An excerpt from To Russia with Love - the true story of Hans Kristian as told to Dave Hunt.
Bent and I awakened early following a restless and troubled sleep. After washing and dressing, we read our Bibles and prayed together, committing ourselves and our loved ones at home into God’s care. Under house arrest in that old hotel, looking out over the city of Brest going about its business below us, cut off from all contact with the outside world and waiting for our interrogators to appear, the seriousness of our predicament began to impress itself upon us more fully. How long would it be before our families would become worried and attempt to trace our movements? We tried to tell ourselves that we would soon be released, yet at the same time feared that we wouldn’t. Calling upon God to give us the strength to face whatever might be His will, we had too many heavy concerns to feel hungry.
It was nearing 10:30 a.m. when finally there was a quick knock, and before we could answer, the door was pushed open. Four men and a woman stepped into the small room. They were obviously a team of specialists who had come some distance to question us. Their professional competence was quickly apparent.
“You are Kristian?” asked an intelligent-looking young man of about thirty. . . . The voice was friendly, the look open and direct. The approach was a far cry from yesterday’s explosive exchange at the border.
I nodded my acknowledgment.
“I am your interpreter,” explained the young man, extending his hand, but without offering to give me his name. His English was far better than mine. Shaking hands next with Bent, he said, “You will go with them.”
At first I was asked only such innocuous questions as how I liked Russia, how long I had been there, if I had visited it before, and why I had come. Then my questioner reminded me that I was under arrest for bringing Bibles into the country, and asked if that was true. Had I really brought Bibles into Russia?
I readily admitted that.
“Didn’t you know that is forbidden?” he asked.
“I’m not aware of any law against bringing Bibles as gifts,” I replied.
He had apparently been informed of my arguments about the legality of what I had done, so didn’t pursue that point. In fact, the way he dropped it, moving on to something else, made me realize that my fate did not depend upon questions of law but solely their will. I was completely at their mercy.
“You pretended to come as a tourist,” he continued quickly. “You should have been a real tourist and then you would have had no trouble. In fact, you hid your intentions just as you hid your Bibles. Like an enemy spy, you didn’t tell us that you were a Christian bringing harmful propaganda to our people.”
“That’s not true,” I objected. “At the border where we entered I told the Intourist interpreter—the very first Russian I met—that I was a Christian, and talked to him about God.”
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “We don’t have this information. What did you say?”
“I asked if he believed in God, and he said that he didn’t believe in things he couldn’t understand. ‘Do you believe the universe is without end?’ I asked him. He said, ‘Yes, otherwise we would have to ask what lies beyond it.’ So I asked him if he could understand that, and he admitted that he couldn’t. Then he said he was too scientific to believe in something he couldn’t see, and I told him of things he couldn’t see but believed in. You cannot be a true scientist and not believe in God. So you see, I did not hide my intentions like a spy!”
He had opened his mouth as though to stop me, but I had kept right on talking. Now he was frowning. “It is forbidden to speak about God like that in the Soviet Union,” he admonished me. “For our own citizens, religious propaganda must be confined to licensed churches only. And for visitors like you it is forbidden entirely.”
“But Christ has told us to go into all the world and to tell everyone everywhere that He died for their sins. We Christians will continue to obey Him even if you forbid us!”
“Then you must suffer the consequences,” he said sharply, dropping any pretense at friendliness. “Certainly you know that you have defied our laws and committed a very serious crime. Unless I recommend leniency for cooperation, you will probably receive a sentence of ten years!”
I drew in my breath sharply, and my heart began to pound so loudly that I was sure they could both hear it. Ten years! Was he just bluffing? . . . Obviously I had underestimated the seriousness of our situation. But ten years! . . .
At about six o’clock my interrogator looked at his watch and stood to his feet with a yawn. Apparently they were going to take another break, perhaps even eat supper. But I was not to be allowed any rest.
“You will have one hour,” he said through the interpreter, “to write down a full and accurate account of everything you’ve done since entering the Soviet Union. We want to know exactly where you went, with whom you spoke, to whom you gave each Bible—everything.”
He pulled several sheets of cheap yellow paper from his briefcase and dropped them on the small table beside the door as he left.
