Archive for the ‘Sergei Taranov’ Category

I am sitting in the 4th story, 4-room flat of Dr. Sergey Taranov.  This is the apartment which the Communist government provided Sergey and his wife, Galina, in 1971.  In construction and accoutrements, it is like every other apartment in the building, which looks like every other building on the street. I am no little impacted by the abiding and transparent cheer with which they have lived (and continue to live) their lives without so many of the basic “necessities” of life that I take so very much for granted.  No lift to the fourth floor, simply four long and dark and somewhat derelict flights of stairs.  No second bath, only the one, and that one rather primitively outfitted and hardly larger than one would encounter on a commercial airline. (And that bathroom also serves as the laundry area.)  No eating area, simply a TV-tray style folding table which is set in front of the couch in the living room/guest bedroom, requiring that Galina carry the marvelously well-prepared food in from the tiny kitchen(ette) one course at a time.


To be sure, the life Sergey and Galina and their two children have lived out in Siberia has been, in terms of Siberian standards of life and living, fairly ordinary. (And in fact, measured against the expectations brought to daily life by myself and by most of you who might read this, painfully ordinary).  But Dr. Sergey Taranov is no ordinary man – by Siberian standards, by Western standards, or, I believe, by God’s standards.  In 2001, he left a stellar career as a teaching doctor in one of Russia’s leading institutes of cardiology to give himself entirely to pastoral ministry. 


As I type, Kirk and I are talking with our humble and gracious host over a cup of tea.  Sergey almost breaks a sweat trying to carry on a conversation in English, but he stays at it.  He tells us something of his years as a leader in the Communist party of Siberia and specifically his role as a propagandist and ideologue for the state (ir)religion – a role in which his efforts to convince others of the virtues of Communism were fueled at least in part by the doubts that haunted his own soul/spirit.  He remembers the special measure of contempt that he was taught to have toward those “believers” – primarily the Baptists here in Russia – who posed such a threat to the Communist experiment.  Along the way and with some little prodding, he allows that his was a very successful and innovative career as a doctor and that he enjoyed it and found it deeply rewarding.


And he tells about a day in 1992 when an insurance agent visited him in his office at the Institute, wrote policies covering his car, his home, and his life, and then asked, “We’ve protected all you have in this life, but do you have any protection for your soul in the next life?”  That woman was from the Central Baptist Church in Tomsk, and for reasons Sergey couldn’t understand until after he had fulfilled the promise, he promised to visit the church the next Sunday.  But he broke that promise three weeks in a row, and for those same three Mondays that same woman stopped in his office to remind him of his oath.


By now Sergey had wearied of fighting off the sense that his remarkably full life was in fact empty.  As he said, “I sensed that life without God could only be empty, but I didn’t know God!”  And so this well-known physician/cardiologist/university professor /Communist party leader finally made his way to an evening service at the church he had been taught to hate with a special hate.  He had been on duty in the morning and had intended to go home after finishing his day at the hospital, but, as he told us, “My legs wouldn’t let me go anywhere but to church.”  There, he was warmly received by those believers he had so long reviled.  The Gospel message was made plain and compelling, and when the invitation was given he repented (the very instructive verb used universally to describe coming to faith here in Russia), and the name Sergey Taranov was written down in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Comrade Dr. Taranov had become Brother Sergey.  When he got home that evening, Galina wondered where he had been, and she was hurt to find out he had repented in her absence.  Within two weeks, Dr. and Mrs. Taranov had become brother and sister in Christ.


That story is a long way from over, but our telling of it here has to be done.  It needs to be said that within five years Brother Sergey had become pastor of that same church where the Hound of Heaven, employing the means of a bold and persistent sister, had found him out that night in 1992. He served in that ministry while maintaining his schedule as a teaching doctor until 2001, when he was invited to accept the post of regional pastor, overseeing the Antioch Initiative in Tomsk, Siberia.  And thus it is that in God’s bottomlessly gracious providences I find myself sitting in this very humble flat in Siberia, struggling a bit at a conversation that has been God’s way of confronting me once again with two realities that – though I know them well – are ever new to me,. First, the reality that the “word of the cross” which is such foolishness to the world is indeed the power of God unto salvation, and that in ways the world can hardly imagine it makes empty lives full in every place and in every age.  And second, that most of God’s work goes on in what our evangelical world would regard as the backwaters of life – that as impressed as we are by the notoriety and impact of today’s celebrity Christianity, the heavy end of the Gospel stick is being carried in quiet, selfless, and manifestly God-honoring fashion by the Sergey and Galina Taranovs of the world.

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