Something More Precious Than Our Life Now
As told by Murat Ibatullin
In 1987 the Russian Ministry of Health sent me to Uganda, Africa. I had agreed to serve as a medical doctor there on a four-year contract. Actually, I never wanted to return to Russia, but I hoped to gain experience that would help me to serve in a country such as Australia, Canada, or the United States of America. But by 1991 my plans had changed, and I returned to Russia. Let me explain why.
I WAS born in 1953 in the city of Kazan’, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan in Central Russia. My parents are Tatar, and most of the Tatar population is Muslim. As a child, I remember seeing my grandparents kneel and pray to Allah. Their children, including my parents, would tell us not to bother them and to leave the room. My parents would wink at us and look embarrassed, because they had embraced Communism and at the time professed to be atheists.
When I was four, I fell victim to the last polio epidemic in the Soviet Union. My childhood memories are filled with trips to hospitals and sanatoriums for medical checkups. I remember my grandfather praying that I would get well. I wanted to be healthy like other children, so despite a disabled leg, I played soccer, hockey, and other sports.
As I grew older, I developed a desire to be a doctor. I was not religious, nor was I an atheist. I simply never thought about God. By that time, I was critical of Communist ideology and often argued with my father and my uncle. My uncle was a university lecturer on philosophy, and my father worked for the State Security Committee, known as the KGB. When I finished medical school, my goals were to become a good neurosurgeon and to emigrate to another country.
In Search of a Good Life
In 1984, I finished my doctoral dissertation on the diagnosis of brain tumors. Then, in 1987, I was sent to Uganda to a hospital in Mulago. I moved to this beautiful country along with my wife, Dilbar, and our children, Rustem and Alisa, who were then seven and four years old. Work at the clinic was hard and included surgeries on patients infected with the HIV virus. I often traveled to other clinics throughout the country, since there were then only two neurosurgeons practicing in Uganda.
One day, at a bookstall in Uganda, Dilbar and I saw a Russian Bible for the first time. We purchased several copies to send to friends in the Soviet Union, as it was almost impossible to buy Bibles there at the time. We read a few chapters from the Bible but found it so hard to understand that we soon stopped.
For three years, however, we attended various churches in Uganda and tried to understand what the local people believed and what motivated them. I also decided to study the Koran in its original language. In fact, Rustem and I signed up for Arabic lessons. After a few months, we could speak Arabic on a basic everyday level.
About that time, we met the missionary Bible teachers Heinz and Marianne Wertholz, who were originally from Germany and Austria. During our first conversation, we didn’t speak of religion at all. We were like any other Europeans meeting in Africa. We asked them why they were in Uganda and learned that they were missionaries of Jehovah’s Witnesses and that they were in the country to help people study the Bible.
I then remembered that during a philosophy course at the university I attended in Russia, we were told that the Witnesses were a sect and that they sacrificed children and drank their blood. I told Heinz and Marianne this, since I couldn’t believe that they would approve of such a thing. Dilbar and I each accepted a copy of the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, and we both devoured most of it in a few hours. When I stopped reading and asked Dilbar how she felt, she said she was so thrilled by what she was reading that she had goose bumps! I told her that I felt the same way.
After that, we were eager to talk with Heinz and Marianne again. When we got together with them, we discussed many topics. What we learned about the Bible touched our hearts further. We were motivated to share what we were learning with friends and colleagues. These included the Russian ambassador, consuls of Russia and other countries, and a representative of the Vatican. He surprised us by claiming that the Old Testament was “all a myth.”
Return to Our Homeland
A month before our return to Russia in 1991, Dilbar and I decided to become Jehovah’s Witnesses. We thought that upon returning to Kazan’, we would immediately continue attending the meetings. But to our horror, for three months not only did we fail to locate a Kingdom Hall but we saw no trace of fellow believers! So we decided to go door to door, as is the custom of Jehovah’s Witnesses around the world, even though it meant doing so by ourselves. This resulted in our starting a few Bible studies, including one with a woman who later became a Witness.
