forgive me, natasha

A friend lent me this book, Forgive Me, Natasha – the autobiography of a young Russian man called Sergei Kourdakov, born in 1951 and brought up in children’s homes from the age of six. He was athletic and intelligent, highly ambitious, and worked hard for himself. He really believed in communist ideals and made it his goal to excel in the Communist Party, and they singled him out from an early age as “just the kind the state needs.” In 1969, when he was in his late teens, he was promoted to head of a police squad consisting of over a dozen other young men, hand picked by himself from among his cronies for their physical prowess, specifically their boxing and martial arts skills. They were initially responsible for jobs like breaking up brawls in pubs, jobs where brutality was encouraged and the people they targeted often ended up beaten to a pulp.

However, it turned out that much more menacing enemies to the state came in the form of Believers – and interestingly, not religious people per se, since religion and the church could be managed well enough, but people who believed in God. “Comrade Lenin said that we can close the churches and put the leaders in jail, but it’s very hard to drive faith and belief from the heart of a man once he is contaminated by them. … This is why we don’t call them Christians or church-goers. We call them Believers. They believe inside, and to root this belief from their hearts is a very difficult task.”

Sergei and his squad were sent on missions to break up meetings of Believers, groups of ten to fifteen who gathered to pray and sing. They were savagely beaten by these young men, who often got partly drunk before they set off. Their literature was taken away and most of it burnt – Bibles which had been smuggled in, or copied out by hand.

Sergei was struck by the beauty of one girl, Natasha Zhdanova, who they found at a meeting and battered severely. But they kept discovering her at other meetings too, and in fact he beat her himself one time, repeatedly until he was exhausted. The brutality of those big drunk young men didn’t stop her gathering to worship – and overall in fact, it was impossible to stem the numbers of people all over the country who were becoming Believers (or refusing to abandon their faith maybe).

The perseverance of Natasha and the other believers (and also it has to be said, their submissiveness under these physical attacks) started to make him think, and one day he took a look at one of the bibles before throwing it in the fire (a handwritten copy, with some verses missing). He tore a couple of pages out of Luke’s gospel, around chapter 11, and took them back to his room to read. “I opened up those pieces of paper and began to read them again. Jesus was talking and teaching someone how to pray. I became more curious and read on. This certainly was no anti-state material. It was how to be a better person and how to forgive those who do you wrong. Suddenly the words leaped out of those pages and into my heart. I read on, engrossed in the kind words of Jesus. This was exactly the opposite of what I expected. My lack of understanding which had been like blinkers on my eyes left me then, and the words bit deeply into my being. It was as if someone was in the room with me, teaching me those words and what they said. … I read them again and again, then sat thinking, my mind lost in the wonder of it all.”

It was because the words from the scriptures took hold of him that he gave up the police work (which had been work on the side for them anyway) and concentrated on getting ahead in the Navy instead. This was in late1970, so after doing this work for the police for about eighteen months, and at a rate of one raid every 5-6 days. On his first assignment at sea he was transferred from vessel to vessel, and eventually ended up on a ship off the American coast, where he made up his mind and jumped off the ship somewhere off the coast of Canada. Amazingly he made it to the shore, and set about building a new free life, finding help in spiritual matters from the pastor of a Ukrainian church. However, the book ends with a publisher’s note to the effect that in January 1973, shortly after the draft was completed and some 15 months after reaching Canada, Sergei died by being shot – accidentally, according to the inquest at the time, but it’s reported in the book with the implication that it was really a revenge attack by the Soviet police.

The biggest part of the book deals with his harsh and violent experiences and activities within the communist system, and the savagery of the treatment which was dealt out to believers comes across clearly. But so does their courage and tenacity and the way they didn’t fight back, and the way they even tried to talk to their persecutors about the reality of God, and the fact that they met for prayer around their bibles. And what moved Sergei in the end was not just the witness of the believers, but scripture itself, which came with power even to the heart of a man who was as godless and brutal as this. “I must show people, especially young people, that there is a God, and he can change even the worst life, as he has mine.”

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17 thoughts on “forgive me, natasha

  1. A friend lent me that book about 32 years ago. I read it rather quickly and the contents brought tears to my eyes. I keep remembering the book all the time. I would like a personal copy. My friend no longer lives on this island. I haven’t seen her in thirty years.

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  2. This book is also published under the title “The Persecutor”. I was actually named after Natasha Zhdanova so I’m quite familiar with the story!

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  3. I haven’t read that book but read a book about a Russian believer called “Free on the Inside”. I think that is an amazing description “Free on the Inside”.

    I would definitely go with Lenin’s comment. Believers follow a totally different voice to other people and have an inexplicable determination and strength unless you recognise the Lord’s power.

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  4. I read this book 27 years ago at the age of 29 and after reading it felt called to be baptized although I had gone to the Baptsit Church since I was 2 years old. I gave the book to someone and never got it back. Would love to find a copy and read it again

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  5. The book “The Persecutor” by Sergei Kourdakov is one of the books that had a huge impact upon my life. My son read Sergei’s story when he was in the 7th grade and then he passed it on to me. I was already a christian at the time and was so blessed by the forgiving power of the blood of Christ in Sergei’s life. God Bless. Tim

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  6. Just finished the book “The Persecutor”. I’ve had this book in my library for at least 20 years but never opened it until this month. What a discription of that time in my youth. The fear and daily feeling that a nuclear war could end it all in minutes was so influential at that time. The knowledge that a Godless society would never prevail was taught in churches across America.
    I was humbled by the influence a girls persecution could have on such a young man. I was touched by 2 situations in this book.
    #1 When Sergei went to strike and old woman, she whispered, “God forgive him, he knows not what he does.” The book says that Sergei felt a force stopping him from striking the woman. This caused me to consider my prayer…it would have been for me to endure the pain but she prayed for him…Wow…I will never pray again with me as the focus of my prayers but more others in my life.
    #2 Natasha’s life was a shining example of how Christ changes your life. Confronting evil she still embraced gathering with others to worship. In America we jump churches or worse yet “never go back” cause someone offends us. I am humbled by her life. I will never again be offended about my faith in love of Christ. Ever. A must read.

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  7. I loved this book, I read it about 25 years ago while in primary school. My mother bought it for me because my name is Natasha. I think it is about time I read it again.

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  8. l had the story of Natasha and a Russian from my mentor Theodore Andose. The Russian, which l now know as Sergei, had asked for forgiveness after the brutality he had released on the Church and her family? l don’t know the full story and would love to read it through. From what l read above, it seems l had mixed the story with some other stories l heard of christians being tortured for Christ in Communist countries. Did Sergei and Natasha meet again?

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  9. I just read the book “Forgive me Natasha and thrilled sam.Knjiga is great.
    Does anyone tell me what the work was with Sergei, was killed and ate him something else is?
    And for Natalie Zhdanov does anyone? If so send me a link to read.
    Thanks.

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  10. he leido este libro varias veses y ha sido siempre impactante para mi que grande es el poder de Dios en cambiar las vidas de las personas y sergei es para mi algo como un heroe por lo que permitio que Dios hiciera en su vida.

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  11. I read this book way back 1980’s. it’s one of my favorite books. i re read it for so many times and always teary eyed. what a wonderful experience with our LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST!

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