She was born in 1922. The little village where her family lived had just begun to feel the impact of the radical changes that had begun in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Perhaps life would be better. Perhaps everyone really could be equal. They would just have to wait and see.
Anna’s mom was a Christian. Everyone in the small village knew it. Everyone knew everything about everyone. There were no secrets.
When Anna was just a little girl, she said, “Mom, I also believe Jesus as my Savior. I love Him and will serve Him.” Her mom’s eyes filled with tears. She was happy for her little Anna, and yet somehow she knew the sacrifice this would bring. Oh, her little Anna.
Anna’s childhood passed quickly enough. She was busy with making bread, cleaning the small wooden house, doing homework by candlelight and carrying water from the nearby creek. She was a cheerful worker and an excellent student. But everyone knew Anna was a Christian. She quietly refused to be a part of the school group that wore the red handkerchiefs. She was different.
One day when she was in the 10th grade her teacher said, “Anna, you are one of our very best students. You have the opportunity to go the best university in Moscow.” Anna felt proud. All of her hard work had paid off.
The teacher continued, “The only problem is that everyone knows you believe in Jesus. You will never be allowed to go. But if you say that you no longer believe in Jesus and he is just a myth, we will write an article about it in the newspaper. The region leaders will see it, and then give you permission to study in Moscow. Anna, it’s all very easy.”
Anna stood silently staring at the teacher. She was only 17, and yet she had to make the choice between a life of staying in this small village or studying at the best university in Moscow. She thought about the years that she had read her Bible before she went to bed. She thought about praying with her mother. She knew Jesus was real. She knew He lived in her heart.
With a strong, but gentle voice, Anna answered, “No. I cannot deny Jesus. He is alive and I will never say that He doesn’t exist.”
A few days later local police escorted Anna to prison. Word had traveled fast that this young woman was stupid enough to hold to some weak faith in a person she couldn’t see. Of course, she would have to pay the consequences. The national paper, PRAVDA (Truth) even wrote an article about a brilliant girl in a little village who chose to believe in a man who didn’t exist rather than attend college in Moscow where she could begin a successful career. The year was 1940.
Grigori, a young Christian man in Moscow read the article and cut it out. “Now this is a girl who is truly committed to Christ,” he thought. He knew the sacrifice of being a Christian. He felt so alone. None of his friends even wanted to think there might be a God. He folded the article and put it in his coat pocket.
Germany soon invaded Russia and Grigori was called to protect his country. He could only take a few belongings with him. One of them was the article of Anna. It had now become rather worn because he would often take it out of his pocket to read about this girl so far away who was suffering for her faith.
Anna patiently endured the trial of prison. She survived six long years of labor, cold and hardship. She shed her childhood in the cold walls. She had not denied her Lord and Savior. She trusted Jesus and He proved faithful. She was released in 1946.
Grigori returned from the war. On his first Sunday at church in Moscow, he saw the pictures and stories of many heroes of the faith. His eyes immediately found Anna’s picture. Under his breath he said, “I want to meet her.” A girl standing nearby overheard his comment. She said, “I know her. Would you like to go with me to meet her?”
Surprised, Grigori turned to see the girl standing there. “Yes. Yes, I would like to meet her,” he answered shyly. Soon Grigori found himself on a train going to meet the girl who he had respected for over 6 years. “What will she be like?” he thought. “God, thank you. Thank you that I can meet a woman who loves you enough to suffer.” Sleep didn’t come easily. There was so much to think about.
Anna was standing in the yard when she saw her friend and a young army officer walking up the dirt road in front of her house. She ran to prepare some tea and cake. Guests in this village were rare.
Grigori and Anna’s friend only stayed about a week. The days passed quickly as Grigori and Anna talked. They talked about her years in prison, war and Jesus who is worth any pain we may suffer.
When Grigori arrived in Moscow, he immediately wrote Anna a letter. There was still so much he wanted to say, so much he wanted to know about her. This first letter was the first in what became a 2-year friendship of letters.
Almost 2 years to the day that Grigori made the trip to meet Anna, they married at the Central Baptist Church in Moscow. Years later, their children asked their dad, “Why did you carry the article about Mom throughout the war? Why did you want to meet her?” Grigori looked down and then answered, “It was her faith. Yes, it was because of Anna’s faith.”
Copyright © 1997 by Jane Carole Stein
Author’s Note: Anna was an old woman when I met her in Russia while serving as a missionary. She came to church each Sunday with a handwritten Bible. She had meticulously written each verse during the long years of Communism. She told me her story one snowy winter afternoon.