By Cari Lee Skogberg Eastman, Special to ASSIST News Service
SIOUX FALLS, SD (ANS – August 18, 2016) – At first glance, the lives of a musician from Niwot, Colorado, a husband and wife from Longmont, Colorado, a radio minister from Estes Park, Colorado, and a preacher from Moscow, Russia would seem to have little in common. The story that connects these five individuals, however, is a story of a powerful faith that has come full circle.
During the summer of 2008 pastor Sergey Achkasov of Moscow, Russia and missionary Jill Conklin of Niwot, Colorado traveled through the United States, performing and speaking at various churches to help support their ministry back in Russia. One Wednesday evening while on tour in Jill’s home state of Colorado, the two sought out a Baptist church in Longmont and asked if they could provide special music for the service. Although Jill had grown up just a few miles away, neither she nor Sergey had a connection to this particular church. Still, they felt the Lord urging them to share their gifts with this specific congregation.
Ron and Elaine Vogel were active members of the Longmont Faith Baptist Church. Elaine was attending the service that Wednesday night where she listened with delight to Sergey and Jill’s beautiful music. Immediately after the service, Elaine introduced herself to the talented duo and asked what had brought them to Longmont. Sergey responded that his current ministry and subsequent international travels had really begun thirty years earlier when he heard the Gospel message preached over shortwave radio. As he did, Elaine’s eyes widened. “Have you ever heard of Earl Poysti?” she asked when Sergey mentioned the radio ministry.
“Yes,” Sergey responded. “That was the name of the man who brought me to Christ.”
A nine-year-old child in Communist-ruled Moscow would seem an unlikely channel for the spread of the Gospel. Yet, thirty years ago, through the radio ministry of Earl Poysti and the eager heart of young Sergey Achkasov, the Holy Spirit sparked a fire of devotion powerful enough to penetrate even the Iron Curtain.
Sergey Achkasov grew up in the Communist-controlled Soviet Union in the 1970s, a period marked by restrictions on free religious practice and threat of incarceration for religious activists. Sergey did not grow up in a religious household nor had he ever attended church, but he recalls that even at the age of five he had thoughts about God that came “out of nowhere.” His curiosity was heightened one day when he witnessed his grandmother praying to religious icons. When he asked what she was doing, she replied that she was praying to God. Sergey, probing more deeply, asked her who God was. She thought for a moment and responded that she didn’t know, but said she was repeating the practices that she, as a young girl, had learned from her own mother.
This answer only sparked more questions in Sergey’s inquisitive mind. When he was only six years old, he tried to learn more about God by watching priests conduct services at a nearby Orthodox cathedral. Although the visits of such a young child most likely did not go unnoticed, circumstances of the time denied Sergey answers to his questions. The Soviet government maintained direct control over the Orthodox Church in 1976, and priests were largely prohibited from engaging in direct conversations with children about religious matters. Interacting with young Sergey was too risky; prominent religious leaders and those considered activists were frequently arrested and jailed. The curious child had to find another source of information about God.
The Holy Spirit intervened through an elderly woman who lived not far from Sergey’s home. Upon hearing that a small child in the neighborhood was interested in Christianity, the kind neighbor invited Sergey to come visit her. During those visits she taught Sergey the Lord’s Prayer. “Every time I recited the Lord’s Prayer,” said Sergey, “I experienced an inexpressible joy. No one could explain this to me, and I didn’t understand, but I felt God in my heart and my inner being. Somehow, I just believed in God and trusted that he would lead me on.”
By the time he was nine years old, Sergey convinced his parents to buy him a transistor radio. Every night before he went to sleep, Sergey tucked the radio under his pillow and listened. Little did he know that a broadcast over that small radio one late evening would change his life forever.
Far away, at a station in Monte Carlo, Monaco, radio preacher Earl Poysti lifted a microphone to his lips and prayed his message would reach beyond the political lines of division that had kept Good News from being spread throughout Eastern Europe. Poysti was carrying on the radio ministry started by his father Nikolai in 1946. The father and son team had broadcast their first Russian radio program from Quito, Ecuador in 1946, hoping the Good News might reach the ears of eager listeners internationally through the power of shortwave. Within a year, Nikolai passed away and Earl took over the radio ministry with his daily program “Word of Life.”
That night in 1978 Earl Poysti’s voice, transmitted through Trans World Radio, reached the ears of a nine-year-old boy in Moscow with a transistor radio tucked beneath his pillow. When Poysti offered a call for listeners to accept the Gospel message, Sergey tearfully crept out of bed, fell to his knees, and asked the Lord to come into his heart. His body shook with emotion. Although he did not fully understand it, Sergey knew something wonderful had just happened.
Sergey’s overwhelming joy at the message he heard that night over the radio was tempered by the disapproving reaction of his parents. When he told them he had asked Christ to come into his heart, his father responded by dealing him a sharp blow. He informed his son that every time Sergey said the word “God” he would receive a similar beating. Undaunted, Sergey continued to listen to the radio sermons and grow in his faith. He befriended a neighboring family that owned a Bible, and soon found himself spending all his free time in their home reading God’s word.
For the next several years, Sergey’s life revolved primarily around three things: practicing the piano, which he had been playing in earnest from the age of four; listening to the sermons of Earl Poysti and other preachers on his transistor radio; and reading the Bible several hours a day. He began preaching what he had learned about Christ to his peers and a small group of older people in his neighborhood. When other neighbors complained to Sergey’s parents that he was promoting religious propaganda, his father became irate. “I will beat you every night before you go to bed,” he threatened, “until I hear the words from you ‘I no longer believe in God.’” Sergey knew even then that he could never utter such words. “You suffered for me on the cross, Lord” he prayed. “Let me suffer for you.”
