Showdown in Siberia
must prove what you say! The fierce Kirghiz tribal leader glared around
the room at each of us. One of our priests of the skin offerings tells
us that you are liars and deceivers, and that you cannot prove that the
day to worship your God is Sunday. If you cannot prove this, then we will
certainly kill you, for we want no white mans deception in this
place! With that, he whirled and left our little church.
chill of terror swept through the little room. The Kirghiz were indeed
much to be feared. These Mongolian tribesmen had the grisly habit of
tanning the flesh of human beings. Whenever they were angered or did not
receive justice, they would skin their victims, tan the skins, and make
what they called worthwhile items out of them. The minister ran out
of the church after the chief. It will take a few days, but we will
find you the text, he shouted. We would be given three days.
we had no way of escape in the frozen wastes of Siberia. The only method
of transportation that we had were a few ponies that were still in a
semi-wild state, having just recently been captured. However, we were not
yet totally discouraged, for we thought that we knew what we believed. The
minister summoned us all to our little adobe church. The Bibles that we
had were given to each person who could read and understand what we were
looking for a Scripture that said to keep Sunday, the first day of the
week, holy. It must be there. We believed it as Christians, and we knew
that there must be a text to prove our belief. It was now up to us to find
who could, began searching the Scriptures; those who could not knelt in
prayer that we would be successful. Sections of the Bible were assigned to
each of us. If we were to finish before we found the passage that we
needed to find, we were to exchange sections, check, and double check our
hours of Scripture study and prayer failed to give us the text we so
desperately needed. Much to our amazement, however, we did find many
Scriptures that pointed to the seventh day as Gods holy Sabbath.
Nowhere, in Scripture, could we find that the Sabbath had been changed to
were 21 families in our exile colony, more than 100 people. The first two
years of our exile were extremely difficult; and, many times, existence
was a real fight. Many people starved to death, and the horrible cold
winters took their toll of life, with no respect for age or sex. Only the
most hardy were able to survive. But our living God heard the cries of His
exiles, just as He had in ages past. He was a comforting Presence in the
vast wastes of Siberia, and we never felt abandoned or without hope.
the nineteenth century, more than one million of Russia's intelligentsia
were exiled to Siberia to die. They were not criminals. All that they
wanted was the freedom to live a free life according to the dictates of
their own consciences, but they were not allowed to do so. This longing
for freedom had cost untold thousands their lives, and many more would
never see civilization again.
this same fate had come to us, a group of Christians with the simple
desire to worship the God of our choice, in the manner that we felt was
correct. For this we found ourselves deep in the heart of Siberia, with
only the wild animals and a few Kirghiz tribesmen surrounding us. The
natives with whom we had become acquainted were kind to us; but, for a
long time, the language barrier between us was almost insurmountable. They
could not speak a European language, and we could make absolutely no sense
from their Turkic language. Time and practice were all that we needed,
however, and one day we began to be able to communicate readily.
was about two years before we really became proficient with their
language, and it was then that our pastor called the elders of our church
together and proposed a plan for a missionary
endeavor among these people. The pastor felt sure that God must have had a
reason for allowing us to be banished to this barren wasteland, and we
were reminded that Gods Word never returns to Him void. We were urged
to exercise our Christian concern among these Siberian natives, and teach
them of the living God and His dear Son who had given His life as a ransom
for all men. We were encourage by their interest in our way of life, as
many times the Kirghiz had expressed their dissatisfaction with their
terrible pattern of existence.
could not read or write, but the Spirit of God works on all hearts. For
weeks our elders, sometimes accompanied by their wives, went to the
Kirghiz village to teach them of God and the Christian way of life. After
several months, the Kirghiz began to come to the little adobe church which
we had erected for our worship services. It was at this point that we
really began to introduce them to the three main points of doctrine that
we, as a mixed group of different denominations, held in common.
course, the first point was that there was indeed a living God who cared
personally for each one of the Kirghiz. This was not too hard to make
clear to them, as all around us we had unspoiled natural wonders to
convince them of Gods existence. The second point was that there was a
Word of God, rather like a group of love letters left for all men, to
assure them of Gods care for them and to remind them of their duties
and responsibilities to Him as His subjects. We told them that although
this book had been written by men, it was Gods Spirit that had moved
upon the authors to write the messages. The Bible was our guide to the
heavenly land for which we
are all looking, where there would be no more cold winters, no more
freezing to death, no more
starvation or exile. The third point we showed them was that they should
not keep Friday as the day of rest as was their custom from their
Mohammedan background. We instructed them that they should henceforth keep
the Lords day holy, which was called Sunday. This was not an easy
subject for them to grasp, and we sensed their uneasiness with this
doctrine from the very first. We also presented many other subjects
surrounding these three major doctrines, such as baptism and the second
coming of Christ.
was then, after these natives had worshiped with us for several weeks,
that we were visited on that fateful day by three of the Kirghiz tribal
leaders, and their spokesman had made the demand that we prove from
Gods Holy Word that a man must worship Him on Sunday. If we couldn't
prove our doctrine, we would certainly be put to death!
here we were, huddled together in our little church, unable to justify our
beliefs according to the Bible, and with all the evidence pointing to the
fact that we were indeed wrong and had been following the dictates of men
and not of God. We had no place to escape, and nothing to escape with.
