I was the firstborn in a Ukrainian Catholic family. Here is my first recollection of being made aware of the existence of God and another world: My parents and I were driving home from town one evening as the sun was setting. I was about 4 years old. The sun had cast a glow on some clouds on the horizon, which gave them a special effect as that of a glowing celestial abode.
My mother pointed to that beautiful scene and said (in Ukrainian), “Look son, that’s Heaven over there. God, the angels and the saints are all singing and rejoicing!” That event was quite stirring to me. I knew I wanted to be there, and I don’t know if my mother told me I would have to die (in physical terms) to go to Heaven, or I instinctively knew I would have to do so to get there, but I knew I had to die. I knew I would have to lose or let go of everything in this world to have that immense privilege of being with God. It was a bittersweet experience, thrilling, yet deeply sad. Unknown to me, I would come to know the reality of it while living in this life.
“God, if You are willing to show Yourself, please, please do!”
The next time I recall having an “encounter” with God was when I was about 11 or 12. One thing after another was going wrong. I was exasperated. One day I was splitting wood under a tree and as I brought down the axe, I pulled a branch with it down onto my head, which shocked me. It seemed as though the heavens were falling in on me. I cried out to God in desperation, fearful and broken. From then on, a peace came and there were no more such incidents for a while.
When I was nearly 25, I had a skiing “accident.” I was off work for three and a half months and in physiotherapy for much longer. During that time, a search began within me for more meaning to life. Questions arose, such as, “Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a God? Will He talk to me? What does He want from me?” I began to seek out various causes, philosophies, religions, and I began to read the Bible.
By a peculiar set of circumstances, I was hired by another company and sent to a city hundreds of miles away from where I was living. I was separated from family, friends, and familiar surroundings. It was a quiet job, with plenty of time to think, meditate, read the Bible, and search after God.
During that period in 1972, I began to pray, crying out to God saying, “God, if You are there, if I can talk to You, if You are willing to show Yourself, please, please do.” Night after night, I would kneel by my bed and cry out to God in quiet desperation. That emptiness within and dissatisfaction for the things of this world were growing more intense until I felt that unless God answered, I had no reason to go on living.
That year of 1972, I decided to fast for three days and three nights, without food or water. It was around that time that I had a dream of the Lord Jesus Christ, something I knew by the term, “Second Coming.” I saw His face. It was a face like no other…perfect in beauty, love, power, wisdom, knowledge, and peace. His face was plainly, distinctly Jewish, yet it was universal. A man walked with Him on His left, and that man’s face too was distinctly Jewish, though not universal. He was full of reverence, thankfulness and joy, all because of the One with Whom he walked, and Whom he worshiped. Both the Lord Jesus and the man with Him had neat beards, short hair, and royal or priestlperspiration.As I witnessed these two persons, I was condemned, not by the Lord or that man with Him, but by my own corruption and religious doctrine. As a Catholic, I was taught that if I died with a mortal sin on my soul, I would go to Hell and burn with horrible pain forever and ever, or, if the Lord came and I was in mortal sin, I would suffer the same consequence. The Lord was acknowledging very few people as He came by the whole world, which stood very still, watching and wondering. He did not acknowledge me, and I knew He could not. I feared I was rejected and damned for all eternity. When I woke up, my clothing was wet with perspiration.
I began to believe Jesus Christ was the Answer for me and all mankind.
Greatly troubled, and not knowing what to do, a week or two later I had a second dream from God, in which I was informed that I needed spiritual food. I set out to try to change my life, to rid myself of my sins, to make myself pleasing and acceptable to the Lord. I soon began to realize the impossibility of such an undertaking on my part. I despaired and nearly quit trying altogether, when I had a third dream which was an encouragement to go on. Symbolically, the dream told me I was almost “there.”
(To read about these three dreams in greater detail, click on this link.)
