By Jason Catizone, Special to ASSIST News Service
BESLAN, RUSSIA (ANS – February 5, 2017) – The world was shocked when, on September 1st, 2004, they turned on their television sets and learned the terrible news that more than 30 Muslim terrorists had attacked a school in a small, southwestern Russian town called Beslan. They terrorists took over 1,000 men, women, and children, and held them hostage for three days, the majority of them in the school’s gymnasium.
In time, the terrorists denied them water and bathroom privileges, and consequently, the hostages were forced to resort to drinking urine in order to survive.
On September 3rd, two large explosions occurred, and a chaotic battle erupted between Russian forces and the terrorists. Bloody and scantily-clad children pour out of the gymnasium’s windows, racing for freedom – water – salvation. Miraculously, some of them survive. Others are gunned down in the process. Many other hostages were burned to death when the gymnasium roof — which had caught fire — collapses in on them.
More than 330 people, most of whom are children, lost their lives as a result of the horrific 2004 Beslan terrorist attack. Sorrow, wailing, bitter tears, and anguish unspeakable. As has been expressed — Beslan was Russia’s September 11th (9/11). What could possibly be done in the wake of such evil and horror?
The sorrowful truth, of course, is that it is not possible to go back in time to prevent the wickedness that ravaged the small town of Beslan. But I believe that “the light shines brightest in the darkest places,” and I believe that Jesus is “The Light of the world.”
God graciously allowed me to go and live in Beslan between 2005 and 2007, for around a year and a half — visiting families who lost loved ones, providing free English and guitar lessons for those so interested, and by God’s grace becoming close friends and like genuine family to so many broken people in Beslan.
I can tell you about my little buddy, Mairbek. He was among the hostages in 2004, along with his mother. Her condition was very bad during the siege, and little Mairbek found a coin in his pocket and approached one of the terrorists – he wanted the terrorist to release his mom in exchange for the coin. The terrorist of course refused. Miraculously, Mairbek survived. But his mother did not.
Though I have been so very blessed to become close friends with many of the children of Beslan who survived the terrorist attack, Mairbek is probably the kid I became closest to… he’s like a little brother to me — almost like a son.
And I can tell you about sitting at the dinner table across from a mother who asked me why — if God can do everything — why He didn’t save her ten-year-old son. I can tell you about these kinds of things, though of course there is no way to thoroughly put such experiences into words.
The Lord allowed me to help bring some comfort to broken hearts, and I had failures as well. But He has given me an enduring love for the precious people of Beslan, and as I said — they are like close friends and family to me. I love them so very much.
In January of 2008, I headed back to Russia, only to be stopped at the border in Moscow, and then denied entrance. That threw me for a proverbial loop, to say the least. But I knew that God was Sovereign, and so I just resolved that by His grace I would try to continue helping them even though I was physically not there with them. While the world often uses technology – and postal mail – for evil, The Lord can also use those things for good. And so, glory to God, He has blessed me to stay in touch with many of my friends from Beslan.
Around March or April of 2015, Beslan was placed heavy on my heart once again. Not that I had forgotten about what had happened in that community, or about my precious friends there – but about two years ago now, I felt a revival in my heart so to speak. I began praying and thinking and hoping and dreaming about going back. But would a visa be given to me? And — even if I possessed the visa — would I be permitted to enter the country? I did not see an answer written in the sky, but a number of things “interestingly” happened, and I felt and saw more and more confirmation that told my heart: Go!
Finally, in August of 2016, God blessed me to receive a visa, and I soon headed back to Beslan once again. I was so very grateful for the privilege of being able to go back to Russia, and it was a dream come true to see so many of my old friends! As you can guess, the “children of Beslan” are now largely “the young adults of Beslan.” Though I had seen many of them already through photos, it was so interesting to — in person — visit with “my little friends,” now in their upper teens and 20s!
