Enduring as a Soldier of Christ
AS TOLD BY YURII KAPTOLA
“Now I am convinced that you really do have faith!” Those words came from an unlikely source—an officer in the Soviet army—and they gave me a boost at just the right time. I was facing a long prison sentence and had fervently implored Jehovah for support. I was facing a long struggle that would require endurance and resolve.
I WAS born on October 19, 1962, and grew up in the western part of Ukraine. In that same year, my father, who was also named Yurii, came in contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Soon he became the first worshipper of Jehovah in our village. His activity did not go unnoticed by officials who opposed Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Most of our neighbors, however, respected my parents for their Christian qualities and concern for others. My parents took every opportunity to instill in my three sisters and me a love of God from an early age, and this helped me to face the many challenges I encountered at school. One such challenge arose when each student was required to wear a badge identifying him as one of Lenin’s October Children. Because of my Christian neutrality, I did not put the badge on and therefore stood out as being different.—John 6:15; 17:16.
Later, when I was in the third grade, all students were required to join a Communist youth organization called the Young Pioneers. One day our class was taken out to the school yard for the enrollment ceremony. I dreaded it, expecting to be ridiculed and berated. Everyone except me had brought his new red Pioneer scarf from home, and the students stood in a long row in front of the school principal, the teachers, and senior class members. When the senior class members were told to tie the scarves around our necks, I lowered my head and looked down, hoping that no one would pay any attention to me.
Taken to Faraway Prisons
When I was 18, I was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for maintaining Christian neutrality. (Isaiah 2:4) I served the first year in the town of Trudovoye, in the Vinnitskaya District of Ukraine. While there, I met about 30 other Witnesses of Jehovah. We were assigned by twos to separate work detachments, as the authorities wanted to prevent us from associating with one another.
In August 1982, Eduard—another Witness—and I were sent by train in prison cars to the northern Ural Mountains along with a group of other prisoners. For eight days we endured extremely hot and cramped conditions until we arrived at Solikamsk Prison, in the Permskaya District. Eduard and I were assigned to different cells. Two weeks later, I was taken farther north to Vels, in the Krasnovishersky region.
Our transport arrived in the middle of the night, and it was pitch-black. Despite the darkness, an officer ordered our group to cross a river by boat. We could see neither the river nor the boat! Still, we groped around until we stumbled upon a boat and, although frightened, managed to make our way across the river. Once on the other shore, we headed for a light that was visible on a nearby hill, where we found a few tents. This was to be our new home. I lived in a comparatively large tent with about 30 other prisoners. During the winter, we endured temperatures that sometimes plunged to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the tent offered little comfort. The inmates’ primary job was to chop down trees, but I worked at building huts for prisoners.
Spiritual Food Reaches Our Isolated Settlement
I was the only Witness in that settlement; yet Jehovah did not abandon me. One day a package arrived from my mother, who still lived in western Ukraine. When a guard opened the parcel, the first thing he saw was a small Bible. He picked it up and began flipping through the pages. I tried to think of something to say that would prevent this spiritual treasure from being confiscated. “What is this?” the guard asked abruptly. Before I could think of an answer, an inspector standing nearby responded: “Oh! That’s a dictionary.” I said nothing. (Ecclesiastes 3:7) The inspector searched through the rest of the package and then handed it to me along with the precious Bible. I was so happy that I offered him some nuts from my parcel. When I received this package, I knew that Jehovah had not forgotten me. He generously reached out and cared for my spiritual needs.—Hebrews 13:5.
Preaching Without Letup
A few months later, I was surprised to receive a letter from a Christian brother who was imprisoned about 250 miles [400 km] away. He asked me to seek out a man who had shown interest and might now be in my camp. Writing such an open letter was unwise, for our letters were censored. Not surprisingly, one of the officers summoned me to his office and strongly warned me not to preach. He then ordered me to sign a document stating that I would stop sharing my beliefs with others. I replied that I did not understand why I should sign such a statement, since everybody already knew that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I mentioned that other prisoners wanted to know why I had been imprisoned. What should I say to them? (Acts 4:20) The officer realized that he could not intimidate me, so he decided to get rid of me. I was sent to another camp.
I was transferred to the village of Vaya, 125 miles [200 km] away. There the supervisors respected my Christian stand and assigned me to nonmilitary work—first as a carpenter, then as an electrician. But these jobs presented their own challenges. On one occasion, I was told to get my tools and go to the village club. When I arrived, the soldiers in the club were glad to see me. They were having problems getting the lights adorning various military emblems to work properly. They wanted me to help them fix things because they were preparing for the annual Red Army Day celebration. After prayerfully thinking about what to do, I told them that I could not do that kind of work. I gave them my tools and left. I was reported to the deputy director, and to my surprise he listened to the complaints against me and replied: “I respect him for that. He is a man of principle.”
Encouragement From an Unlikely Source
On June 8, 1984, after exactly three years of confinement, I was released. Upon my return to Ukraine, I had to register with the militia as a former prisoner. The officials told me that I would be tried again in six months and that it would be better for me to leave the district entirely. So I left Ukraine and eventually found work in Latvia. For a while I was able to preach and associate with the small group of Witnesses who lived in and around Riga, the capital. However, after only one year, I was again called up for military service. At the enlistment office, I told the officer that I had previously refused military service. In reply, he screamed: “Do you really know what you are doing? Let’s see what you will say to the lieutenant colonel!”
