Alexander Neufeld is a member of the Association of Mennonite Brethren in Germany (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Mennonitischer Brüdergemeinden). Look for Part I here.
I have grown up with the heritage from my grandparents and parents. My grandmother’s husband, her six brothers and her brother-in-law all were in labor camps during the Stalin era. This one family spent a combined 74 years in labor camps, and three died in the camps.
These are the stories I have grown up with, so I consider my own stories to be much, much smaller.
In the 1970s I was in Estonia studying computer engineering. In the second year of my studies, a KGB officer asked me to stop by the KGB offices on campus. The KGB was the secret police of the Soviet Union of that time. The officer was not saying much of consequence, just chatting a bit. But he asked me if I would keep our meeting a secret, not to tell anyone about it.
I was only 18 at the time, so I agreed to keep quiet. A month later, he asked me to come by the offices again.
This time I sensed he wanted me to work for them as a spy or informant. I was actively involved in the Christian youth movement, and although I was in an official registered church, we did have some contacts to the underground church.
A third time we met just walking in the park. By that time I was decided.
I could not work with those who would destroy the church, who were responsible for the sufferings of so many Christians in the past and even in those days for some. I told the officer that I would not work for them, that I would no longer meet with him, that I would not collaborate in any way.
He was upset and told me that if I didn’t collaborate there would be consequences for me, for my parents, for my sisters. But I said I would not do it. And I further told him that I would no longer keep my promise not to tell anyone about our meetings.
Then for about a year, I heard nothing more. Though I sometimes sensed they were observing me. There were small signs of this, especially in my involvements with the Bible smuggling work.
I made it to my fourth year of university studies, which was a wonder in itself, as I was not part of the Communist Youth League and quite actively involved in church. That November I attended a secret Christian youth meeting in southern Estonia. Although I was not involved in the official program, I did read a Scripture passage and prayed at the beginning of the meeting.
Two weeks later, I had to attend some mandatory military training required for all university students, even those exempt from military duty as I was. We were standing in formation when the officer called me forward and told me to go to the colonel’s office.
There were two KGB officers in the colonel’s office—the one who had approached me in the past and an older officer I did not know. They began interrogating me about the youth meeting.
The older officer was well-acquainted with the Bible. He began quoting Bible verses to me to convince me that I should comply with their requests and provide them with information. They were asking about different people, about a printing press in the underground church, and generally trying to persuade me to work with them.
From 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon they questioned me. It was very hard. They were sitting on either side of me and talking and talking. They were experienced officers, and I was only 21 or so. I sat on my hands, so they could not see that I was trembling.
For eight hours I kept repeating “I will not tell,” “I will not say,” “I will not work” and so forth. Sometimes they threatened me. Other times they bribed me with promises of a good job after my graduation from university. But I refused. Finally at 4:00 they let me go.
I had been taught, “If the KGB tries to get you to work as a spy, don’t give them a single finger, otherwise they will get your whole hand.”
I’m thankful that God protected me from slowly drifting into work with them. You just start with a casual conversation and then one day you are working for them and you don’t even recognize it.
A month later, the dean of our department at the university called me in his office to tell me that he had received an order to expel me from the university. Although he wasn’t supposed to tell me about the pending expulsion, he wanted to give me the chance to withdraw from my studies and finish my degree at another school. If I was expelled, there would be no possibility of finishing my degree, even at another school.
I knew that the KGB was behind this, even though the dean wouldn’t say where the order had come from. I told the dean that I would not go voluntarily. I asked him if there was anyone else I could talk to, but he advised me to stay quiet and return a week later to speak with him again. He promised me that he would “see what he could do.”
That weekend I went back to my home to be with my family, and we prayed and fasted together, asking that God would lead me through this situation.
The next Thursday afternoon I went back to meet with the dean. To my surprise, he told me to forget our previous conversation and to prepare for final exams as normal.
It was unbelievable. I have relatives who were thrown out of their studies, because they attended one evangelical service. And here I had been studying for four years already! Nothing ever happened after that. I graduated, and the next year my family and I received permission to immigrate to Germany.
I do not know who made the decision or who was really behind the change. But I know that somehow God was behind it.
So, you see, they are not really sufferings, but the story of God’s help.