Provided With a Hope That Sustains Me
AS TOLD BY TATJANA VILEYSKA
Our happy family was destroyed when Mother was beaten to death in our apartment. Father committed suicide four months later. After that I no longer wanted to live. So why am I still around to tell the story? Let me explain.
DONETSK, in eastern Ukraine, is a city of smelting furnaces and coal mines. The population of over a million speak Russian and are hardworking and friendly. Some of them believe in astrology or spiritism, and many use the horoscope to inquire about the future. Others turn to sorcerers, or kolduns, as they are known in Russian. Some of these people seek contact with the dead in hopes of finding relief from sickness or just for fun.
Father was a shoemaker. Although he professed to be an atheist, he felt that we were put on the earth by someone. He would say: “We are only guests on this planet.” Mother attended church every Easter because, as she put it, “If there is a God, if he does exist, then we ought to go.” I was born in May 1963. My older sister, Lubov, and my younger brother, Alexandr, completed our happy family.
“White Magic Is Good”
Pjotr*, a distant relative, had an accident while working in a coal mine and suffered head injuries that required treatment in a special clinic. Concerned about his health, he consulted a koldun. The sorcerer put Pjotr in touch with the spirit world. Although his wife and my parents told him that sorcery was foolish, he felt that he knew better. “What I practice is white magic,” he asserted. “Black magic is wicked, but white magic is good.”
Pjotr claimed to have powers that enabled him to foretell the future and protect people from harm. Nonetheless, Pjotr’s wife left him. Hence, Pjotr would come to stay with us, sometimes for weeks at a time. His influence on the family was terrible. At any rate, Mother and Father started to have serious arguments. Eventually, they separated and divorced. We children moved into another apartment with Mother, and Pjotr—her blood relative—moved in with us.
Lubov got married and moved to Uganda, in Africa, with her husband. In October 1984, Alexandr went on vacation and I traveled to the town of Gorlovka for a week. When I left home, Mom and I said a casual good-bye. How I wish that I had said more to her or had even stayed home! You see, I never saw Mom alive again.
“Your Dear Mother Is Dead”
When I returned from Gorlovka, the apartment was locked, and a notice from the police forbidding entrance hung on the door. A shiver went down my spine. I went to our neighbors. Olga was too upset to talk. Her husband, Vladimir, said kindly: “Tanja, something dreadful has happened. Your dear mother is dead. Pjotr killed her. Afterward, he came to our apartment, telephoned the police, and turned himself in.”
The police confirmed the terrible news and gave me the keys to our apartment. I was filled with hatred for Pjotr. In a rage I grabbed most of his belongings—including his books on magic—threw them into a blanket, and took them to a field nearby, where I burned them.
Alexandr heard the news, and he shared my hatred for Pjotr. Then Alexandr was drafted into the army and moved away. Father moved into the apartment with me, and Lubov returned from Uganda and stayed with us for a short while. At times, we had reason to feel that wicked spirit forces were harassing us. Additionally, Father had awful dreams. He felt that he was to blame for Mother’s death. “If only I had stayed with her,” he would say, “she would still be alive.” Before long, Father fell into a deep depression. Within four months of Mother’s death, he committed suicide.
After Father’s funeral Alexandr returned to the military, and Lubov to Uganda. I tried to make a new start by studying at the Makeyevka Institute of Construction Engineering, which was just 30 minutes from home. I decorated and refurbished the apartment, hoping to blot out some of the memories. But there was still reason to suspect demonic harassment.
“Oh God, if You Really Exist”
Alexandr completed his military service and moved back home. But he and I started to have arguments. He got married, and for some months I moved to Rostov, a Russian city on the coast of the Sea of Azov, about 110 miles [170 km] from home. Eventually, I decided to get rid of every last item that had belonged to Pjotr.
I became so depressed myself that I too planned to commit suicide. But Mother’s words kept ringing in my ears: “If there is a God, if he does exist.” One night, I prayed for the first time. “Oh God,” I begged, “if you really exist, please show me the meaning of life.” A couple of days later, a letter arrived from Lubov inviting me to visit her in Uganda. So I postponed my plans to kill myself.
Surprises in Uganda
There can be few places on earth so dissimilar to Ukraine as Uganda. My plane landed in Entebbe in March 1989. When I stepped out of the airplane, I stepped into an oven. I had never known such heat! This was not surprising, since that was my first trip outside the Soviet Union. People spoke English, a language I did not understand.
I climbed into a taxi for the 45-minute ride to Kampala. The landscape was so different from what I was used to that it almost seemed as if I were on another planet! But my beaming taxi driver was kindness itself, and he finally located the home of Lubov and her husband, Joseph. What a relief!
Lubov was studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. I had never heard of them, but Lubov was eager to inform me. She followed me around the house telling me everything she had learned, beginning with Genesis and continuing through Revelation. Believe me, it was hard to take!
One day the Witnesses who studied with Lubov came to visit. One of them was named Marianne. She did not try to preach to me right away, since at the time I could not understand much English anyway. But her warm, friendly eyes told me that she was a sincere, happy person. She showed me a picture of Paradise in the booklet “Look! I Am Making All Things New.” “Look at this woman,” she urged. “That is you, and this other woman is me. We are together in Paradise with all these other people. Is that not wonderful?”
Other Witnesses in Kampala seemed to take turns visiting Lubov and Joseph. They were so friendly that I suspected that they were just trying to make an impression on me. A few weeks later, I attended my first meeting, which was the observance of the Lord’s Evening Meal. (Luke 22:19) Although I did not understand what was said, I was once again struck by how friendly the people were.
