I clearly remember my first visit to The Salvation Army corps in Moscow on Zubovsky Blvd. I learned about the corps from my neighbor. We lived in the same apartment building and we took our dogs for walks together in the evenings. At that time I was employed as a psychology teacher at the Military Institute of Foreign Languages and had plenty of free time, so I decided to look for additional employment.
My neighbor told me that a very big American organization established itself in Moscow and was looking for psychologists, so I decided to apply for one of the positions. Thus, in January 1992, I came to a Salvation Army Sunday meeting for the first time. I recall being amazed by the loud music, songs and tambourines. I found this to be unusual and could not find a logical explanation as to what was happening.
Captain Sven-Erik Ljungholm then followed the music with a personal testimony and Bible message. Twenty-three years have passed but I can still repeat his testimony word for word-- this shows how deeply it affected me.
A week passed and the next Sunday, something beyond my will, pushed me to visit The Salvation Army Sunday meeting again. This time it became like a dream in reality. Soon I started to attend recruit classes and shortly thereafter General Eva Barrows visited Moscow and I reconfirmed my decision to accept Jesus Christ as my Savior.
April 12, 1992 Captain Sven Erik Ljungholm, as a part of the team of 5 or 6 leaders enrolled me as a Salvation Army soldier. Once, during one of the soldiers meetings, the captain asked if anyone wanted to volunteer to assist in conducting recruit classes. A number of hands were raised, but the captain only chose a few people including myself. I did not put as much time and effort into preparing for my first lecture in the Institute, as I did preparing for that first recruit class. Captain Ljungholm was present at the class and his approval and praise sounded to me like praise from the Minister of the Military of the USSR. While serving in the Soviet Army, my family life became secondary, but now it was once again important, though all of my other spare time was devoted to Salvation Army service.
One of the best events of this period was a Salvation Army camp that was organized in August 1992 in the Moscow region, on the banks of the River-Volga. Later, I visited a number of other Salvation Army camps, including some camps that I organized myself, but that first SA camp remains for me the most interesting and unforgettable of experiences. A group of young Salvationists from the United States of America came to work with the children at the camp, and the spirit of Salvationism shone through them. I can no longer remember a single name, but yet, still clearly remember each and every face.
In October 1992 Captain Ljungholm sent 5 soldiers including me, to participate in the Territorial Salvation Army Congress in Los Angeles.
As a teenager I was fond of reading science fiction literature. My favorite American authors were Aizek Azimov and Clifford D. Simak. I may have read all of the existing American science fiction available by that time, but when we landed in San Francisco and left the plane, it was as if I was experiencing life in the distant future---that was the extent to which the U.S.A. differed from my home country. My impressions of that trip until today is that I was visiting a ‘wonderland’. Throughout 1992 all of The Salvation Army events I participated in, now appear to be, when I look back on them, speedy and kaleidoscopic. It is as if these events were all beyond my control and planned by God.
Shortly after October 1992 my wife was also enrolled as a soldier of The Salvation Army. In November 1992 I resigned from the Soviet Military Army and my wife and I devoted all of our time to Salvation Army service.
I knelt at the Mercy Seat (altar) and surrendered my Russian Red Army officer identification card to Captain Ljungholm and renounced the Soviet Union’s claim on my soul. Captain spoke a solemn prayer over my new allegiance and covenant to Jesus Christ.
December 1992 was marked with another new, exciting and astonishing event - both my wife and I were accepted as cadets in The Salvation Army Officers Institute, the first in Russia since 1918. Apart from Captains Sven Erik and Kathleen Ljungholm, there was another person who left an unforgettable mark on our lives and destiny - Commissioner Ingrid Lindberg. Commissioner Ingrid Lindberg, the territorial commander in Finland, was the first Salvationist who officially represented The Salvation Army internationally in effecting a return to Russia.
Unfortunately my wife Natasha was less enthusiastic about following my radical conversion. She's a scientist and seismologist. But it was as a result of the Commissioner’s personal visit to our home, accompanied by Danielle Strickland, a Canadian Salvationist that she understood and took to heart the Bible verses shared, faith explained and the soul searching prayers. Eventually she came to the corps and was saved.
Incidentally, Alexander Kharkov and his wife Maria were our session mates when we were cadets. They are now the Territorial Commanders of The Salvation Army in Russia.
I am very happy to be a Salvation Army soldier/officer and to serve my Lord in Russia.