(Editor’s note: Ilya Okser, 100 percent Jewish, received Messiah Jesus after a lifetime of zealous atheism. He is a dedicated member of Hope of Israel Congregation. One can very often see tears in his eyes during worship services, his heart overflowing as he glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. Ilya’s testimony is translated from Russian.)
In 1925, I was born into an atheist family and named after Lenin (I later changed my name to the Russian form of Elijah). From childhood, I accepted as absolute truth the idea that God does not exist, but was invented by exploiters in order to keep people in submission.
My father was a leader of the communist party, but was branded as an “enemy of the state” under Stalin’s regime. This repression against him also affected my life, education and career. Not long ago, God led me to forgive the people who had done this to us.
My education took many years, and finally I finished a correspondence course from a pedagogical college. This completed my Soviet training as a physicist and mathematician. Then, for nearly 40 years, I worked in the system of public education.
I believed that in our country, the communists really would build a communal society. I joined the party, but not only because I wanted to have a better career. I was absolutely and truly sure that one could not believe in God and work as a teacher.
As an outreach propagandist of the communist party, I led atheistic studies, preparing many lectures on this topic and on mathematics. In my lectures, I told a legend about the creation of the world that was very positively accepted and was published in a brochure. Now, to my great sorrow, I believe I was cursing God by this, and I have asked Him to forgive me.
For many years, I served as a regional inspector in the department of public education. I was also the boss of the organization that decided curriculum and methods for the region’s math and physics teachers. While working as an inspector, I often recognized that teachers who were communists in fact worked very badly, but teachers who were believers gave the students great knowledge and skills. Meanwhile, I took many special courses for atheists.
One day, in the library of the department of public education, for the first time in my life I took the Bible in my hands. I read the Bible with the eyes of an atheist, but still many things in this book amazed me.
The way to America was not so easy for me. I could have emigrated to America in 1948, but I rejected this possibility offered by relatives who had lived in Los Angeles since 1911. I believed the communist propaganda that to leave the Soviet Union meant to betray the native land. FInally, I did come to America in 1996.
After just a few days, I entered the hospital for an urgent operation. THere I met a missionary, Tomek Stashevsky, who gave me a Bible and awakened my interest in reading it. For the first time in my life, I prayed with him, and I began to attend his meetings.
A short time later, I realized that close to my home was a church, Hope of Israel, with services in Russian. I remember that in my first visit, Sasha and Lev met me and asked me if I was a believer. I said yes, but that was not true. Really, Pastor Greg and Klaudia probably remember that I was more like Thomas when I first came. I believed that Somebody existed Who was ruling us, but that is all I believed.
I liked the preaching of Pastor Greg, and decided to come to the meetings. After a few weeks, I heard a very interesting message about the idea that the Highest One is the Creator of everything that exists. I listened to the pastor, and I was very rebellious and angry inside myself. I thought, “How can that very highly educated person really believe in that?” I wanted to ask Pastor Greg a couple of questions and I wished to bring him into a discussion right away. But suddenly one thought came to me: “You taught dozens of books describing hypotheses about the start and development of the universe. But if the universe really began to exist, Somebody had to create it. That means God is not a fantasy. He does exist.”
Many times, I read over all of the literature that I could find before I really began to believe and entered the water covenant. Now I am so glad that I received hope and faith and life in eternity. When I look over my whole life, now I understand that God was with me and that only He saved me from Stalin’s camps. He saved my life in the time of the Second War. He was with me and He is with me always.
My wife was the best teacher in our city. In 2003, she passed away after a long illness, but she was very happy when the moment came because she was also a believer in Jesus. We often read the Bible and prayed together.
A few years ago, I passed the exam to become an American citizen. At my age, as in Ecclesiastes, it is the time to gather stones. Even now, many things I do not do as God commands. But He is with me and He is helping me to live.
(Editors note: the Russian word for baptism indicates to the hearer a Russian Orthodox Church ceremony mainly involving crossing someone with a large metal cross, with water sprinkling a minor part of the ritual. Tragically, the large metal cross was also carried by leaders of the deadly and destructive raids into Jewish communities in Russia. These terrible pogroms killed many thousands of Jews in the 1900s. Therefore, the traditional Russian word and practices associated with baptism are obstacles to new Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus. At Hope of Israel Congregation, we use in Russian the term “water covenant” for the baptism of those who have repented and trusted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is true to the meaning of the Greek word, “baptizo” [immerse], and to Biblical doctrine, but distinct from the Russian Orthodox practices.)