the time, disrupting ministry, their Bible students and responsiblities in the congregation. You never really feel that you are entirely at home when you have this to face constantly. Yes this is the case for many of those who serve here in areas of great need. What a great self-sacrificing spirit they show!

 

IS SPIRITUALITY GENETIC?

Please don't screw up your face in puzzlement at that statement. I shall explain. There have been a number of stories over the years, and not just in these jottings, but verified stories from our literature, of people who were fleshly relatives and quite independently from each other, accepted the truth, in separate locations. They hadn't known about each other being the in truth until 'Time and Unforeseen Occurance' allowed them to meet and find out about the coincidence. Now the more logical and rational of you are going to say that the average probability of two blood relatives both accepting the truth are about one in 1,000, as the worldwide ratio is now about that. But in various lands the ratio is considerable higher so a Canadian would have a chance of one in 300 or so and a person from Guadaloupe would have a chance of one in 48 or so. So, from a cold, mathematical point of view it is not such a great probability. But remarkable in any case.

What the probability factor is in the following case is difficult to assess as it involves different periods of history and various countries. But I am sure you will agree it is a pretty amazing story. There was a Polish brother, Mruchek, who came into the truth as a young man in the 1960s, when the work was still under ban. His parents showed no interest and didn't cause him any problems. Mruczek then married a sister, brought up a family in the truth and his son grew up to pioneer when the ban was lifted in the late 80s. After the work opened up in the 1990s Mruczech's father, Voytek showed no interest and even after Mruczek's mother died his father continued to live alone and it seemed he would never accept the truth. One day, Voytek surprised Mruczek by asking to be taken to the meeting and the therein asked for a Bible study. No one knew what had prompted this but all in the family were glad. He made rapid progress in understanding, despite his advancing years.

He got baptised and was able to do some preaching. After several years he died, faithful in the truth. When he died Mruczek started to look through his documents and things. Voytek had been born in an area of what had been Poland back in the 1920s but which had changed hands during the war and was then part of the USSR and finally it became part of Ukraine in 1991. Voytek had, like many of his generation, been unwilling to say much about his roots and his life in that part of Poland. There had been a lot of migration to and fro, many atrocities committed on both sides and many heart wrenching stories of suffering. Men especially were reluctant to talk about their past. Many had had to change sides in the war and some had things they wanted to hide. Mruczek knew very little about his father's past but he didn't pry, knowing it was a sensitive subject.

Mruczek had known some details of the village where his father had grown up but before the war but it was not encouraged by the authorites to dig into the past too much. Now it was a new century and Ukraine and Poland had good relations. There was no problem about visiting Ukraine any more so he decided to travel to his father's village and see what he could find out. He wanted to see if there were any relatives still alive, maybe his father's sisters or brothers, if indeed there were any. He simply didn't know. He had a feeling that as Voytek had an unusal surname, maybe it would be easy to find out. But then again, maybe he had changed his name as many had done, to avoid detection?

To cut a long story short he located his father's sister after a convoluted search. On visiting her, now in her old age, he made the amazing discovery that she is a Jehovah's Witness and had been since the 1930s, when Voytek was living there in that place. Stunned by this news Mruczek then told her that he and his family were also in the truth. As the sister was still reeling from the shock that her brother had actually survived the war and had lived in Poland until he had died recently she could hardly answer for tears. She hadn't known.

She then said, 'Of course, he brought you all up in the truth.' Mruczek was puzzled. He then explained that Voytek had only come into the truth in recent times. 'Oh, no,' said his sister, 'he was in the truth before the war.' Mruczek was pole-axed. 'You mean, he was a brother too?' he asked. Yes, it was the case. At the start of hostilities he had disappeared, just like many young men did and was not heard of again.

For Voytek's sister, the astonishing news that he had survived the war and brought up a family had again been in the truth in the years before he died gave her some sort of closure. For Mruczek it was rather different. He was left with many questions unanswered. Why had his father said nothing for decades about having been a brother in a far off area of Ukraine before the war? How had he kept it a secret for so long? Maybe he, in fact, had joined the armed forces and after the war, afraid to return to his hometown, which was now held by the Soviets, he knew he would be punished by them for fighting on the 'wrong' side. Perhaps he was so ashamed of what he had done, he simply lived a lie for the next 50 years until he finally again embraced the truth in old age. We don't know. Only when he is brought back in the resurrection will we find out.

