“The Bible led us to God, and God changed us”: Central Asia prison Bible study yields true rehabilitation
Fort Worth, TX (SWBTS) -- Rick Yount, professor of foundations of education, brought home to Southwestern Seminary a radical story of God calling a man from “a brotherhood of criminals” in a Soviet prison to faith and ministry in Jesus Christ through that man’s study of a contraband Bible.
Yount taught at a weekly fellowship of Baptist men while overseas in Central Asia in May. Yount led a discussion on Colossians 3:2, a passage where Paul encourages the church at Colossae to “set [their] minds on things above, not things on the earth.” Yount and the men examined the passage together in addition to recent research that brain rewiring accompanies intent study.
Peter*, one of the men at the fellowship, told Yount that God, working through the Bible, was the only thing that rehabilitated him and his friends. “God loved us. God forgave us. God gave us new minds and new lives. And only the Bible showed us the way,” Peter said.
Peter had been in the Soviet prison system for 17 years, he told Yount. He was imprisoned “as a criminal” and not for “[his] political or religious views.”
While imprisoned, Peter had joined a large group of men that were a “brotherhood of prisoners, a gang of the worst cases,” he said.
“The Soviets tried everything to change our mindset, our mentality and behavior,” said Peter. “They used cattle prods [for electric shock therapy], deprivation of sleep and food, isolation, chemical injections, and heavy labor, but nothing they did broke our spirits or changed our views.”
Peter said they even “had a library [at the prison] with a thousand books in it, but none of the books helped us at all.”
During the end of Communist rule in the late 1980s, a box of Bibles translated into the Russian language was delivered to Peter’s prison.
Peter, as well as the other members of his prison gang, knew that the possession of a Bible was illegal under Soviet law. Because of this, the men were curious about what the Bible said, so they started meeting in the library to read one of the Bibles together, he told Yount.
Peter encountered God through that contraband Bible and subsequent Bible study. God did what years of rehabilitation were powerless to accomplish. “The Bible completely changed our thinking,” said Peter. “The Bible led us to God, and God changed us. No other book in that library, no punishment, no reward could change us. But the Bible changed all of us.”
Peter is now a deacon for one of the largest Baptist churches in his city. Five other men from that prison Bible study are members of his church, and all of them are active in witnessing and sharing Scripture in their city, Yount said.
* not his real name.