THE FEAST OF PASSOVER
Some time later, the Lord sent an elderly man, George Lynn, to testify to me, and to teach me from the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments. He was quite knowledgeable in the Bible. For some days, learning that I was Catholic, he was trying to tell me of how corrupt the Roman Catholic Church was. He related some of the gross and indecent sins prevalent in her. However, all he succeeded in doing was to make me angry.
Given wisdom by God, he steered away from criticizing my church and, instead, delved into Scripture, and spoke of the Lord and His love and sacrifice for me, and how I needed to receive and submit to Jesus Christ as Lord of my life. He made it clear that there was nothing I could do to save myself, that I needed the Almighty and Only Savior to do the job. He shared hundreds of Scripture verses with me, several hours each day. I particularly recall many verses from the epistles of the apostle Paul, such as:
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9 KJV).
And: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 KJV).
And: “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23 KJV).
To encourage me to believe the veracity and authority of Scripture, George shared with me (along with other passages) the words that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy saying:
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV).
I had a joy I had never known, peace, fulfilment, direction, and purpose.
There were many verses, but the ones that stand out to me the most, and seemed to be the clinchers for me, were:
“But what says it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture says, Whosoever believes on Him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:8-11 KJV).
After seven evenings, each with several hours of instruction, I began to believe that Jesus Christ was the Answer for me and all mankind. I knew I was not right with God, was not able to make myself right with Him, but wanted so much to be right with Him, and here was George telling me exactly how it was possible, and the only way possible.
Somewhat bashfully, I got down on my knees and George with me. I was surprised that I did not know how to pray. What should I say? Then George counseled me to speak simply and honestly to God as one I respected but with whom I could express myself without formality. I confessed myself a helpless sinner and asked the Lord Jesus Christ to forgive me for my sins and to take over my life, which I confessed I could not manage or change on my own. (He knew I had tried to change, and failed miserably.) I did not feel, hear or see anything special or unusual. A little disappointed, yet somehow at peace, I went home.
In the days to follow, changes occurred in me over which I had no control and for which I could take no credit whatsoever. The vices and bad habits I had tried and failed to overcome were removed from me. I found myself with new desires, a joy I had never known, peace, fulfilment, direction, and purpose. I had life for the first time. The Bible became a new Book to me. I had read it once through before this momentous occasion in my life and understood nothing. Now I was full of interest in, and enthusiasm for, its contents. This Book was alive and infinite in meaning. God was real!
“You know what, Victor?” my sister declared, “I don’t like the ‘new you.’”
Let me be quite candid here, so that you may appreciate what kind of change occurred in my life at that time. As a Catholic, I had been an altar boy, president of the youth club and soloist in the choir. I went to catechism, confirmation, confession, communion, and even attended a minor seminary for one year. I did it all. At the same time, I was a great fool, liar, thief, cheat, fraud, pervert, coward, traitor, hypocrite, fornicator, adulterer, masturbator, blasphemer, idolater, drunk, glutton, smoker, and more.
I constantly went to confession, and continually sinned. I did not do so cynically, but with guilt, helplessness, frustration, and fear. I was smiles, jokes and laughs on the outside, but troubled within. For example, since puberty, I had masturbated, and when the time came that I earnestly tried to quit, I found myself a slave to it, unable to stop. I now perceive the great harm that it did, but I wonder if those who taught me, who have never come to know Jesus Christ and salvation, can tell what it did to them.
While I have confessed some things, there are sins I do not dare confess because they are so despicable that I do not want to foul minds with the thought of them. I would be committing another sin by divulging those. I only want to say to all that there can be hope, no matter how vile your sins. I have learned that we are all capable of the worst, every last one of us. There was hope and salvation for me. After all, Jesus paid the price for every sin.
When the Lord delivered me of my sins, and took over my life, turning it right side up, there came a division between me and my family, friends and associates. The Catholic parish priest and all Catholics condemned what had happened to me. My family went black. My sister threw me out of her house, and they all shunned me.