‘Read It From Cover to Cover’
Marianne gave me a Russian Bible—the first one I had ever owned. “Read the Bible from cover to cover,” she implored. “Even if you do not understand everything, just read it!”
I was deeply touched by Marianne’s gift, and I decided to follow her advice. ‘After all,’ I thought, ‘what is the point of having a Bible if I do not bother to read it?’
When I returned to Ukraine, I took my Bible along. For the next few months, I worked in Moscow, Russia, and used my free time to begin reading through the Bible. By the time I returned to Uganda nine months later, I had completed half of it. After my return to Kampala, Marianne showed me from the Bible a wonderful hope for the future. A paradise! A resurrection! Seeing Mom and Dad again! I realized that what I was learning was the answer to my prayer while I was in Donetsk.—Acts 24:15; Revelation 21:3-5.
When we studied the subject of evil spirits, I listened with bated breath. The Bible confirmed what I had long suspected. There is no such thing as good or harmless magic. All of it is fraught with danger. I needed no greater proof of that than what had happened in our own family. When I burned Pjotr’s belongings, I had unknowingly done the right thing. Early Christians also burned their articles of magic when they started to serve Jehovah.—Deuteronomy 18:9-12; Acts 19:19.
The more I understood the Bible, the surer I became that I had found the truth. I quit smoking, and in December of 1990, I was baptized in symbol of my dedication to Jehovah. Lubov was immersed just three months before I was; and Joseph, in 1993.
Back to Donetsk
In 1991, I returned to Donetsk. That same year Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ukraine were granted legal recognition, which meant that we could assemble freely and preach openly. We started conversations on the street with anyone who had time to spare. We soon discovered that even in a land where many people professed to be atheists, many were curious about God’s Kingdom.
In the early 1990’s, Bible literature was in short supply, so we operated a lending library on the streets of Donetsk. We erected a stand in the main city square to display copies of our books and booklets. Soon friendly, inquisitive people stopped to ask questions. Those who wanted literature took it on loan, and they were offered a home Bible study.
In 1992, I became a pioneer, a full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and in September 1993, I was invited to join a team of translators at the Watch Tower Society’s branch office in Selters, Germany. In September 1998 we transferred to Poland while awaiting the completion of our new branch facilities in Lviv, Ukraine.
The growth among Jehovah’s people in Ukraine has been astonishing. Whereas Donetsk had one congregation with 110 Witnesses in 1991, it now has 24 congregations with more than 3,000 Witnesses! A visit to Donetsk in 1997 brought not only pleasant encounters but also an episode that caused me distress.
“Pjotr Is Searching for You”
During my stay in Donetsk, Juliya, a Witness who knew our family, shocked me by saying: “Pjotr is searching for you. He wants to talk to you.”
At home that evening I cried and prayed to Jehovah. What did Pjotr want with me? I knew that he had served several years in detention for his crime. I hated him for what he had done, and I felt that he didn’t deserve to learn about Jehovah’s new world. I prayed about the matter for some days and then realized that it was not for me to decide who is worthy to receive eternal life. I recalled Jesus Christ’s promise to the criminal hanging next to him on a stake—that the criminal would be with him in Paradise.—Luke 23:42, 43.
With these thoughts in mind, I determined to see Pjotr and give him a witness about the Messianic Kingdom and God’s new system of things. Accompanied by two Christian brothers, I went to the address given me by Juliya. There, for the first time since Mother’s death, I came face-to-face with Pjotr.
The atmosphere was tense. I explained to Pjotr that I had become a Witness of Jehovah and that the Bible had helped me to understand why in this system we must all experience problems, sometimes even personal tragedies. I also told Pjotr how terrible it had been for us to lose our mother and then our father.
Pjotr explained that a voice had told him to kill my mom, and he went on to describe in detail what had happened on that day. As I listened to his horrible story, my disgust was mixed with pity, for he seemed nervous, like a hunted animal. Once Pjotr finished talking, I tried to show him some of the wonderful promises in the Bible. He claimed to believe in Jesus, so I asked:
“Do you have a Bible?”
“Not yet. But I have ordered one,” he answered.
“You may know already that according to the Bible, the personal name of the true God is Jehovah.”—Psalm 83:18.
Upon hearing that name, Pjotr became agitated. “Do not mention that name to me,” he said. “I cannot stand that name.” We got absolutely nowhere in our attempts to tell Pjotr about the wonderful promises of God.
I left with one thought clear in my mind: If I had not come to know Jehovah, I might have been murdered as Mother was, I might have committed suicide as Father did, or I might have been manipulated to do horrible things as Pjotr was. How deeply grateful I am to have come to know the true God, Jehovah!
Look to the Future, Not the Past
These harrowing experiences have left their mark on my emotions. Even now the memories sometimes cause me pain and distress. But when I came to know Jehovah and his purposes, the healing process began. Bible truth has taught me to focus, not on the past, but on the future. And what a future Jehovah has waiting for his servants!
That future includes the resurrection of the dead to an earthly paradise. What joy I will experience when I welcome my parents back to life! Father was, in effect, right when he said: “We are only guests on this planet.” And Mother’s inclination to believe that God really exists was certainly a correct one. My deepest yearning is to be able to teach Mom and Dad Bible truths when they are resurrected into God’s new system of things.
Name has been changed.
[Blurb on page 24]
For the first time since Mother’s death, I came face-to-face with her killer
[Picture on page 23]
Embraced by Marianne and Heinz Wertholz, missionaries who studied with me in Uganda
[Picture on page 23]
My baptism in Kampala
[Picture on page 24]
Working as part of the Ukrainian translation team in Poland