Excerpted from Letters from a Soviet Prison Camp by Mikhail Khorev (Grummersbach, West Germany: Missionswerk Friedenstimme, 1986). Reprinted 1989 by Baker Book House. Used by permission.
Born in 1931, Mikhail Khorev was imprisoned for his faith and ministry in the former Soviet Union in the 1950s and again from 1980 to 1986. Plagued from birth with very poor eyesight, Khorev recounts in this prison letter to his children what his mother learned from this providentially ordained thorn in the flesh: that God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10) and that we bear the treasure of God in the frail clay vessels of our bodies so that “the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:6,7).
I send you greetings, my beloved children.
In each of my letters I lovingly seek to tell you about the wonderful deeds of God. Not everything that God does is immediately comprehensible to us, but at the end of our lives every Christian will certainly be able to cry out to the Lord, “How great you are, O God, your wisdom is in all your ways and all your works!”
Yes, one day we will look back and see everything clearly. But how about now? Do we thank the Lord for everything now? I ask this because if we have committed our lives to him, then he never makes a mistake and he never lays a cross upon us that is too hard to bear. Never!
… When a child comes into the world, it is a joyous occasion for the parents. And so the day I was born was no exception to this. (I am now telling you some memories that my mother shared with me.) You know that I had very poor eyesight from birth. The doctors told my mother “Your son has bad eyes, but we won’t be able to determine how bad or whether he can see at all until he is a bit older.” I don’t need to tell you how worried my mother was. Her two daughters were quite healthy, but now a son had been born who was physically “weak.” As far as Mother was concerned, I was born blind.
She shared her fears with Father. She often spoke of that day saying, “as soon as we arrived home, Daddy took you in his arms and said, ‘Let us give glory to God for this gift to our family.’”
Mother remonstrated, “It’s not only a joyful event but it’s also a deeply worrying event because the boy is not healthy. They think he might even be totally blind. . . .”
“Dearest, but surely you agree that God never makes a mistake?”
“Of course, God never makes a mistake, but…”
Daddy then countered her objection and continued, “Yes, it’s true our son is not as healthy as other children, but his complaint is quite exceptional, isn’t it?”
Daddy continued, not allowing her to contradict him, “If God doesn’t permit a hair to fall from our heads without his will, then today’s events are firmly in his control, and I believe that our Lord has exceptional plans for our son. And now let us give God the glory for these special plans he has for him.”
“I can’t remember any longer,” Mother continued, “what passage of Scripture your daddy read, but we knelt down, with you in our arms, and we thanked God for his wonderful ways in our life. I didn’t share your father’s joy and secretly scorned what he said. I didn’t voice my feelings aloud, but secretly I thought that what he said was too simplistic.
“Now thirty years have passed, and your father has long since been gone. But only now do I agree with what he said. And I feel convicted that it has taken me so long to understand why you were born with such poor eyesight and such a weak constitution. I only wish I could tel1 your father, ‘Yes, you were right with your simple faith in God. Forgive me for not understanding you, and even criticizing you in my heart. …’”
The first time my mother told me this was on New Year’s eve in 1969. Naturally I rejoiced together with my mother and praised God in prayer.
Beloved children, I am telling you this to comfort us both in the long separation we are enduring. What else can I tell you about the state of my health? I have always had strength enough for my work in the churches. No one who knows me would be able to guess how little I’ve been able to do in the home. My eyes have always been a great problem to me. I beg of you, beloved, take my place at home as far as you can. In a month’s time I will be fifty years old. …
The Lord be with you, beloved.
(Originally published in FrontLine • July/August 1997. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)