While a Catholic, I was all those things I mentioned above, several of which were known to many, yet nobody in the family or the Catholic Church had a problem with me. Truly, I was one of them, but the moment I confessed Jesus Christ as Lord, and was delivered of those vile sins, vices and habits, I was shunned by my family and condemned as an ignorant dupe of some “Bible students.”
My sister kicked me out, because I had tried to reach those I loved, telling them I had found life. I so desired to share with them that which I found. I was surprised that they found a problem with my deliverance. “You know what, Victor?” my sister declared, “I don’t like the ‘new you.‘” I lost all that I had, but quite willing to have it so for that fulfillment in the Lord Who consumed me.
I began telling people that I needed to go back to the Catholic Church.
As long as I was Catholic, my sins were not an issue, but when my sins were cleaned up, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, outside of the Catholic influence, suddenly I was as a leper to them. Why weren’t they thankful?
A few months after having experienced repentance and deliverance from my sins, I was reading a book by a John O’Brien, I believe, called “The Faith of Millions.” This book was a defense of the Catholic Church and its doctrines. I was moved by it, and intellectually persuaded that indeed, the Roman Catholic Church was the one, true church, and her doctrines true and legitimate. I began telling the people of the Alliance Church where I was attending that I needed to go back to the Catholic Church. They were quite disturbed by the prospect.
During those days, just before I was going to go forward one Sunday in church and announce that I was returning to “my church,” I was struck ill. My landlord and his wife found me uncustomarily at home, in bed, in my basement suite, feverish and bringing up green bile. They took me to the hospital, late at night, having contacted my young medical doctor who met us there.
My doctor, Lorne Rabuka, did not know what was wrong, but there was an older doctor who happened to be walking by, and saw me on the gurney. He came over, gave me a press in the lower abdomen that nearly sent me through the ceiling, and said, “I think you will find that he has acute appendicitis. We need to get him into the operating room immediately.” This was around midnight. By two o’clock in the morning, they were operating. I was told later that I was a matter of a few hours, if not minutes, from dying of a burst appendix.
Now I was off work, in the hospital and later convalescing at home for a few days. I did not have the Alliance pastor visit me at the hospital. Instead, I had the Catholic priest do so, which disturbed my Alliance friends, but they did not argue or criticize. All they did was pray, though I did not know of their prayers till later. I had many questions to ask of the Catholic priest, but I found his knowledge of the Bible quite limited, and his opinions of the Bible not credible, though I found him to be amiable, unobtrusive, and yet persuasive.
By the time I reached the book of Hebrews, I was stunned.
George Lynn also happened to be back in town that week. He visited with me for a few hours and we argued about Catholic doctrines. He had been upset while I was not, and with my intellectual arguments for Catholic doctrine, which I learned from “The Faith of Millions,” he was stumped. I was not angry with him this time, and, at the end of our visit, I asked that we pray together. He consented, and later confessed that he had been humbled in that he was not the one to have suggested we pray. He went away, crestfallen, knowing I was happy and determined to go back to the Catholic Church, fully persuaded of its authenticity and authority.
However, all was not done yet. Until I had gotten ill, I had been reading through the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, a few chapters each day, and at this point I was beginning the epistle of Paul to the Romans. In that week, having plenty of uninterrupted time, which was quite unusual for me, I read all of Paul’s epistles in one “sitting,” so to speak.
By the time I reached the book of Hebrews, I was stunned. God had opened my eyes; He had reached me to the heart. He unveiled to me the truth of that which Paul was preaching. Though I had been persuaded otherwise by intellectual argument, I realized that what Paul was teaching was the very opposite of what the Catholic Church was teaching and practicing. The contrast was so stark to me. It was as though a bright and holy light shone onto the pages of Scripture and into my heart.
