In 1996 I took a trip to Barnaul, Russia. My main task while there was to teach Systematic Theology to young Russian preachers. Outside of the classroom, I had a few preaching opportunities. The first preaching time happened in a Russian prison. It was an interesting experience. I was told that this was a maximum security prison with prisoners who had been convicted of crimes like murder. A Russian military officer was in charge. We had the opportunity to spend some time with him before meeting the prisoners.
We journeyed across the prison complex to get to the location where I would preach to the prisoners. Let’s just say that Russian prisons had not been influenced by the ACLU. It was a dark and dank complex. Prisoners seemed weary and beaten down. We gathered in a lower level dark auditorium. A few lights in the rear of the building gave us our only light.
Since I did not speak Russian, I had an interpreter with me when I spoke. Olga was a young college student. The most difficult part of the trip was shielding her from the gawking all-male prisoners.
We did our best to give them hope in the form of the gospel. After preaching, I had the opportunity to speak directly with several of the prisoners. They were gracious and kind.
The prisoners gave me a carved and decorated wooden spoon. I reflect on those prisoners each time I see the spoon.