An oddly chilling story I am sure you will agree. What the chances were that his family would accept the truth are pretty small, although Poland does have a good ratio and did have even in the 1940 and 50s compared to other countries. Personally, I feel intensely sorry for Voytek. He was a young man at a very difficult time in history with violence and horror surrounding him. Maybe he did things he couldn't bring himself to speak of and so lived under this strain for many years. Let's hope he found some relief and comfort in the years before he died, making peace with his Maker who, after all, can read hearts and thus it is in His hands.

 

FEBRUARY 6TH 2016

TWO TALES OF THEFT

A sister in the congregation came to me to tell me of the woes her 17 year old son, Stepan, was causing. She told me he was now in prison over a theft he and his friends had committed and was likely to be there for a couple of years at least. He and his friends, all aged 18 or 19, found an empty house which was not protected by a guard dog. (This is unusual in the city as theft is rife in these areas. This why I don't like working those areas in the ministry as the dogs are, although on a chain, very threatening. Many of these people, the one or two top percent earners in Russian society, really value their privacy and quite often from a security camera they observe us and never answer. Something like 20-30% of these posh houses are never able to be witnessed to.) Anyway, this 17 year old was the leader of the gang. It reminds me of 'Pinkie' who was the 17 year old leader of a street gang in Graham Green's book, Brighton Rock.

Once they got in the found lots of drink. Most of the lads started on that while Stepan and one of the lads searched around the house. On the top of a cupboard, in a suitcase, they found 2,100,000 roubles, about $30,000 in today's exchange rate but about $70,000 by the pre-crisis rate. Stepan quickly thought of a plan to deceive his partners in crime. He and the friend who had discovered it each pocketed (literally) a million each, hiding it deep inside their underwear. They then ran out of the room jubilantly and showed the other three gang members the remaining 100,000 and they thiefocratically shared it among the five of them. The three other lads were so drunk by now they never questioned anything.

As they left, noisily, they were spotted and reported to the police. That night the police picked up Stepan and by means of threats he revealed the names of the other gang members. (Honour among thieves, huh!) They were all found with the money on them and Stepan and his fellow deceiver hadn't even thought up a safe place for their million roubles. All five boys had left a myriad of fingerprints and so it was an open and shut case. (In this instance an opened suitcase.) The house owner says that they boys had actually stolen three million roubles but there was no trace of this amount in any of the boys' houses or on their persons. Sometimes victims lie about the amount stolen to get more out of those who have robbed them. But Stepan said to his mother that it was only 2,100,000. She is inclined to believe him.

The court case was recently and the three boys who only had a small amount were given suspended sentences but Stepan and his friend, as ringleaders were given two years in jail. He is now afraid that when he leaves jail in 2018 his pals whom he tricked will try to get even with him. So he is unlikely ever to return to our city to live.

 

The other story involves someone who was also part of a gang who stole dozens of computers from a shop late at night. The leader had 'cased the joint' and knew how to cut off the security system. But all the same they needed a lookout. So _____, stood in the lane nearby and was to send a quick text message to those inside in the event of anyone passing by and who could call the police. As it happens they cut the wire of the wrong security system and the actual one silently sent a message to the police station. As the boys loaded the stuff into the back of a Lada they were seen and almost nabbed but got away. The police soon caught up with them next day their various homes. Unfortunately, ____ hadn't been wearing gloves as he thought he wouldn't be actually handling the goods but his prints were on one of the

computers. Some of the computers were at one apartment, the leader thinking that the police wouldn't trace him. The police proceeded with the case slowly as it was not a big one. They needed to pin the blame on the main ringleader. _____ told the police and his lawyer that he was merely the lookout which they believed as he was unknown to the police. The others already have a criminal record. So the ringleader was arrested and sent to jail but the owner of the shop wanted the value of all the equipment, including all the things the police couldn't find.

The ringleader is going to be in jail also for two years and the judge did not order him to pay back the value of the stoeln goods. But the other gang members had left no fingerprints and also no stolen goods were found at their homes. If ____ were to confirm to the police that he had seen the other gang members steal the stuff then they would definitely be arrested and sentenced. But, of course his life wouldn't be worth a farthing. Some of the other lads have brothers who would certainly take revenge on him. The police understood this so didn't pressure him to testify against them.