Truly, I could say without exaggeration that the difference between what the Catholic Church was practicing and teaching, and what the apostle Paul was teaching in his epistles, was as black and white. I knew that the Catholic Church and the Bible were diametrically opposed to each other in both letter and spirit. God had been merciful to me in my delusion and affliction. Paul had not laid down his life in vain nearly two thousand years ago, at least, not in my case. I was delivered of the power of deceptive doctrine and religion by his ministry in the Lord. As it is written:
“Concerning the works of men, by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer.” (Psalms 17:4 KJV).
Experiencing the great deliverance and excitement after a lifetime of death, and attributing this change to the knowledge of God and of the Scriptures, I decided to go to Bible school. I thought that if the Bible could make such a difference in my life, I wanted to know it as much as possible. I finally decided upon a fledgling Southern Baptist Bible school, called the “Christian Training Center,” in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, ninety miles away from Prince Albert, the city of my spiritual conversion. It was operated by Henry Blackaby and associate pastors.
They seemed to be quite satisfied, confident that they had the truth.
I had other reasons for going to Bible school. I wanted to share this new life with others with the help of the Scriptures. Mistakenly, I thought that a Bible school was the place to go to accomplish that. A third reason that seemed to propel me in that direction was that I was continually hearing a still, small voice indicating to me that I was not “there” yet.
Though I could not deny the wonderful change that had taken place in me, I still felt like I was falling short of God’s will. Whenever I would confide this dilemma to the pastors and other evangelicals, they would advise me that it was Satan trying to cause me to doubt my salvation. Nevertheless, I could not shake that voice.
To my chagrin, I came to realize that in this Bible school, I studied church history, homiletics (the art of preaching), Sunday School, church administration, choir directing, evangelism, denominational history, Greek, but very little of the Bible. Nevertheless, during that time, God was dealing with me. I came into conflict on some issues in the church, because I was finding a discrepancy between what they were practicing and teaching, and what I was finding in the Scriptures.
I also recall having another painful dilemma. I would walk into the tiny library, with no more than maybe two thousand books at best. One of those was “Strong’s Systematic Theology,” a large, thick book in fine print, filled with doctrine and discourse. I thought, “How in the world will I ever have enough time to wade through this one book alone, much less all these other books, and much less all the theological books in this world? Do I not need to search all things out to conclude what is right and true? Is Calvin right? Is Luther right? Are any of these men right in all that they teach? If so, which man or men? Where shall I go? Whom can I truly trust?”
This consideration was very perplexing to me. The pastor could not help me, and nobody else seemed to mind too much. They seemed to be quite satisfied with the direction and schooling they were getting there, apparently confident that they had the truth.
It was a new world. The Bible came alive in a way I had never known.
I recall just after that time of perplexity, entering into a period of a few months of soul-searching and conviction of subtle sins, like being critical of others. During that time, I was experiencing somewhat the same kind of spiritual ordeal I had undergone before my conversion, only this time it was on another level.
THE FEAST OF PENTECOST
I met my future wife there, and twenty-one months after my conversion, which was at age twenty-seven, we were married. One month later, the evening of January 1, 1975, about nine-thirty in the evening, Marilyn and I asked for and received the Holy Spirit, an experience our evangelical church and circles condemned as “pentecostalism,” as of the devil. We could not go to sleep until 7 am. It was a new world.
The Bible came alive in a way I had never known. All night, the Lord was taking us throughout the Scriptures, revealing many things to us. The Lord made Himself known to us in a way we had never experienced till then. It was very exciting.
We could not help but speak what we had experienced. We were not received at all in the Bible school or churches. The Baptist pastor, Jack Connor, told us that we should be very careful to believe something if it was contrary to the counsel and understanding of the church. I suddenly replied, with realization, “You are no different than the Catholic Church. They told me the very same thing when I was converted!”
The Lord revealed to me that Jack was not saved, contrary to his claims. He gave us three choices: one, change our minds; two, believe what we believe if we will but keep it to ourselves; or three, leave. I knew I could not deny what the Lord had done, nor could I contain myself in sharing, and so we knew our only choice was to go.
PART TWO NEXT TIME