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After escaping death, he finds life

IZHEVSK, Russia (BP)–Alexander Popov, senior pastor of Baptists in the Russian region of Udmurtia, isn’t in a hurry.

But he doesn’t waste time, either.

By his count, Popov has looked death squarely in the face at least 20 times. So he’s more aware than most that he lives on God’s time schedule, not his own. He makes the most of his time in reaching the Udmurt (OOD-mert) people, the focus of this year’s Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization, which Southern Baptists will observe May 27.

In his younger years, the former geologist survived an airplane crash landing and a mine explosion. Twice he was saved from drowning; three times he escaped job-site electrocution. Once he was attacked by a bear in the woods. He nearly froze to death in the wilderness on another occasion. He drank some toxic homemade liquor that killed others, but he lived.

“Why am I still alive?” Popov started to ask himself.

An ethnic Russian, he was raised in a Baptist home in Udmurtia during the hard years of communism. He read the Bible (smuggled from abroad) many times. “I knew every chapter, but I was an unbeliever,” he says. He was a scientist, an intellectual, a businessman. Yet for some reason he kept the Bible with him everywhere he traveled.

God answered his question with a dream: “He showed me myself, dead in a coffin. The grave didn’t have a bottom. That terrified me. God spoke to my heart and said, ‘This is your last chance.'”

Popov repented and experienced God’s grace and mercy through Christ. A breath of religious freedom was returning to the dying Soviet Union at the time, and Popov heard God’s call to bring the Word he now embraced to Udmurtia. Bible school and seminary followed.

He fulfills his call today by starting churches, mentoring younger Baptist leaders and having a passionate commitment to Bible distribution. Before Bibles were available in Udmurtia, he frequently made an 18-hour train trip to Moscow to buy them and bring them back.

His evangelistic work and Bible distribution efforts extend beyond Udmurtia as well. He takes several trips a year to Mongolia (six days by train) to spread the Word.

“I heard from some missionaries that there were 100 people in Mongolia to one Bible,” he says. “That gave me a desire to help. Bibles cost $5 apiece there, a huge sum for Mongolians. I started collecting money to buy Bibles for Mongolia. Russia went through a time when we didn’t have Bibles for believers.”

In Udmurtia, meanwhile, he has plenty of plans and dreams: befriending Orthodox priests who need encouragement (and Bibles), starting creative community evangelism projects that connect believers to searching people at all levels of society, multiplying churches, unifying Christians in a vision for outreach.

Above all, “He’s a man of prayer,” says Southern Baptist missionary Tim Wicker, a close friend. “When you’re in the office with him, you pray. When you get in the car, you pray. When you get there, you pray.”

When it comes to the Word, Wicker says, “Alexander doesn’t just talk about it, he lives it -– and God blesses it.”
To order a DVD and other free resources related to the Udmurt people of Russia, visit ime.imb.org/dayofprayer or call 1-800-999-3113.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges