November 7, 2019
A teenager, born into an atheist-professing family in then communist Russia. A grandmother, who although never owning a Bible, fanned the flames of curiosity in his heart for the things of God. A shortwave radio that provided him his first glimpse of the gospel. And a friend’s copy of the New Testament which was used to reveal in him the heart of a sinner who needed forgiveness. This is Sergei Sosedkin’s story.
Both my sister and I were born into a working-class family in Moscow, Russia (USSR). As a child, I enjoyed spending time with my grandparents—especially fishing with my grandfather. My grandmother was a devout Russian Orthodox Christian. She would pray and go to church regularly. She also made sure that I was baptized as an infant. Everyone else in my family, including my parents, claimed to be atheists—a very typical attitude back then.
I was a straight-A student through much of my teenage years and enjoyed reading all kinds of books. During my early teens my mother was concerned that I was reading too much. At the age of 14, I received a shortwave radio as a gift. It was then that I started listening to Christian radio broadcasts in Russian coming from outside of the Soviet Union. I listened to Christian radio messages for about four years. Then, when I was 18, I went through a spiritual crisis. My life started to look meaningless to me. I really wanted to read the Bible, to learn more about Christianity, but I didn’t have access to it. Bibles were very rare in Russia during this time. My grandmother only had a few handwritten pages of Psalms and parts of the gospel.
When the Soviet government began to allow religious literature to be sent to the USSR from abroad, one of my friends shared with me a copy of the New Testament he received from a Russian church in Australia. I read the whole New Testament. Reading the Gospels for the first time was a very powerful experience for me. I don’t consider myself to be a very emotional person, but when reading of Jesus’ crucifixion, I was literally moved to tears. I prayed to God for forgiveness of my sins, then I began to look for a local church since I didn’t know any Christians except for my grandmother. It wasn’t so easy to find a church since the local phone directories didn’t include any. Eventually, I found a Baptist church which was the only official evangelical church in Moscow.
As a teenager I studied hard and mostly kept away from the “wrong crowd.” After coming to Christ, I didn’t experience an abrupt change in my behavior. Initially, the biggest change was internal. To me, Christian faith was about finding hope and meaning for my life. As a new Christian, I was very much into witnessing to others.
After finishing secondary school—high school here in the States—I went to college where an apprenticeship was part of the curriculum, so I jumped at an opportunity to work at a radio factory as a radio technician. At that time Russian media was experiencing more freedom and opening up to the Christian message. So, besides my apprenticeship, I started hosting a talk show at a local radio station— which was my real interest. I wanted to share the gospel and promote Christian faith through the use of media.
Due to my interest in radio evangelism work, I also wrote a letter to HCJB Radio in Quito, Ecuador, the first Christian missionary radio station in the world. For many years HCJB Radio carried Russian Christian broadcasts, and I enjoyed listening to them. In my letter I said that I’d like to come and work there as a Russian broadcaster. To my surprise I received a positive response. And in October of 1992, I went to Ecuador.
During my very first day in Ecuador, I was invited to talk to a group of HCJB supporters. Among them were Roy Vander Vennen and his wife, Gerry, from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who were also strong supporters of Kuyper College. After my short speech, my new supervisor at HCJB’s Russian service, Wally Kulakoff, spoke to that group about my need for good Biblical training. I was surprised to hear him say that, as we had not discussed it beforehand. Afterwards, the Vander Vennen’s approached Wally Kulakoff and told him that they felt God’s calling to help me with Biblical education in the US, namely at Kuyper. A year-and-a-half later, after I received news that Roy and Gerry had underwritten my scholarship, I came to Kuyper.
One of the requirements to continue with HCJB on a full-time basis was taking at least one year of studies at a Bible College. So, initially, I thought I’d spend just one year at Kuyper. But I enjoyed my studies, and after I learned that I could transfer my college credits from Russia and get my four-year degree in a little over two years, I decided to do just that.
At Kuyper I found top-notch professors and a supportive student body. I learned a lot about the Bible, Christian doctrine, and history of the faith. It was a very helpful overview that provided a solid foundation for my seminary studies later. I also learned about sharing my Christian faith through word and deed. Thanks to Kuyper, I matured in my faith and social life. I also found some close Christian friends with whom I keep in touch to this day.
During my first summer break from Kuyper I worked at KICY Radio, a Christian radio station in Nome, Alaska, broadcasting gospel messages to listeners as far away as Chukotka, Russia, over 650 miles from Nome. That time in Nome added to my desire to spend the rest of my life doing just that.
In the middle of my last semester at Kuyper, I got a phone call from Dr. Joel Nederhood, who was then leading The Back to God Hour (BTGH)—a radio ministry program launched in 1939 by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA) and the forerunner of today’s Back to God Ministries International (BTGMI). Later, after we had a meeting, I learned that the ministry was looking for a Russian minister to oversee their Russian-language outreach. I was very interested in this position, in part due to the fact that back in Moscow, first as a non-believer and then as a new Christian, I used to listen to BTGH in Russian. However, I was told that to join BTGH, I had to go to seminary—Calvin Theological Seminary—first, then be ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in the CRCNA.
While going to seminary I started working part time for BTGH. After graduation from Calvin, I was ordained as a minister in the CRCNA and was appointed to oversee the Russian language outreach of BTGH.
Today, I serve as a Russian ministry leader of BTGMI, the denominational media ministry that is charged by the CRCNA with proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide, in various languages. In the Russian Department we use the internet, radio, TV and printed materials to share Christian hope and call people to peace with God. I oversee our ministry workers and volunteers in two Russian cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, and in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.
One of the biggest joys of the ministry is receiving feedback to our programs and learning about people coming to Christian faith and joining local churches. Every day we receive hundreds of pieces of mail as well as online messages. It’s humbling to see the Spirit at work. The following short story serves to illustrate how God uses and directs our work.
One of the things we do in our programs is to ask listeners to call in with questions. For our team in Russia, this invitation sparks some of the best conversations between radio hosts and their listeners. But with no delay to our live, on-air radio shows, the invitation also comes with some risk.
When one man called in and began asking his questions, he seemed to be on topic. However, the radio hosts were caught off guard when he suddenly went in a different direction, bringing up a controversial political topic. When that happens, we usually just hang up and seek to present a biblical perspective on the subject—and usually callers who have harmful intentions only try to get on the air once. However, this caller was different. Throughout the past year, what turned out to be a 13-year-old from Tomsk, Siberia, called dozens of times to harass the producers. The first time he got live on air, he started swearing. He called continually for several weeks during the on-air sessions and also called after hours, frequently leaving voicemails with angry messages. Then his calls stopped.
Months later, his phone number appeared again on the radio station’s caller ID. Our BTGMI’s ministry team had been praying for God to work in this young man’s life over the previous months, so the ministry team knew they couldn’t ignore his call. They were right.
It turned out that he was listening to the short biblical messages the ministry team recorded for their daily voicemail greetings—messages that speak of peace and hope in Jesus—and he began taking these messages to heart. After a long conversation, he tearfully asked for forgiveness and thanked the team for the Christian messages they brought. Today, this young man professes faith in Christ. This change of heart took place because of hopeful messages of God’s grace.
This story is a reminder that the challenge for all of us in Christian ministry is not to be discouraged in the face of opposition to the gospel, either political or cultural.
Kuyper gave me a much-needed Christian and theological foundation that later was built upon during my seminary studies. I also learned how to be brave and intentional about sharing my Christian faith with others.
As for the future, I pray to continue serving with Back to God Ministries International.