Sergey continued to nurture his faith despite the physical beatings he suffered at the hand of his father. Finally one winter evening when Sergey was eighteen years old, his parents approached him with an ultimatum. They were tired of his religion, they proclaimed; he must choose between God and his family. When Sergey chose God, his parents kicked him out of the house.
Alone in the streets, Sergey should have been frightened. Instead, he held fast to the belief that God would take care of him. Soon, a Christian family took him in and provided him a safe environment in which to develop his relationship with Christ. During the time he spent with that family, he continued to pray that his parents would come to know the Lord.
Five days after moving in with this new family, the telephone rang. Sergey picked up the phone to hear the crying voice of his mother, asking him to come home. Both parents had decided, she informed him, that they would no longer interfere with his reading the Bible or attending church. Sergey joyfully returned home. At that point, he remembered, “A new life started for me.” Sergey’s prayers to be able to openly worship and share the joy of the Gospel had been answered.
Sergey’s prayers of concern for his parents were also fulfilled. Soon after his return home, his mother underwent an operation during which her heart temporarily stopped. At some point during her clinical death she saw a vision of God, who explained to her that he still had work for her to do on earth. Deeply touched by the vision, she informed Sergey that she wished to repent and receive Christ. Within two weeks, Sergey’s father followed and also accepted the Lord. Tragically, just a short time thereafter, his father was hit by a car and killed. Shaken by his father’s death, Sergey’s younger brother also asked to repent and receive Christ. Suddenly, a household of unbelievers was fully devoted to the Lord!
Now, without barriers, Sergey worked ever more fervently to spread the Gospel message. He graduated from the Moscow Music Conservatory as a classical pianist, and later attended Bible School in Sweden. He began planting churches, the first of which was formed out of the same group of neighbors that used to gather in the street and hear him preach as a child. For the next twenty years, he helped to plant a total of twenty churches in the Moscow region and throughout central Russia. In the years 2007-2010, his mother actively served and helped in the church that Sergey pastored.
The planting of churches, however, was only part of God’s plan for Sergey’s outreach. In 2006, in the Baptist church where he was a pianist at the time, Sergey met Jill Conklin, a gifted American violinist living in Moscow who shared his heart for ministry. She had studied Russian in college and had lived in Moscow for a time, working as a translator in the American embassy. She felt the Holy Spirit nudging her to stay and share God’s love with the Russian people, but none of the options she pursued seemed to materialize. When she met Sergey, it quickly became apparent that God was leading them to minister together. The two began performing violin and piano concerts in churches across Russia and the United States, blending their incredible musical gifts with their desire to share the Gospel message.
Then, the night they offered their music at Faith Baptist Church in Longmont, God surprised them with another, unexpected answered prayer.
Sergey was taken aback when Elaine Vogel had asked him if he knew Earl Poysti. It was because of this man’s radio message, after all, that he was now in the ministry and had dedicated his life to serving Christ. Elaine was even more surprised when Sergey replied that he had come to know Christ through Earl Poysti’s voice on the radio so many years ago, when he was only nine years old.
“You’re kidding!” Elaine exclaimed. “Would you like to meet him?” Her grin grew wider as she spoke. “The Poystis happen to be friends of ours. They live just thirty miles up the road in Estes Park.”
The next day, as Sergey waited on the front doorstep of the Poysti residence, he marveled at the miraculous series of events that had led him to this place. He had nearly burst with excitement the evening before as he listened to Elaine phone Earl Poysti and tell him about the special guest they were bringing to meet him. He smiled and thought of the long journey his life had taken all the way from Moscow to Estes Park. Only God could have woven the circumstances and lives of this group of people together in such an intricate and beautiful way.
Suddenly, the door opened and 87-year-old Earl stepped forward toward young Sergey. Ron, Elaine and Jill watched as the two men embraced, both weeping tears of joy over the reunion that had finally, one transistor radio, twenty Russian churches and thirty years later, united them face to face.
Note: This story originally appeared in the Longmont Times-Call, Longmont, CO. (http://www.timescall.com/)
Photo captions: 1) Sergey and Jill playing in the Longmont Faith Baptist Church in 2009. 2) (Counter-clockwise from the front) — Earl Poysti, Natalia Poysti (Earl’s second wife), Sergey Achkasov, Jill Conklin (currently Achkasova) at Poysti’s home in Estes Park in 2009. 3) Sergey Achkasov embraces his spiritual father Earl Poysti at Poysti’s home in Estes Park in 2009. 4) (From left to right) — Sergey Achkasov, Earl Poysti, and Jill Conklin (currently Achkasova) at Poysti’s home in Estes Park in 2009. 5) Ron and Elaine Vogel. 6) Cari Lee Skogberg Eastman.
About the writer: Cari Lee Skogberg Eastman, Ph.D., is an educator, researcher and writer from Sioux Falls, SD. Her writing has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and she is the author of two books: Shaping the Immigration Debate: Contending Civil Societies on the U.S.-Mexico Border (First Forum Press, 2012) and Immigration: Examining the Facts (ABC-CLIO, Greenwood, Forthcoming). She can be contacted by e-mail at Cari.Skogberg@colorado.edu.
** You may republish this or any of our ANS stories with attribution to the ASSIST News Service (www.assistnews.net). Please also tell your friends that they can have a complimentary subscription to our news service by going to the above link and signing up there.