After this, we were visited by an elderly Witness who had received our address from the Witnesses in Uganda. We then began to meet with a group of 15 who held meetings in a small one-room apartment. Heinz and Marianne kept in touch with us and even came to Kazan’ to visit us. Later, we visited them in Bulgaria, the next country to which they were assigned and where they continue to serve as missionaries till this day.
My Homeland Brings Good Fruitage
At every opportunity, I share Bible truths with my colleagues in the hospitals where I work in Russia. Over time, many have responded and have become Jehovah’s Witnesses, including a number of my medical associates. In 1992, the year after our arrival, the group of Witnesses in Kazan’ grew to 45; and the next year, to more than 100. In Kazan’ today, there are seven congregations of Witnesses—five Russian-language, one Tatar-language, and the other sign-language. There are also Armenian- and English-language groups.
In 1993, I attended a medical conference in New York City, where I had a chance to tour the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn. I met Lloyd Barry, who was helping to coordinate the preaching activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide. Despite his busy schedule, he took the time to speak with me.
We discussed the need for Bible literature in the Tatar language. Some years later, a Tatar-language translation team was organized in Russia and literature in Tatar began to appear. How delighted we were, in time, to begin receiving regularly The Watchtower, a magazine designed for Bible study! Soon after that the first Tatar-language congregation was formed.
Using Blood-Conservation Techniques
I uphold all of God’s moral laws, which include the one found at Acts 15:20 that commands God’s servants to “abstain . . . from blood.” Verse 29 adds that God’s servants should “keep abstaining from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication.”
So when Jehovah’s Witnesses seek medical help, they ask doctors to respect their views regarding nonblood medical management. For a while, I worked with a Hospital Liaison Committee of the Witnesses in Kazan’.* In 1997, when one-year-old Pavel from the city of Novosibirsk needed surgery immediately, his mother contacted us for help. At that time, there were few experienced doctors in Russia who were willing to perform operations without blood. We agreed to help locate a doctor who would use alternative treatments.
Soon we found a heart-surgery clinic in Kazan’ whose doctors agreed to perform the operation on young Pavel. On March 31, 1997, doctors performed a very successful bloodless operation to correct the serious heart condition called tetralogy of Fallot. On April 3, the newspaper Vechernyaya Kazan reported: “The little boy feels all right and no longer needs heart medication . . . Pavlik’s [a diminutive of Pavel] mother was able to breathe easily for the first time in eleven months.” In a short time, Pavel recovered from the operation and took his first steps in the hospital corridor.
Pavel now enjoys good health and lives a normal life. He likes to swim, ice skate, and play soccer. He is in the eighth grade in school, and along with his mother, he worships as part of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the city of Novosibirsk. After this experience, doctors at the same clinic successfully operated without the use of blood on several heart patients who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Medical treatment in Tatarstan remains progressive, and surgery without the use of blood has become common.
My Work Today
My wife and I, as well as other Witnesses, work in a clinic that offers high-tech medical solutions to patients with neurological and cardiological problems. We participate in various operations, especially on patients who utilize blood-conservation techniques. I work as a neuroradiologist and pursue my interest in noninvasive bloodless neurosurgery. As a professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at Kazan’ State Medical University, I give lectures to medical students and doctors and try to help them to see the advantages of bloodless medicine.*
My wife works with me in the clinic as an ultrasound specialist. We enjoy our work because we are able to help people. But we experience the most satisfaction from seeing how Bible truths heal people spiritually. It brings joy to our hearts to convey to people God’s promise that on earth soon “no resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isaiah 33:24.
Hospital Liaison Committees are groups of Jehovah’s Witnesses who help hospitals and patients work with each other when blood transfusion becomes an issue.
Bloodless treatment methods are alternatives to blood transfusions. Given the dangers associated with blood transfusions, bloodless medicine and bloodless surgery are gaining popularity throughout the world. Blood transfusions contain the risk of HIV and other infections as well as allergic reactions.
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Serving as a medical doctor in Africa
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When my wife and I began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1990
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Visiting with Lloyd Barry during a trip to Brooklyn, New York, 1993
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Pavel and his mother today
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In the ministry with my wife, Dilbar