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Former Enemies - Now Brothers in Christ

What could a former corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps possibly have in common with a retired Soviet Red Army Colonel? And why would that former Marine salute the Colonel who was responsible for tracking American spy planes flying across Russia during the Cold War and then be ready to shoot them down? What could possibly bridge the gap that should exist between such former enemies?

The answer is very simple – Jesus Christ.

When the team from MBCH visited Bethany Baptist Church in Lviv on September 17, we were all amazed with the beauty of the worship service and how God’s people are able to worship in “spirit and in truth” even when the language is not recognizable. Our hearts were blessed by the beautiful music and the sincerity of the people in their singing, praying and relating to each other – as well as to us strangers.

During that visit to Bethany Baptist Church, we were introduced to retired Colonel Mykola Kobytyak. Greg Morrow, vice chairman of the MBCH Board of Trustees, told Russell Martin (a former Marine corporal) that he needed to meet Colonel Kobytyak and hear his story. He arranged for a translator to allow the men to understand each other.

“I wanted to hear his story about the Russian military and his role in it,” Martin said. “All he wanted to talk about, however, was his relationship with Jesus Christ!”

During his service in the Russian army, the Colonel was a “good Communist” who rejected even the concept of God. After his retirement, however, he and his wife moved back to Ukraine. Billy Graham preached an evangelistic crusade in Ukraine shortly thereafter, and the couple attended. Speaking through the translator, Colonel Kobytyak said that his wife became a believer, but he could not. His Soviet indoctrination had been too strong for him to so radically change his world view.

Over the course of the next year he observed the change that was taking place in his wife. She did not push him, but he slowly began to believe that there was something to his wife’s new beliefs. He saw that she had a hope that could never be imagined in the Communist philosophy he had been taught. He began to attend church with her and nearly one year after her conversion, he accepted Christ as his Savior.

That decision changed the course of his life as he grew in his faith and in his understanding of God’s Word. Colonel Kobytyak lived his faith to such an extent that he was ordained as the first deacon in the new Bethany Church. When the church was between pastors, this former Communist did much of the preaching in his Baptist church!

When the conversation between the men ended, both returned to the church’s sanctuary. As they parted company, Russell spontaneously saluted his new friend – and the salute was returned. This was not, however, a salute between two former enemies. It was an acknowledgment that both men were now brothers – united in the family of Jesus Christ. That family cannot be divided by language, culture, nationality or even previous military experience and relationships.

What could a former corporal  in the U.S. Marine Corps possibly have in common with a retired Soviet Red Army Colonel? Everything that matters!

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