Our church in St. Petersburg started (and continues) as a ministry to drug addicts and prostitutes. In addition to street evangelism, city-wide worship services and other ministries, StreetCry has a two year School of Ministry. Kostya is 26, currently in the second year of the program and is one of the leading evangelists in our church.
Here is his story:
My name is Kostya and I was typical of my generation. Drug user, consumer, egoist – “mine, me, myself and I” were the words describing my life credo.
Since I turned 13, my motto was “Take from life everything that it has to offer!” Together with my friends I partied, went to discos, drank, smoked, used hash, etc… every day purposed to discover and experience something new.
I fell in love with the most beautiful girl in our class and – like in a fairy tale – she became mine. We modeled our lives according to the latest Hollywood movies, only we were the main characters.
In the summer of 1997, I went to visit my friend in Voronezh region (south of Russia). All summer we used hash and poppy that grew everywhere – we smoked, boiled and whatever. . .
When I returned to the city after 3 months of this, I had a feeling that I had lost my brain! A year later, we started using heroin. It became the latest trend and was easily obtainable – sold everywhere, the drug dealers’ business was booming. They gave free samples, then gave on credit saying “pay whenever you have money”.
Among my peers, using heroin was considered mega cool. They said that the word “heroin” is derived from the word “hero” and was used by the soldiers in the American army to be real fighters! And we really thought that using it makes us fearless and unbeatable! We got addicted very fast.
At first we only sniffed and smoked it, but searching for new feelings we soon began to shoot, not noticing where we crossed the dangerous line. This was even though we previously had contempt on the shooters, considering them outcasts of society.
The time of free doses was over and the dealers became very tough, but still we needed to feed our habit every day. It took a lot of money. My brother (a drug addict too) and I resorted to crime: stealing, robbing and extortion. Soon my brother ended up in prison.
I began selling heroin and became very good at it. I had connections where I could buy heroin for cheap but sell for huge profit. This way I not only supported my habit and made my living but also in a months time I could buy things for which my parents used to work and save for years.
Such financial independence inspired me! My girlfriend though broke up with me as soon as she found out that I was shooting heroin. My grades at technical school left much to be desired but I did not fear to be kicked out – in the future I saw myself as a big drug dealer and gangster like in American movies.
Soon my inner condition began conflicting with this my perspective on life. I began feeling very alone and in need of care and attention. I tried to stop heroin but discovered that I could not stop. Soon I felt very disappointed in life.
My brother came out of prison and a social worker from Finland named Paul was ascribed to us in order to prevent us from further crime making. He was very nice and looked like he genuinely wanted to help us. He took us to different psychologists and social care organizations.
Finally, with his help in August of 1999 I ended up in a TUHE (goddess of destiny) camp. It was an experimental camp organized in order to help pagan drug addicts. It was situated in a forest. We were about 10 campers. We lived in abandoned houses – no chance to contact people on the outside.
We worshipped the god of the forest, sacrificed to him, smoked, drank, fornicated, and were allowed to do whatever but drugs. There I was introduced to the works of Carlos Castaneda.
I attended that camp for 3 summers in a row. But every time I came home I was back on drugs. My brother was in prison again. I returned to drug dealing.
This time I used ephedrine. Again, it seemed like this is it – the thing I was looking for all along! And how come we did not do ephedrine before?! Maybe we would not have experienced the disappointment that heroin brought into our lives!
It seemed to me that I rediscovered life! I began to be interested in literature, philosophy, music, all kinds of arts! It seemed like my brain started working in a new way.
I did not sleep for weeks. When I got tired, I had to use heroin to counteract the effects of ephedrine. Now I had new “teachers” – we all wanted to be like Che Guevara, etc… Soon though I began experiencing horrible fits of depression at the times when my high was over. The end result of ephedrine was the same as heroin.
To make a long story short I tried whatever there was to try in order to fill the inner void and compensate for loneliness. Unsuccessfully. And back on drugs I was – at least they relieved the pain. I did not like to be the Castaneda type of warrior any longer.
I was very weak – hepatitis C and HIV positive. In June of 2006, my best friend and “teacher” died as the result of this life style.
On his grave, I swore to stop using drugs. However, I could not!
In July I ended up in hospital in a critical condition but continued shooting even there so that the doctors were about to kick me out.
Then a leaflet called “You have a chance!” was given to me (a StreetCry evangelism tract for drug addicts). It had information about a rehab center for drug addicts. I did not see how I could continue in the way I was going so I decided to try this center.
When I arrived there I was shocked – over a hundred drug addicts from the different places in Russia and CIS were peacefully coexisting together! How come they did not kill each other? What is holding them here?
Everyday we were all on a strict schedule including a lot of work and unrealistic rules like no smoking, no cussing, no alcohol, no girls, etc… At the same time, there was a lot of talking about God’s love, about Jesus, His sacrifice on the cross, hell, forgiveness of sins, etc… All these words sounded very strange to me.
After one week, I decided that I could not take it anymore and wanted to go home. The rehab center workers gave me and one more guy who wanted to leave (he was from Murmansk – north of Russia) a ride to the closest train station where we could get trains home. They left and we stayed waiting for our trains.
As I waited, the pictures of my empty past and dreary future filled my mind and I heard the voice in my heart saying: “Go back to the center lest you die!” Going back to the center was 8 kilometers (5 miles) through the forest and my bag that I had to carry was very heavy, but somehow I made a decision to go back.
I went through the forest and felt the presence of God! His mercy, His tremendous love overwhelmed me! I thought of many of my friends who in their “search of truth” and trying different things in life did not reach the most important – Jesus and His Word that really sets free.
When I arrived back to the center the peace that surpasses all understanding was radiating from my whole being. I knew – I had found what I was looking for all along! I prayed and asked God for forgiveness of all my sins, for all my past life because an acute realization of my sinfulness filled my soul. I realized how disobedient I was.
Then my life started to be restored little by little. God began to fill my inner vacuum with Himself. I started reading the Bible and understanding what was written in it. God restored my memory – I learned by heart Bible verses and was able to quote them in spite of the fact that just a while ago I could not remember what I did yesterday.
One of the center workers told me: when a man takes one step towards God, God takes ten steps towards him!
The hunger to know Jesus burnt in my heart, the desire to live in fellowship with Him. He met me in so many ways and the things that were impossible for me before became possible!
I once was lost in sin, but Jesus took me in and set me free from the chains of addictions!
This article is excerpted from the StreetCry Newsletter. More about the ministry is available at www.streetcry.blogspot.com. Please visit their site and support their work.