As I had not lived in the community for close to nine years, it was almost as though I had somehow rocketed into the future — for my last memories of physical life in Beslan were from the end of 2007. Obviously, much has changed over the years. New shops have opened, the run-down mosque has been put back into service, there are pedestrian street-crossing marks painted on the roads, and — there’s even a bowling alley. Many of the “kids” I know and love there are in high school or college now, and some people are now married and have children of their own. So it was, in a sense, a different world. Not a foreign one — just one that had changed some over the years, as could be naturally expected.
But of course, Beslan’s pain and sorrow remain. How could it be otherwise?
I was blessed to live in the town again for three months in the fall of 2016, and there is no way to briefly explain the heartache that still remains there. (I am in the process of sending out detailed reports on the trip, and, if you’re interested, you can receive those via email by sending me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I had tea, for example, with a kind grandmother who lost her daughter, daughter-in-law, and I believe all of her grandchildren (four) in the Beslan terrorist attack. She assured me — strongly — that not a day goes by that she does not cry.
A father told me how his son – born after the terrorist attack – is “good,” but not like his first son, who was killed in the attack. He (the dad) had had a tighter bond with his first son.
I listened to a (believing) mom, who had been a hostage, relate the horror of her oldest son dying in her own arms. She and her younger son survived the tragedy.
Even for myself in writing this article — the tears still come.
If the question is asked, regarding who are some of the people that I look up to and admire among us fallen mortals, I’d like to tell you about two families, and one individual. They are all believers, and they – like you and I – are all ‘works in progress,’ so to speak. But I have learned so very, very much from them, for though they have suffered pain beyond imagination, they continue loving and serving Jesus.
The first family is really two families. Two brothers, who live side by side, and who are both Baptist pastors. The older brother and his wife (Taimuraz and Raya) had five children. The younger brother and his wife (Sergei and Bella) had six children. All five of the older brother’s children were taken hostage on September 1, 2004. Three of the younger brother’s children were as well. The older brother and his wife lost four of their five children; the younger brother and his wife lost two of their children. I cannot even begin to write about what these parents have lived through, nor about what they still live with. But both brothers — and their wives and remaining children — continue loving and following Jesus, and continue serving in ministry.
Of the two brothers’ children who survived the Beslan terrorist attack, Madina — who lost all four of her siblings — is now married, and has a beautiful little boy. She is a radiant Christian, often laughing and often bearing a beautiful and genuine smile upon her face. The other survivor, Azamat, lost his eye due to the terrorist attack. He is now a young adult, and serves in ministry — I was even blessed to be present one Sunday morning some months back when he spoke from the pulpit.
These families still have great pain, but their hope is in the “Great Pain-Healer.”
And the third person — the individual — is grandma Nahzee. She is an amazingly strong woman of God. A woman of kindness, warm hospitality, and resolute faith in The Lord. She was orphaned at a young age, married and had a husband who died young, raised her four children, lost one of them to a rival ethnic group, and later moved to Beslan where she lost her granddaughter (a believer in her teens) in the 2004 terrorist attack. Grandma Nahzee is a simple woman, with an open heart. She does not understand everything, but she loves and trusts in her God.
Please pray for the people of Beslan. The terrorist attack happened over 12 years ago, and while life has “gone on,” there are so many who continue to live in great sorrow and pain. The school building is still standing, and I can’t fathom how the people of Beslan have the strength to continue driving and walking past it day after day.
Yes, please pray for the wonderful people of Beslan.
Photo captions: 1) Two young children being rescued from the Beslan school. 2) This is one of the many memorials created to honor the dead after fanatic Islamic terrorists swooped on the school in Beslan, Russia. (Photoshot). 3) Jason with Mairbek in 2006. 4) Edik survived, his twin brother did not. 5) Selfie with Grandma Nahzee. 6) Jason with Mairbek in 2016.
About the writer: Born and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Jason Catizone received Jesus at the age of fourteen. The Lord has blessed him to serve in music outreach, refugee assistance, and post-terrorism ministry. Jason’s heart is to glorify Jesus and share the love of God, both domestically and abroad. He is currently engaged in an original recording project to help share God’s love with terrorist victims through song, and he can be contacted at: email@example.com.
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