As all these things legal wrangles were happening, _____ was studying with me and making great spiritual progress, recognizing his total guilt in these matters and showing a repentent attitude. The question of whether he would be sent to jail or not hung around for months. If he admitted guilt he could go to jail for a two year period. He could also just be given a suspended sentence. Also he could be just be told to repay the amount stolen and not have a criminal record. But he would have to pay the whole amount as no other person could be held accountable without his testimony against them. Our other elder and I advised him to meet the other gang members and tell them he was going to come clean, admit guilt and take his chances. _____ dragged his feet but finally they met and they were very unhappy in case his coming clean would impact on them somehow. _____ said that he wasn't going to testify against them. They were all very suspicious of his motives. But he had no idea how the case would turn out. It would be galling to have to pay the full amount, 360,000, which is about three years' wages. But if he told the police the whole truth about the others it would only be 60,000 roubles. But might be beaten up or even worse even if he hadn't testified against them.

He told the lawyer that he was now studying the Bible and had changed his whole life around and was totally committed to living honestly now. This information was filtered back to the judge. The case was heard. During the morning I was a bag of nerves as we had said a fond farewell the night before as we all believed that we would never see him for two years if the worst came to the worst. He called during an English class and I ran to the corridor, to the astonishment of the teens I was teaching. He wasn't sent to jail. Neither was he given a suspended sentence. The judge had taken into consideration what he had passed on via the lawyer and told him he would not have a criminal record but merely to repay the amount stolen. Then there came the surprise. The shop owner had claimed 360,000 roubles as the value of the goods. This had been rejected due to lack of legal proof. He would have to pay back only 102,000 roubles. While tough, it's a real relief to him and we were all so glad that he hadn't been incarcerated. At the Kingdom Hall he was warmly welcomed back, as if from the dead, by those who knew what he had been going though.

He continues to make spiritual progress and this decision has now paved the way for him to become a publisher. He says that at first he was really unsure about coming clean and facing the consequences but he sees it has worked out for the best. He agreed with me when we said that Jehovah won't always shield us from the sad consequences of things we did before knowing the truth. But this means he will be able to pay the sum back much quicker. He said that he hopes to pioneer one day, once this burden is all over.

 

[He didn't mind me writing about this in the Diary. He says it may serve as a warning to young ones not to get into bad ways and also as an encouragement to rely on Jehovah and do the right thing, even if we fear the consequences.]

 

FINALLY...

It would be better to end this Diary on a somewhat more upbeat note, methinks. The December field ministry report was excellent with a new peak of publishers reporting. Although not a cold winter so far, it has still been generally above minus 10, (above means minus 11, 12 or so) so good to see the publishers average 12.6 hours. Studying only the Bible with little use of publications has also not affected the total number of studies.

Tamarind continues to make progress and now has made a stand against military service as has Konstantine. We now have four applications for alternative service, two from lads who study and two from unbaptised publishers. The really exciting news is that Konstantine's third sister attended her first meeting in December. We got it photographed for posterity, the four of them all together. She also now studying, sometimes twice a week. The whole family have been buffeted about by this cruel system but are all doing well. Yulia, now aged 12, will soon be ready for the God's Love book and is begging me to let her be a publisher, or at least to accompany others and observe. Konstantine is now finally living in Anton's place. Sharing costs will mean Anton will be better able to cut down his massage work and pioneer right after baptism in March. Konstantine is maturing nicely too and dear to us all.

Viktor is at the Sunday meetings regularly, prepares for his study diligently and takes reams of notes on various topics that he likes to read about. The family now read the daily text and Bible together which is really uniting them.

We just completed all the Q and A sessions for baptism for four publishers, all male. The next month will be truly wonderful as we look forward to seeing them being used in the congregation and growing by leaps and bounds.

Final piece of good news. The Jeremiah book has been taken off the banned list by some obscure court order in Siberia. Rejoicing in the streets? We're all busy preparing presentions for it (joke) which is odd as we haven't got any spare copies. But we live in hope. Funny lot, are we not?

If  Bible being delcared extremist,we are a bit worried as it would mean we would have to throw away all our precious Bibles and get old language ones. Also all literature which quotes from the NWT would be banned. 

 

 

 

 

 

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