Alone, I looked at my watch and decided to spend forty-five minutes in Bible study and prayer, saving the last fifteen minutes to write my report, which I knew would be brief. . . . I opened my Bible, but there was no use trying to read. My mind was far away in Denmark, with Ninna and the children. My eyes filled with tears. I could see Ninna, just the way she had looked when first I noticed her. . . . Scenes of our simple wedding flashed before me. And our children—two boys and a girl—chubby, pink-cheeked babies in Ninna’s arms, then learning to walk, to talk. How quickly they had grown. The eldest was already turning eight years old.
I turned from the window and wept at the thought of going to prison and being without them! I could never bear that! It made me feel ashamed to admit it, but it was true. I was no hero. But wasn’t this love? Should I be ashamed of the love that God had given me for them—or was it really fear for my own fate that pained me most deeply? How could I know my own heart?
Falling on my knees beside the bed, I sobbed out my confusion, telling the Lord how much I loved them, admitting that I was afraid for myself, asking Him for strength. But the torment I felt only increased. It seemed that God was asking, “How much do you love Me? Are you willing to be cut off from all you love, if this is My will for your life?”
To be cut off from all I loved? That question gave me new insights. Suddenly I could see a whole procession of things I loved very much. The apartment that we had moved into not so long before. It was just what we had wanted, but I had never known that I loved it. . . . And the roses in the garden—yes, I loved the roses very much. . . . And the books. I loved them, too, the hundreds of volumes that lined the many shelves . . . in prison I would be without them. And I loved being a pastor. Perhaps that was why I wasn’t the father and the husband I ought to be—I loved so many other things that I often didn’t have time for those I loved the most, Ninna and the children. My first duty was neglected while I ran in pursuit of others. I was often angry with them, too. Even after preaching about being under the control of the Holy Spirit, my temper would get out of control. Yes, especially when I had preached about that. What was the good of knowing something in my head if I couldn’t live it in my life?
“That’s just the way it is with me right now!” I sobbed the words out to the Lord. “I have preached about surrender to Your will, but I confess that I’m not willing to go to prison. I’m not willing to give up my wife and the children, not even the roses and the books. I have told You before: Not my will but Thine be done—but I have said it with my lips, not with my heart. I can only say it that way now. I come to You and ask You to make me be really willing from my heart to do Your will, whatever it is.”
I gave up trying to pray and trying to surrender. Not only would God have to provide that strength to carry me through prison, but He would have to give me the strength to be willing to accept it from His hand.
Now that I had quit talking to Him, He began speaking to me. The verse flashed into my mind: Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross. That was the secret. I had wanted to surrender to His will as a hero—but God didn’t ask me to be a hero. He only asked me to believe that His will was best, that the reward He would give in exchange would be far greater than anything I would be called upon to sacrifice.
Suddenly I knew as clearly as I knew my own existence in God’s creation that I wanted His will. To miss that would be to miss life itself. All else was death, no matter how attractively packaged. To choose His will was no hero’s sacrifice, but faith’s acceptance of that which infinite love and wisdom had decided was best for me. And if that meant to be in prison, then that was where I wanted above all else to be—in His will.
Rising from my knees, I sat on the edge of the bed and reached for my Bible. It was open at Isaiah 50. Reading hungrily, I came to those words in chapter 51:7-16: “Fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings . . . the redeemed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing unto Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their head: they shall obtain gladness and joy; and sorrow and mourning shall flee away. I . . . am he that comforteth you: who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of . . . the son of man which shall be made as grass; And forgettest the Lord . . . and hast feared continually . . . because of the fury of the oppressor . . . ? The captive exile hasteneth that he may be loosed . . . [that his spirit should not fail] . . . I have put my words in thy mouth, and I have covered thee in the shadow of my hand. . . .”
Isaiah had penned that prophecy almost 3,000 years before, but in my heart I knew that in some mysterious way it was God’s promise to me at that very moment. The thought was not wishful thinking, a vain hope, a straw that I was grasping at in desperation—but something I knew. A few moments before I had been in despair, gripped by the fear of languishing in prison, and now I knew with absolute certainty that I would be set free. The living God, the Maker of heaven and earth, had communicated this assurance to my heart.
I wept again, but now it was for joy.