by Julia Outkina
W hen Pastor John Carter came to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, to preach the everlasting gospel, no one could have predicted that the woman who would one day lead 3ABN’s ministry in that country would be sitting among the thousands of people in the Sports Palace. This is Julia Outkina’s story.
Pastor John Carter came to preach an evangelistic series in my city in 1992. At the time I was a 39-year-old wife, the mother of a 14-year-old boy, and the sister of the progressively minded governor of that region. I also had a Ph.D. in linguistics and was a professor of English in a civil engineering university. But despite all this, I felt unfulfilled and had extremely low self-worth.
I was born into a family of Russian intelligentsia—my father was a civil engineer and my mother a medical doctor—but they were some of the lowest paid people at the time. Because Russians prized education so highly, there was a shortage of manual laborers, so they were much sought after, and highly paid.
My mother has always been very dedicated and loving to our family. But she was so busy raising two kids under constant financial shortage, that she never displayed affection. And even though our father loved us, he had a lot of outside interests, and rarely expressed love, either. I believe many Russians are raised this way, and perhaps this explains why it was perfectly natural for me to sit in the back and be very reserved during the meetings. My reasons for attending were purely professional; as a professor of English I’d never heard someone whose native tongue was English.
But in spite of myself, his oft-repeated message began to penetrate my heart: “God loves you. God loves you!”
My first introduction to God came when I was still a teenager. My uncle, a renowned radio-physicist, said, “I’m sure there is a God, but I don’t believe in a grandpa with a beard!”
My second introduction came as I began my Ph.D. work. I was asked to translate some Bible texts from an extinct Gothic language into Russian, so I thought, Why should I try to translate them when I can find a Bible with a ready translation? It wasn’t that easy to find a Bible at the time, but I managed, and after reading the book of Ecclesiastes, I thought, There’s more wisdom in this little book than in all the fiction I’ve ever read!
But, you see, I’d never formed an idea of God as a person, much less a loving person, and while I’d thought there might be a God or some kind of Creative Power, He lived far away from my current needs, pains, and hopes. But then here was Pastor’s Carter’s loving God of the Bible, and along with my improving knowledge of English, the Lord gradually took possession of my heart.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be baptized because I afraid it would reflect badly on my brother’s reputation. The Russian Orthodox church was—and still is—the predominant religion here, and it’s also very protected because of Russian tradition and the fact that it was severely persecuted during the Soviet years.
Then, just three days before his last meeting, Pastor Carter read a text from the Bible. “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 6:19. Suddenly I felt overwhelmed! God, who was all-powerful, all-knowing, and who knew very well who I was and how sinful I really was, regarded me as a temple of His Spirit? What tremendous joy I felt as my heart filled with gratitude for His love and acceptance. That was the moment of my conversion, and it came immediately after I admitted and confessed my sins to Him.
Although painful, this repentance wasn’t humiliating, but relieving, instead. His forgiveness not only caused me joy, but immediately brought my self-worth to its right place: If the way that I am is good enough for God, then who cares what people think? That same day I also took off all my jewelry, even though Pastor Carter had never mentioned it. I don’t have to adorn myself with trinkets, I thought. It’s the love of God that makes me beautiful, and nothing handmade can improve on that!
When I accepted God I wasn’t sure about Creation. We’d been taught evolution so much that I thought, God, I’m not sure that Creation is right, so You need to let me know. Even more radical than this, when I accepted God I thought, I don’t care if I worship on Sabbath or Sunday. I only care about God! If He wants me to worship on Sabbath, then that’s fine—it’s Sabbath for me! So you see, it was only God’s love that converted me, not the knowledge about God, but the knowledge of God. Of course, after I read my Bible and contemplated upon it, I ceased having any doubts about Creation or the Sabbath. I believe it’s only the pride of the unconverted heart that causes one to resist what is so clearly written in His Word!
I was baptized in the Volga River as torrents of rain poured down from the skies, but my happiness was overwhelming! My family was sympathetic. “If this is what you want, then do it,” they assured me. I took this as the first sign of improvement in my family relations, a direct result of God’s love flowing through me.
Willingness—and God’s Timing!
A couple of days after my baptism I went to see my brother at his office. I knew my way to the back door, and I’d sometimes go up there and wait until he could spare a minute. But imagine my surprise when I peeked in and saw him sitting with Pastor Carter, Danny, and the Russian Orthodox archbishop! They were discussing the meetings, and my brother was voicing the position of the Russian Orthodox church: “You Seventh-day Adventists are a foreign religion in this country,” he said. “We have deep Russian Orthodox roots, so why don’t you leave this country’s spiritual growth in their hands?”
“Governor, you are respected as the most progressively minded young governor in Russia,” Pastor Carter responded. “If you’re truly this way, you should protect the rights of a church whose beliefs don’t contradict your constitution, and allow them to preach to your people. May I read you a letter given to me during one of my meetings?”
My brother shrugged his shoulders. Then suddenly I felt as if there was nothing left of me but just the Lord Himself, as I heard Pastor Carter reading the letter I had written to him after my conversion! It finished with the words, “When I took my baptismal vows I said I’d help my church with whatever talents the Lord had given me. And because the Lord made me the governor’s sister, you have my permission to use my conversion story, if it should ever prove helpful in your preaching.”
I don’t know what my brother’s reaction was, because at that point I closed the door and went around and waited for them to come out. That was the first time I met Pastor Carter and Danny Shelton.
Shortly after that I had an opportunity to make sure my brother really was progressively minded—and not just in public!
“What is the deal with you and the Seventh-day Adventists?” he asked.
“Boris, for the first time in my life I’m a happy and fulfilled person,” I replied, “and I know that this is not for a season. It’s forever!”
“Well,” he said, “if this is how you feel, then I’m happy for you. Go ahead with your religion.”
Working for the Lord
By the Lord’s providence I never went back to work at the university. In September 1992 I started working as a translator for John Kantor—the supervisor at the construction of the newly purchased, unfinished building. After several years of hard work it turned into the beautiful jewel of 3ABN Russian Evangelism Center. It was finished and dedicated to the Lord in 1998 and I have been the executive director of 3ABN Russia since 2000.
With just over 30 workers, and a strong purpose of bringing Russian people living all over the world to the knowledge of God, we strive to work with the purest hearts and the cleanest hands. I depend on Him for wisdom, courage, and His abundant love. And even though the imperfections of my own character cause me grief, I can see how He gently and carefully brings me through. I’m so happy to say today that He has always loved me with His immeasurable love—a love far greater than anything else could be. And due to His loving guidance in my life, my love for Him and the desire for the salvation of people keeps growing stronger and stronger. I want so much for us to be ready when He comes back for us at the hour of His glory. It will be soon and very soon!