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Stranger’s ‘God bless you’ touched 25-year-old Russian

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–The words, “God bless you,” uttered by an enigmatic stranger on a street corner in Zheleznogorsk, Russia, triggered Yuri Timoshenko to finally look heavenward in his search for God. “The stranger’s words were very special to me, and I thought maybe there is a God, and he is somehow responding to my search,” Yuri reflects.

Yuri, 25, now attends Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, enrolled in the B.A. program at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus, but his Davidic quest for God began in his native land of Russia.

Yuri’s father’s desire was for his son to join the church. “He was trying to give me the Bible to read, but at that time I would have rather read a book about art or philosophy — mere speculations.”

Soon after Yuri was called into military service, he agreed to be baptized into the Orthodox church. This baptism was an act of pure superstition; it was “just in case,” he now recalls.

“After entering military service, I met a worshiper of Krishna. I didn’t have much experience with someone who had a system of beliefs other than just existence without any beliefs,” he says. This prompted him to begin a search for the truth.

It was during a military leave that Yuri met that stranger whose simple greeting would change his life. The stranger stopped to ask directions, Timoshenko says, “but something in him was different. He had a very unusual look in his eyes.”

After completing his military duty, he returned home with a desire to know more about God. “I started reading the New Testament, in (the book of) John. I read it once and I felt it was so different, unlike any other book I had read before.

“I came to the point where I had to make a decision: Either I abandon the Bible and pronounce it an unusual book or I believe in it and accept everything that it says, and accept who Jesus claims to be.”

Unable to resist God’s call, Yuri asked Christ to come into his heart at age 22. “I prayed for the first time in my room and it was a very unusual experience for me, and I felt like a different creature — I just felt the presence of Christ. It was very empowering.”

This acceptance was not the end but the beginning of the journey, as Yuri suddenly was a stranger in an all-too-familiar land. “I wanted to talk to someone, but I knew if I talked to any of my friends, they just wouldn’t understand or care.”

With a ravenous appetite to glean more of the nature of God, Yuri read everything he could find that mentioned Christ. “There was no one to teach me,” he recalls. “I just wanted to learn.”

Yuri departed for a Christian school in Moscow where he became involved in a Baptist church and was baptized in a river near Oennsk. He served as a translator for Christian missionaries in Russia, including Texas Judge Paul Pressler.

Yuri came to Southeastern thanks to Pressler who helped raise the funds to underwrite his journey.

The young Russian hopes to return to his homeland better prepared to teach the gospel. “I could do the same job the missionaries were doing. I could be trained and go back to Russia to educate the people in the truth of Christianity.”

    About the Author

  • Douglas C. Estes