Come Over and Help supports the prison ministry and the rehabilitation centers of Light of the Resurrection Mission in Ukraine. This testimony beautiful illustrates the power of the gospel in bringing hope in the most desperate circumstances.
“…There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. ”Romans 3:10-11
I did not seek God, He found me and gave me the most precious thing that an orphan can dream of – adoption. God forgave my sins, accepted me into His family of the children of God, and gave me everything: salvation, the church, set me free from the bondage of sin, from addictions and from bad habits, gave me a ministry, a wonderful wife, work and friends. All this I have today, but 7 years ago, everything was different...
My name is Sergey Baranov. I was born in an average Soviet family, but I never felt happy. My mother constantly was sick, and my father worked in the mine for days. Therefore, I was brought up by my aunt together with my older sister. At school, I did okay, but I was inattentive. My favorite subject was physical education; I even attended wrestling classes. I wanted to be strong and independent. Since my childhood, I appreciated true male friendship, and although I had few friends, they were true ones. I was familiar with the orthodox religion, but just in general, like everybody else. At home, there were icons and even a calendar of church holidays. But I did not believe in God, because I did not know Him, although I crossed myself before or after some meaningful event. I loved Easter for the tasty Easter bread. But as I grew up, I began to search for adventures, imitating the heroes of movies and older guys who fought, smoked and drank.
I began to fight and drink, and became debauched and foul. I would have ended up in prison, but the army saved me from it. In the army, I behaved very badly, and even there I was nearly put in jail for fights and drinking. After being discharged to the reserves, I returned to my home town of Krasniy Luch, Lugansk region, and continued my sinful activities with even greater enthusiasm. My mom did not believe it when she was told about my bad actions, so she did not rebuke me.
On one of the spring days of 1992, on Easter, I met my cousin, who, as a Christian, tried to teach me. She said that I'm a sinner and I need to repent, and she told me what Jesus did in her life. But I did not receive the Gospel, and on the contrary, I called her a saint and said many bad things about her husband and their friends. So I continued my sinful existence. I got a job in the mine, but often skipped work because of drinking. Being constantly drunk and not thinking of what I was doing, I got married. We received a son but I was not involved in bringing him up. A famous poet Yevgeniy Yevtushenko in his poem "Stop" describes the life of people like me: "... they hastily drink, hastily love, and the soul falls, hastily beat, hastily ruined, and then they hastily repent..." That was me.
But after another crime, I went to prison for the first time. My wife left me, and in prison I got tuberculosis. It would seem that here I would finally stop! But no, it was not enough for me. We often blame God for our troubles; we say, “Where is He?” But, if my ruined life, and my circumstances did not stop me and did not teach me anything, what did God have to do to save me?! I miraculously survived tuberculosis, was discharged from prison and again went along the path of criminal life. I got to prison and served a sentence four more times. I lost everything, my parents and relatives died; my friends refused me, my son was brought up by strangers and the street, and during my last detention I broke down. I looked at the life I was living, and I was horrified ... At the age of 40 I looked like 60; my whole body was sick, my psyche was broken, my past was miserable, and my future - hopeless.
In the prison cell, I first thought about the purpose of my life, and began to read the Bible thoughtfully and saw myself as a sinner before the Holy God; I really felt panic and fear of punishment. As soon as I arrived in Zhdanov prison No. 3, on the very first day, I repented in the prayer room and asked God for His salvation; it was in November 2010. I cried, but then I rejoiced together with my brothers in faith. Jesus gave me salvation, I found real friends, and I began to look at everything in a new way. Although I was physically weak, I chose the hardest work, because in the Bible I read: "If any would not work, neither should he eat...". I began to regularly attend the prayer room, where other convicts like me gathered. Together we read the Bible, sang Christian songs, rejoiced and cried. Here I met Jesus, and really began to love Him. We felt that a rebirth had happened to us, as if the Potter took the remains of the destroyed clay and began to create a completely different vessel. From that time, I began to search for God everywhere: in the Word, in fellowship, in nature, I wanted to be with Him always. I wanted to cry out and testify to everyone about Him, about His love and salvation. Four times a month brothers from the prison ministry visited us: from Donetsk, Mariupol, Ugledar and Shakhtersk. They were true believers, and from them I took an example, and I asked them questions about life according to the Word of God. They brought us food and literature, and through this God taught me to be grateful. Together with members of our community, we visited those prisoners who were seriously ill, shared the Gospel, and shared the food and clothes, so God taught me to think not only about myself, but also to help others.
Time flew. The brothers from Donetsk suggested that after I my discharge from prison, I could go to the rehabilitation center of the Light of Resurrection Mission in Makeyevka. I gladly accepted their offer.
From the first days of my stay in the rehabilitation center, I was surrounded with care and attention. I had an inguinal hernia and I was released from hard physical work and given work within my powers, and six months later, I was allocated finances for the surgery. After another six months, I underwent another surgery - on my lungs. During my stay in the rehabilitation center from September 2013 to June 2014, I grew in knowledge of God, my health problems were dealt with, and I received useful skills in production.
I still thank God that He lifted me up through his faithful servants. In the summer of 2014, because of the war in the Donbass, I moved together with the rehabilitation center to Zaporozhye. While enrolled in the adaptation program, I met my future wife Irina, who also underwent rehabilitation in the women's rehabilitation center of the Light of Resurrection Mission. We were baptized, and soon we got married. Are these not miracles and care of the Lord? The devil, through sin, took everything away from me and destroyed my life, but God through faith in Jesus Christ restored my whole life.
Immediately after we got married, God sent us to serve in the rehabilitation center for men in Mangush. They accepted us very warmly and for three years now we have been serving here. In the church, my wife sings in the choir, and I take part in the prayer and children's ministry. God teaches us how to work with people, and shows us that human methods, knowledge of psychology, talents and eloquence are powerless, but only prayer and the Word of God can soften and change the rusty heart of the sinner.
At the beginning of our ministry, we went through difficult trials. My wife was seriously ill and was at death’s door. We had fears and doubts, but the Lord remained faithful to His Word, promising that He would not leave us, nor forsake us. Hepatitis, HIV/AIDS are diagnoses that people do not live with, but die. But if God gives life, no disease can take it away. The pastor and his family, and brothers and sisters from the local church supported us. Also the brothers from the Light of Resurrection Mission did not forget us. Today, the threat to my wife's life has receded, she is under the supervision of doctors, and adheres to their recommendations. But we are comforted by the fact that, above all, we are under the supervision, control and protection of our Creator. I thank God for everything.
I want this testimony to be an encouragement for those who are disappointed in life, who feel that their life has come to a standstill and nothing can change it. Stop rushing from one corner to another, from one deadlock to another. God has all the solutions. Seek Him, “…The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon him…”