IZHEVSK, Russia (BP)–Vladimir Kuznitsov’s father was a village shaman, a dealer in spirits and spells.
He drowned in a puddle of water one night after running down the street, screaming he was being chased by evil spirits. Some say it was an accident or the old man was crazy.
Kuznitsov believes his father was killed by the spirits that oppress Russia’s Udmurt (OOD-mert) people, who are the focus of this year’s Day of Prayer and Fasting for World Evangelization, which Southern Baptists will observe May 27.
Kuznitsov, too, once had a gift of “healing.” But it became a curse as he sensed the evil at work in his life and saw the fear in those around him. Alcohol also tormented him, and he nearly lost his wife and family as he battled the darkness within.
He got a job as a fire truck driver in the city. His boss was Alexander Popov, who would later become the leader of Baptists in the Russian region of Udmurtia. The first time he attended one of Popov’s informal lunchtime Bible studies, Kuznitsov’s eyes rolled back into his head and he became violently ill. For months he couldn’t listen to the Word of God without a similar reaction. But something drew him back.
One day he attended a showing of the “JESUS” film in a local theater. “At the end of the film there was a prayer [to receive Jesus as Savior],” he recounts. “I said, ‘That prayer is for me. God, I need you.'”
Through Popov’s patient witness and more viewings of the JESUS film, Kuznitsov repented and gave his heart to the Lord. When the Holy Spirit entered him, he felt the old spirit of evil flee.
Within a month he was driving a bus for a JESUS film team going from one Udmurt village to another. “When we showed the film, people didn’t want to leave,” he recalls. “We would say, ‘Go home already. We’ll talk more tomorrow.’ They would say, ‘God spoke to us in our language, to our people!'”
Fourteen years later, Kuznitsov is the national JESUS film representative in Udmurtia for Campus Crusade for Christ and a passionate member of Resurrection (Baptist) Church, which was started by Popov.
His team has shown the JESUS film in about 500 of the 2,000 towns and villages in Udmurtia. They fully intend to reach the rest.
“The guy is a walking evangelism machine,” Southern Baptist missionary Tim Wicker says. “Whenever he’s out with us, we’re constantly waiting on him because somebody walked by that he just couldn’t resist talking to.”
Once, driving late at night, Wicker and Kuznitsov were pulled over at a police checkpoint. Kuznitsov got out and began talking to the Udmurt policeman. Soon he returned to the car, reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a New Testament and tract to give to the policeman. When he came back, Wicker asked why they had been stopped.
“We never got around to that,” Kuznitsov said, grinning as they drove away.
He prays for the day when evangelical believers grasp what it will take to reach all Udmurtia with the Gospel. It won’t be easy, he knows.
“There’s a spiritual battle going on everywhere,” he asserts. “So I don’t live by my feelings. I live by the Word of God. Inside of me God lives, and He is victorious.”
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.