Many testimonies begin with the words ‘Before I found God I was …’ and then follows a long list of different variants of how people sinned. My testimony starts with the words that ‘I was born in the typical Ukrainian family at a time when Ukraine became independent.’
My family was almost typical of other families at that time, except that I was born into a Christian family, which was not so usual. Instead of fairy tales, my grandmother read me the Bible. Every evening we prayed before going to sleep, and on Sunday it was mandatory for me to attend Sunday school in the Orthodox Church.
Because of this, I knew from childhood who God is, that he loves me, and that I needed to go to church every week to stay strong in my faith.
I did not make a lot of mistakes in my life or do bad deeds before I realised that I needed to come to God. And so, probably this is the testimony of God’s love for me: as God led me in my early days, so he has continued to guide me.
When I was 10, I came into contact with The Salvation Army for the first time. I confess that I came along for free sweets and other gifts, because I grew up with my grandmother in a very poor family.
Seeing me, the officer said, ‘This boy will one day become General of The Salvation Army!’ I laughed at his words, because I was a very difficult character and did not see myself as particularly worthy. But God had a plan for me, and a year later, I became a junior soldier. Later, I became a senior soldier, and then worked in a Salvation Army ministry to people living with HIV/AIDS and children with disabilities.
While studying history at university, I was invited to go to a weekend for people who might be willing to serve as Salvation Army officers (ministers) in the future. A captain from Territorial Headquarters in Moscow talked about what it meant to be an officer and to serve God in this way. As I listened, I was increasingly aware that God meant for me to hear what this captain was saying.
When the officer invited people to come to the mercy seat to pray, I was the first to respond. I was trembling and tears were rolling down my face. As I knelt and began to pray, I heard God’s Holy Spirit say to me, ‘Oleg, it’s time—it’s time already.’ I saw in my eyes the many people who had died in their sins, cut off from God, and I knew that people like these were my responsibility. So I said to God, ‘Yes!’ And I am sure that I have not made a mistake by saying this. I do not regret my decision, because there is nothing better than to serve God, doing his will.
Many years have passed since I made that commitment to God. Today, I am a Salvation Army cadet, training to become an officer. Looking back, I can see how the Lord has led me on his way. I have already had a marvellous experience of ministry that has included international conferences, United Nations meetings, participation in programmes in different countries, and being interviewed for newspapers and television. I could not think or imagine this when I was 10 years old and came to the Salvation Army for free cookies.
Today, as part of my training, I am serving in a big corps in central Ukraine. This is a difficult time in my country and I understand more and more that I need to be open to new ministries and experiences. For example, for the first time I am serving refugees and teaching the local version of the Ukrainian language. Very often, I run a Salvation Army meeting at City Hall, and after that we go to feed the homeless. In the evening, I run an English class and also a children’s programme.
God still works every day with my heart. He changes me, talks to me, teaches me and gives me his strength. I know that, with God’s help, I will serve him as a faithful minister of The Salvation Army.
By Oleg Samoilenko.