The Australian pastor and star of the This Cultural Moment podcast...
The incredible story of how Sasha Tsutserov went from staunch communist and atheist to training church planters throughout the former Soviet Union
I was born into a communist family. Nobody ever spoke of God or the Bible.
I went to a school of music and learned to play violin and piano. I went to every ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre and read all the classics – the whole of Tolstoy and the works of Dostoyevsky. But I got fed up of this and decided to go all the way over to the other side and do something more muscular!
At the age of 15, I called the KGB and asked if they could make an agent out of me. They laughed so hard and said, “No kiddo, grow up, get some education and call back.” So that’s exactly what I did.
Years later, my wife’s father happened to be a colonel in the KGB. I’m sure he pulled some strings and I got accepted. It took them five years to screen me. I was part of the KGB from 1985 to 1993.
It’s an organisation which has killed 20 million people in Russia – 200,000 of them were Christian ministers. They also imprisoned 500,000 church leaders who eventually died from ‘natural causes’, if you know what I mean? Starvation was considered a natural death. They put people to work at nuclear plants with no protection, forced them to work outside in Siberia in the freezing temperatures.
I cannot describe or divulge information about what I did. ‘Nasty’ would be a short description of the KGB, but they pay you so much, you would do anything for that kind of money. The best excuse for me doing wrong things was to provide for my family.
One day my 9-year-old daughter came back from school and said she’d made a new friend. She claimed the father of the friend was a Christian missionary from the USA. I looked straight into her eyes and said, “You better be kidding.” In my view all missionaries were spies and I had to take care of those. I was a proud product of the Soviet Union and thought we didn’t need any help from abroad.
I found out the family were learning Russian. If you’re learning the most difficult language on the planet, then you are not a tourist but are here to stay. That made me very concerned. My wife happened to be a professional Russian language instructor. I utilised that to my advantage. It gave me a chance to spy on the family. I would sit there pretending to wait for my wife to finish the lesson. I was actually there to listen to what they were talking about. But all they talked about was God! They wanted my wife to use the Bible as a textbook. All they wanted to learn was how to say ‘The Lord’ in Russian and how to say “whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.
After listening to this stuff for half a year I got converted – at least in my head. This was a huge step. These missionaries were very pushy about God. They took me to a Christian retreat where I had a vision and my second conversion, which was in my heart. I saw God standing on the top of a mountain. I felt I was a jar of clay. God was pouring down pure gold of the Holy Spirit right inside of the jar. That was my true conversion because in my heart I knew Jesus was God.
I came back home and my wife said, “What’s wrong with you? You’re smiling.” I had never smiled before. I did not know any better than to admit I became a Christian. She in turn confessed to me that she had become a Christian even earlier than I did. She had been scared to death to talk about it with her husband, a KGB agent!
Leaving the KGB
We planted a church in Moscow in 1991. Then I had my third conversion – in my gut. I realised I could no longer keep both my faith and job. I had to quit one or the other. I couldn’t quit my faith – I’d found Jesus! And I couldn’t quit the KGB because you don’t quit the KGB just like that. Initially the only basis on which you could quit were either you go crazy or you were dead. I didn’t like either option so I waited until an opportunity came.
Then the KGB introduced a third reason where you could swap your job to work in free enterprise. You had to prove the free enterprise you claimed you’d be doing would pay better than the KGB. This was a trick designed to prevent KGB agents from leaving because nobody could beat the KGB on the money. But there was a man who accepted Jesus Christ in the church we had planted. I shared my concerns and he wrote me a letter from his company. It said the company was offering me a job much better paid than the KGB. So with that letter I took it to the KGB and they let me go. It took me three years to get out without many consequences.
Training future leaders
I learned the call of the Lord on my life was to replenish the 200,000 ministers who the KGB executed and plant 40,000 churches that the KGB had dynamited. I realised there was no way I could do this just through the church I’d started. I needed something bigger than that.
We decided to plant a seminary to multiply the effort. We are now raising a whole new generation of Christian leaders. We have 362 full-time students this year. Most of them will go into church planting. We serve all of the former Soviet Union – a huge territory over eleven time zones, and it’s going great!
The Church in Russia has become a mass movement. When I was working for the KGB there was one Protestant church allowed to exist in the whole of Moscow. Now we have almost 400 churches. Lots of people come to Christ and churches are spreading like a fire. We have a hard time keeping up with the demand for trained ministers.
Sasha Tsutserov is a full-time minister, professor in Biblical Studies and the president of the Moscow Seminary. Click here for more information and to support the work of Moscow Seminary. Sasha will be speaking at the Worldwide Mission Conference, Bangor on Monday 21st August.
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