Many wept and prayed, for we were certain that the morning dawn would
bring our doom. How we longed for the wings of a bird, to be able to flee
from our persecutors!
our pastor stood and motioned for silence. My dear Christian brethren,
take courage! God will not fail us in this time of trouble! In honesty, we
have prayed and searched the Scriptures, and He has rewarded us with a gem
of new truth, hidden for centuries! Do not you think that if we are honest
with our brothers, the Kirghiz, that our God will soften their hearts to
believe? This is what He has sent us here for; and, live or die, we must
accomplish His will! Let His truth be known! And trust yourselves to Him!
Tomorrow we admit the truth and God will indeed be with us, I am sure!
spent the remaining time of our probation in prayer, promising God that if
He would hear our cries and let us live, we would do His will as revealed
in His Word.
arrived, perhaps our last day of life. Clouds appropriately veiled the sun
as the members of our settlement gathered in the church for a final
session of prayer. At noon, the cloud of dust grew thicker as across the
steppes came a herd of galloping horses, more than a hundred in all!
Brandishing their sharp knives, our native neighbors headed for the
church. They knew exactly how many people were in our little colony, and
there was one Kirghiz rider for each of us. It was indeed a terrible
reminder of what they had in mind! They surrounded the church, jumped off
their horses and stood beside them while the three leaders came inside for
our answer to their question.
had cried our last tears and spoken our last words of comfort to each
other, assuring each other that if our appeal failed, we would certainly
meet on the resurrection morning. Now we sat silent, at the mercy of these
native men and of God.
minister arose and met the three men halfway up the narrow aisle. He told
them that we had been misled in Europe. We had been taught falsely. We had
now read the Word of God through for ourselves several times, and the only
Scriptures that we could find identified the seventh day, and not the
first, as the Christian Sabbath. True, there were eight mentions of the
first day of the week in the New Testament, but not in a single case did
we find any suggestion of holiness attached to it.
will not resist, our pastor said. You may kill us if you wish, but
we hope and pray that instead you will join us in worship of the true God
on His holy Sabbath.
he stepped back and sat down. The three natives stood, conferring among
themselves, then turned and walked out without saying a word in reply. The
little door closed. It did not seem like a good omen. We sat in silence
for another few moments with God. The quietness was broken only by an
occasional sob. We felt as if time pressed down around us and stopped as
we waited there.
the door opened and the three men entered once again. Don't be afraid, they said. We will not kill you.
We have come back to join you, and we will all worship on the seventh day
as your Holy Book prescribes. Then Hammemba, the chief and spokesman,
began to tell us why they had made this request in the beginning.
the caravan of native priests had arrived at the village for their skin
offerings that the natives regularly supplied, the Kirghiz had nothing to
give. When they explained that it was because of their friendship with the
Christian exiles that they had not taken any skins, the priest asked,
Oh, then you have become Christians?
the native replied.
you have undoubtedly also given up your keeping of Friday, as you were
taught, and begun to keep their Sunday?
we have, was their reply.
chief priest drew up to his full height, and a slow smile began to spread
over his face. Fools! Go back and ask your white friends to show you
the proof that they are instructed by their God to keep the first day
holy! If they cannot do that, then bring me their skins, for they lie!
native priests had heard about the Bible before, and some had even studied
it. They told the Kirghiz that the Christians would be unable to find such
a text and that they would get our skins. The priests told the natives,
while they were waiting for our reply, that, if we were really honest
about Christianity (they felt that most white men were liars), and wanted
to live in the way our God prescribed, we would be keeping the seventh day
holy and not the first.
these natives had heard our minister make an honest confession that we had
all been misled, and that our Book had indeed pointed to the seventh day
as the Sabbath of the Lord. They had to decide that we were honest, even
though we were white! They really did want to be Christians; they were
tired of such things as skin offerings. Their lives did not improve under
the supervision of the heathen priests, while we helped them to advance in
many ways and had asked for nothing in return.
After they had finished telling us this story, they said that they wanted to be real Christians and to follow the Bible and its sacred teachings. They returned to their village and told the priests to be on their way, that henceforth they would have no more skin offerings. The following Saturday, on Gods holy Sabbath, our little colony, together with the Kirghiz, worshiped together in our mud-brick church.