Bearing Fruit in Kyiv

By Amanda Knoke   •   August 28, 2007

His booth is worth the hunt.

“You have a good weight,” shoppers say. And they come back because they know his scale is accurate and he will not cheat them. Fyodor has told them that he is a believer in Jesus Christ and cannot lie. And if they will listen, he goes on to explain how the treasure he has found in Christ far surpasses any treasure on earth.

But Fyodor has not always been an honest, Christ-embracing fruit seller.

As a boy growing up in a Moldovan village near the Ukraine border, he went to Sunday school, and every night his father would read from the Bible, telling him and his four siblings about Jesus. But as Fyodor entered his teen years, his friends began to question the way his family lived. “You can’t drink? You can’t smoke? What kind of dull life are you living?” they would taunt. Fyodor was drawn further and further away from the Lord until, he says, “I ended up at the very bottom.”

At 19, he was called into the Soviet military. He remembers a significant event when he and an army friend were on kitchen duty: “The idea popped into my head that it would be nice to get out for awhile, maybe get some sun, relax.” Not considering any consequences, they broke out to freedom and ran toward a swamp. Soon Fyodor found himself being sucked into a quicksand-like substance. “I realized I was drowning, and the more I flailed about, the quicker it took me. I was terrified.” At that moment he remembered the God of his childhood, and he began to pray for his life.

“My friend reached out to me with a stick to draw me out of the reeds, but the stick snapped in two. Throwing my arms out to the side I stopped my downward movement for a moment and again called out to God. The second stick was stronger, and finally my friend was able to pull me out.”

The incident had filled him with fear, but he quickly forgot how God had answered his prayers–the thought of repenting of his carnal lifestyle never even entered his mind. But all along God was preparing him for his testimony to God’s mercy. “He was always leading me and sheltering me, keeping me from destruction,” Fyodor says.

Following his time in the army, Fyodor was sucked into other trouble. A relative proposed that they form a gang to “take care of” rich people. This led to a stint of robbing, fighting and drinking. His life continued its downward spiral and, by 1993, his theft rose to a racketeering level as he worked to acquire guns, grenades and other weapons to sell. He stayed in this “business” until 1996.

During this time Fyodor had a dream of being handcuffed and led away. “[God] was showing me what lay ahead for me and my friends,” he says. “I also drove away the continual besetting thought: You need to stop. You need to change your life. I was more interested in having a beautiful life; I wanted paradise on earth.”

When Fyodor’s brother, Pyotor, became seriously ill in 2005, Pyotor understood the urgency of repentance and encouraged his brother to repent of his sin as well. Fyodor agreed to go to church but was unmoved. “I couldn’t receive anything. People would urge me to repent, but I felt like blackness was flying in front of me. I couldn’t.”

That summer, however, his aunt invited him to the Franklin Graham Festival at Republic Stadium in Chisinau, Moldova. He agreed to go.

Moldova, July 2005
Built for the army, Fyodor has strong arms, large hands and a serious face. But when he talks about his experience July 10, 2005, at Republic Stadium, he melts.

Swallowing hard, he braces himself for the inevitable emotion that comes when he speaks of this event. “As I listened to [Franklin Graham’s] message, I saw all my past flash through my mind. I thought about my [Christian] parents, my relatives, and where they will be when they die–and where I would be if I died.” His voice falters as he tells of the moment he first truly heard and embraced the call to repentance and salvation in Jesus. “When Franklin Graham said that he was not calling the people to come to Franklin Graham, but to God … I tried to stand up, to go, but it was so hard. It felt like a rock was inside me, it was so heavy.”

Thoughts of how he would live his life after this moment, of what his friends would think of him, also flashed through his mind. His heart pounded. “You need to ask for forgiveness and repent,” Franklin’s voice echoed through the stadium. Fyodor started thinking about his life and all the things he had done. The weight holding him down seemed insurmountable. He prayed God would help him. Then … “Jesus helped me stand.”

Fyodor remembers crying like a child. “I asked God to forgive me,” he says. “I began to feel free. It’s like all my sins rolled away and I was completely clean inside.” His immense burden had lifted. Tears resurface in Fyodor’s eyes at the memory.

His family was not aware he had gone to the Festival, and when he first told his father what had happened, his father did not believe him. “It was a dream, you didn’t repent,” his father said. But when Fyodor showed him his “Living in Christ” booklet from the Festival, his father, filled with joy, embraced him.

Fyodor’s friends tried to woo him back to his old life; they laughed at him and said that God could not forgive all his sins. His best friend wouldn’t talk to him. “He didn’t think God could change me in a second, in a moment,” Fyodor says. But Fyodor’s prayer has been, “Make me strong to bring Your message to other people.” With God helping him, he resisted his friends and told them, “God loves you. You need to come to Him as you are, and He will clean you.” God has mightily answered Fyodor’s prayers, working through him to turn one person away from black magic, to prevent another from committing suicide and to cause numerous others to repent of their sin and turn to Christ.

After the Festival, whenever Fyodor sang songs about God, he always cried. “I remembered my life and asked God, ‘Why did You do that for me? I was such a bad man.'”

At the Market
About five rows away from Fyodor’s fruit booth, Tatyana stands counting out grivna bills behind her piles of cucumbers, potatoes, apricots and tomatoes. When she sees Fyodor approach, she smiles. Tatyana is one of the dozens he has witnessed to. She has told him that demons come to her in the night, and he has urged her to come to the refuge of Jesus.

Fyodor’s life came full circle when he counseled others at the Franklin Graham Festival of Hope in Kyiv, July 6-8–almost two years to the day after he himself was counseled in Moldova and led to vibrant faith in Jesus. Two young men whom he counseled live in an outlying village but will be attending a university in Kyiv this fall. Fyodor has spoken to them on the phone and is eager to connect with them and take them to church when they return to the city.

The end of the Kyiv Festival was not the end of Fyodor’s witnessing. He will continue to tell his story of how God lavished mercy upon him–and how He will do this for others–on the trains, buses and as he sells fruit … and bears it everywhere he goes.

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