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From Prison Cell to Seminary

Vladimir Tuzov’s call to church planting did not follow the path of our typical seminary student. His journey started in a prison cell in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Vlad grew up in the 1990s, a frantic and difficult time for Ukraine, when everything people took for granted was being turned on its head. Soviet holidays left the calendar and new ones appeared. Streets were renamed, school curriculums were completely renovated, statues were taken down and replaced, the government was in turmoil, and even a new currency was introduced—twice.

It was out with the old, in with the new, on a scale seldom seen in history. For Americans, it would be as if, within a single year, the Statue of Liberty was torn down, Labor Day was replaced with Robert Frost Day (then moved to June), and we started using Monopoly money for our currency. That may sound absurd, but it’s not far from what Eastern Europe went through in the early '90s.

With enormous change can come enormous chaos, and that was certainly true for Ukraine. Growing up in this uncertain atmosphere, Vlad was introduced to drugs, which were prevalent, and there was little police presence to deter it. He began to use, and soon fell into a life of crime. To support his habit, he stole, and as the habit grew, so did the severity of his crimes—and the depth of his despair. He thought he would never escape this vicious cycle. 

A Desperate Prayer
One day, when he was at his lowest point, Vlad had a dream that put the fear of God in him. He woke up scared and prayed. A few months later, he was arrested. This was not his first arrest, but this time it was for a serious enough offense that he knew he was in big trouble and would be incarcerated for a long time. Sitting in his holding cell, Vlad prayed, telling God that if he got out, he would give his life in ministry to Him.

Because of a police error, he was released the next day. He knew what he had to do and went straight to a rehab center. He had tried programs in the past, and they had failed, but this time he felt he had a different purpose for them. While there, he had a relapse in which, he says, “the drugs had no effect on me.” He continued in his treatment.

During these months in rehab, Vlad became a believer through one of the pastors from Church of the Big City, a church planted in a partnership between MTW and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine (EPCU). He then made good on his promise to give his life to God. As he got to know our pastor, and our church, he came to understand that God was calling him here to serve Him in the EPCU, the denomination that MTW helped to start and with which they still partner.

A Reformational Calling
Over time, Vlad met a lovely Christian woman named Marina at our church, and they were married. Now, years later, Vlad has become an elder in the church. His call to ministry continued and last year he entered the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine that MTW started in Kyiv, where he’s doing well in his studies. He is in a church planter/seminary program that provides him a stipend to be able to study in the seminary while he prepares to begin a church plant himself.

Much of our work with Mission to the World in Ukraine involves training, supporting, and cheering on future Ukrainian church planters. These men sacrifice much to start new churches and serve the communities to which God has called them. It is not a path taken by many, nor is it one which offers much praise from their peers, or financial stability for their families. Often it is the choice that cuts against friends, family, and culture, yet these men are dedicated to the gospel and the kingdom of God, and so they press on.

As Vlad and I talk about his call and his future, I am struck by the route that God used to call him into ministry. I marvel at the people and ministries along the way that helped him on the road from jail to seminary, and how God has been faithful at each of those steps. From our perspective, Vlad made good on the promise to “serve God” that he made while he was in jail. But in a larger kingdom perspective, we understand that God made good on His promise to call and enable Vlad to serve Him. May we see people from the perspective of what God can do in their lives.

Jonathan Eide leads the MTW church-planting team in Kyiv, Ukraine. 

Help support the Evangelical Reformed Seminary of Ukraine (ERSU) and future Ukrainian pastors at mtw.org/projects (#95995).

Jonathan Eide, Kyiv Ukraine Church planting Nov 27, 2018
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