He escorted me to a room on the second floor where the lieutenant colonel sat behind a long table. He carefully listened to me as I explained my position and then told me that I still had time to reconsider my decision before facing the enlistment committee. As we left the lieutenant colonel’s office, the officer who had initially scolded me confessed: “Now I am convinced that you really do have faith!” When I appeared before a military committee, I repeated my neutral stand, and for the time being, they let me go.
During that time, I lived in a hostel. One evening, I heard a soft knock at the door. I opened it and found a man dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase. He introduced himself, saying: “I am from State Security. I know that you are having difficulties and that you are going to be tried in court.” “Yes, that is right,” I replied. The man went on: “We can help you if you agree to work for us.” “No, that is not possible,” I said. “I will remain loyal to my Christian beliefs.” With no further effort to persuade me, he left.
Back to Prison, Back to Preaching
On August 26, 1986, the National Court of Riga sentenced me to four years’ forced labor, and I was taken to the Riga Central Prison. They put me in a large cell together with 40 other prisoners, and I tried to preach to every inmate in that cell. Some claimed to believe in God; others just laughed. I had noticed that the men were gathered in groups, and after two weeks the leaders of these groups told me that I was not allowed to preach, since I did not go along with their unwritten rules. I explained that I was imprisoned for that very reason—I lived by different laws.
I continued to preach discreetly, and when I found some who were spiritually inclined, I was able to study the Bible with four of them. During our discussions, they wrote down basic Bible teachings in a notebook. A few months later, I was sent to a high-security camp in Valmiera, where I worked as an electrician. There I was able to study the Bible with another electrician who four years later became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
On March 24, 1988, I was moved from the high-security camp to a nearby settlement camp. This was a real blessing, since it allowed me more freedom. I was assigned to work on various construction sites, and I constantly looked for opportunities to preach. Frequently, I was away from the camp, preaching until late in the evening, but I never had any difficulties when I returned to the settlement.
Jehovah blessed my efforts. A few Witnesses lived in the area, but in the town itself there was only one, Vilma Krūmin̗a—an elderly sister. Sister Krūmin̗a and I began to conduct many Bible studies with young people. Occasionally, brothers and sisters traveled from Riga to share in the ministry, and some regular pioneers even came from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). With Jehovah’s help, we started several Bible studies, and soon I enrolled in the pioneer service, devoting 90 hours a month to the preaching work.
On April 7, 1990, my case came up for review at the People’s Court in Valmiera. When the hearing began, I recognized the prosecutor. He was a young man with whom I had previously discussed the Bible! He recognized me and smiled but said nothing. I still recall what the judge said to me at the trial that day: “Yurii, the decision to imprison you four years ago was illegal. They should not have convicted you.” All of a sudden, I was free!
A Soldier of Christ
In June 1990, I once again needed to register at the enlistment office in order to obtain a residency permit in Riga. I entered the same office with the same long table where four years earlier I had told the lieutenant colonel that I would not serve in the military. This time, he rose to greet me, shook my hand, and said: “It is a shame you had to go through all of this. I am sorry that it turned out that way.”
I replied: “I am a soldier of Christ, and I must live up to my commission. With help from the Bible, you too can enjoy what Christ has promised his followers—a happy life and an eternal future.” (2 Timothy 2:3, 4) The colonel answered: “Not long ago I bought a Bible, and I am now reading it.” I had with me the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth.* I opened it to the chapter discussing the sign of the last days and showed him how Bible prophecy is related to our time. With deep appreciation the colonel shook my hand again and wished me success in my work.
By this time the field was really white for harvesting in Latvia. (John 4:35) In 1991, I began to serve as a congregation elder. There were only two appointed elders in the entire country! A year later, the only congregation in Latvia was divided into two—one Latvian-speaking and one Russian-speaking. I was privileged to serve with the Russian congregation. The growth was so rapid that the following year our congregation was divided into three! When I look back, it is clear that Jehovah himself was directing his sheep to his organization.
In 1998, I was appointed to serve as a special pioneer in Jelgava, a town 25 miles [40 km] southwest of Riga. That same year, I became one of the first from Latvia to be invited to attend the Ministerial Training School conducted in the Russian language at Solnechnoye, near St. Petersburg, Russia. While at school, I came to appreciate how important it is to have a loving attitude toward people in order to be successful in the ministry. What especially impressed me, above and beyond the things we were taught in the school, was the love and attention that we were shown by the Bethel family and the school instructors.
I reached another milestone in my life in 2001 when I married Karina, a lovely Christian woman. Karina joined me in special full-time service, and every day I am encouraged when I see my wife returning from field service looking so happy. Indeed, it is a great joy to serve Jehovah. The harsh experiences under the Communist regime taught me to trust in him completely. No sacrifice is too great for one who wishes to keep Jehovah’s friendship and support his sovereignty. Helping others learn about Jehovah has given my life purpose. It has been a wondrous honor for me to serve Jehovah “as a fine soldier of Christ.”—2 Timothy 2:3.
Published by Jehovah’s Witnesses but now out of print.
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I was sentenced to forced labor for four years and imprisoned in Riga Central Prison
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With Karina in the ministry