Vasily Zhugylov, originally from Kyiv in Ukraine, remembers asking his mother some serious questions when he was about nine. "I really wanted to know about God. There was no one to explain it to me. I asked my mum: 'What happens when we die? Will we just stop being alive? We will never exist again?' She said: 'No, son, never.' I remember crying myself to sleep that night.
"In the Soviet Union times, of course, no one talked about God. Churches were mostly forbidden.
"So I was raised without God and, like most of my friends, I began to drink alcohol and get in trouble. I did my compulsory Soviet military service, and after that worked at a factory. I began stealing stuff, pretty much like everyone else, but my thefts became serious. Eventually, I served my sentence in a maximum-security regime at Cherkassy-62 prison.
"In prison, I met Pastor Anatoly Perepalitsa. He preached the Gospel to us and I repented [turned away from my old life] there.
"I remember my doubt about repenting and becoming a believer. I thought that I could never leave everything behind. That seemed so impossible. How could I give God my life? Instead, I just tried to be a better person. I was constantly thinking, 'How can I become better so I will be good enough to come to God?'
"One day a guest speaker in the prison church said, 'Don't wait, come to God now!' And there and then I turned from my sin. It felt like my entire life I had been a slave of something. That day in the prison, however, I was set free. I felt like the freest person in the universe! I felt like flying!
"They baptized me in prison in 1994. The Christian group grew so quickly that they needed a bigger meeting room. Our congregation grew to around 150 men. The prison director allowed us to build a House of Prayer on the prison grounds. Pastor Anatoly gave the name 'Freedom' to that church in the prison."
At around the same time, in another town, a 16-year-old girl, Rosa, had also just become a Christian and been immersed in water [baptised] as a symbol of dying to her old life.
Rosa's family also did not practise a faith.
"My father still doesn't," she relates. "My little brother was the first who became a Christian. It happened in 1992 in a Christian children's club in his school.
"My mom, went to the school to check out this club and someone invited her to church. My mom went and she liked it. The next year she asked Jesus to cleanse her of her sins and guide her life. I followed her and eventually, I got saved. I made friends and joined the youth group."
When Vasily was released from prison in 1997, he began to tell everyone he could about Jesus.
"A few years later I worked at a private ice-cream production factory in Kyiv. The owner was not a believer but he liked to hire Christians because they did not steal the ice cream. He always put the Christian workers on the night shift because unbelievers would steal from him at night. The owner totally trusted Christians and this is why Rosa was also hired. We met working at the ice cream factory and got married!"
The couple now have two children and are child/family coordinators for Mercy Projects in Ukraine, which sponsors needy children and helps transform the lives of those that are vulnerable to exploitation. Alongside his day job doing construction, Vasily also visits hospitals and military bases sharing the love of Jesus.
Pastor Anatoly still preaches in the Freedom church he started in prison many years ago.•
This article is sourced from mercyprojects.org.