Around 1,000 Christian Baptists live in majority Muslim Kabardino-Balkaria. One member of the community, Chechen man Ruslan Osmanov, told OC Media about how his new-found religion helped him to find his place and to break with a life of crime and addiction.
I was invited to the meeting of The Good News, a Christian Evangelical community in Nalchik, by their leader Ruslan Osmanov. It was an ordinary Baptist meeting. At first, people gathered in a small room, sang religious songs with a guitar accompaniment, followed by a common prayer. Then, some of them walked up one by one to an improvised dais to tell the others about their sinful past, and how they embarked upon the path of faith in Jesus Christ.
In addition to members of The Good News, the meeting was attended by members of other Baptist communities in the North Caucasus, who joined their brothers and sisters in faith to discuss the upcoming Easter celebrations. I only managed to talk to Ruslan privately once the meeting was over.
‘My life broke into pieces’
‘I come from Grozny, from an intelligentsia family’, the presbyter began his story. ‘My father was a teacher by training. During Soviet times, he worked in various party positions. He was a school director, later he was in charge of the district department of public education. My mother was a school teacher too. I missed nothing in my childhood and teenage years. I studied well, I was engaged in sports — I was a weightlifter. In general, everything went well until I was 17, when I tried opium for the first time… After that, my life broke into pieces. I became a hopeless addict, who was stealing, cheating, and robbing.’
Ruslan’s lifestyle led him to serve a total of nine years in prisons and work camps, which undermined his health and shattered his personality.
‘My relatives and friends, of course, tried to help me in every possible way. They arranged drug treatments for me in expensive clinics, they took me to various healers, but everything was in vain. I realised that I was sinking into the abyss. I tried to get rid of this terrible disease, to keep myself busy with something else. I tried to spend time in remote places where it was impossible to get a dose, but I just couldn’t overcome my passion for drugs’, Ruslan recalls.
‘I had no hope of a way out’
By the age of 42, Ruslan had a trail of 25 years of criminal life and torment behind him — a common experience for the vast majority of opium addicts. And then, while in Nalchik, where his family had moved to escape the horrors of war in Chechnya, Ruslan first heard about a rehabilitation centre operating in the village of Zolskaya, in nearby Stavropol Krai.
‘In all honesty, I had no hope of a way out then, and I went to this centre out of despair. I was thinking “Whatever, I’ll try that too”. I went there and found out that the centre was operated by the Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists of Russia. This alarmed me a bit. I did have some prejudice against Christianity, because my parents — Soviet people — were more like atheists. We were also taught at school that religion was “the opium of the people”’, Ruslan continues.
‘I repented and believed in Christ’
Still, Ruslan felt comfortable in the rehabilitation centre quickly enough. He described it as pretty Spartan, but nothing distracted him there from reading the Bible and participating in joint prayers. The senior servant of the centre, Konstantin, also used to be a criminal and drug addict, and, strangely enough, this fact gave Ruslan a spark of hope. Konstantin was a living example that it was possible for a believer to overcome a monstrous craving for drugs, and it strengthened Ruslan’s intention to heal.
‘I have to say that I came to the rehabilitation centre, as drug addicts say, “on a comedown”, that is, in a state of drug withdrawal’, Ruslan says. ‘Yet by the first evening of my stay, my cravings not only stopped — I didn’t even want to smoke, although I was a heavy smoker and I couldn’t imagine my life without cigarettes. Now I understand that the prayers that my brothers said in my place helped me to break with the addiction in such a short time. A few days later, I gradually began to read the Gospel myself, and although I didn’t accept much of it at first, about a month later, I watched the film The Gospel of Luke. I repented and believed in Christ. I felt in my soul that my whole past life of erring would change for the better.’
‘We managed to avert dozens of people from this disastrous passion’
After spending two years in the rehabilitation centre, Ruslan returned to Nalchik, and became an active member of the community of Evangelical Christians. Soon, with the permission of the chief narcologist of Kabardino-Balkaria, Oleg Pashevkin, he began to visit the rehabilitation centre, where he told the patients about his experience and salvation. His scope of activities began to expand.
Today, Ruslan’s activities aren’t limited to Kabardino-Balkaria, or even the North Caucasus. He preaches and renders assistance to many sufferers, such as prisoners in strict regime prisons in Perm, including those serving life sentences. Five years ago, Ruslan married a local Kabardian woman. Lena helps him in his work.
‘Where do you find money for travel and for your organisation?’ I ask Ruslan.
‘The money comes from donations from members of the community and from our sympathisers’, Ruslan answers. ‘There are about thirty people in our community, but we are only one of eight communities of Evangelical Christian Baptists in Kabardino-Balkaria. In total, we have more than 1,000 followers — in Nalchik, Prokhladny, Maysk, and other cities.’
Over time, Ruslan managed to gather around him something like an initiative group, which became the nucleus of a new, more international community. Ruslan’s first assistants were two Russian men, Sergey Ponomarenko and Gennady Petrov, Ukrainian Oleg Yakovenko, and Kabardians Aslan and Artur. Most members of the community are former alcoholics or drug addicts. When asked how many people he and his friends had managed to save from addiction, Ruslan answers the following:
‘In general, we managed to avert dozens of people from this disastrous passion. True, it happens that people can’t stop “shooting up” or drinking “booze” at first, but I can vouch with my head [that I helped] twenty people, and I hope that this number will slowly, but steadily grow. As for the cured and new believers, most of them have already started their own families, they raise children and look to the future with hope. We help many people to find accommodation, we try to help them find a job — in construction or renovation — and we want people from our community to work in teams’, Ruslan says.
The Good News, as an independent organisation, has existed only since November 2014, but in this short time, its members have managed to do a lot of good. While the community don’t have their own office at the moment, and rent an office and a prayer room in one of Nalchik’s districts, ‘with God’s help’, as Ruslan says, they hope to soon have their own prayer house in order to work more efficiently for the benefit of all those who need help.