Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In loving memory of Yuri Zhakrov

March 1st our dear friend Yuri died from liver & kidney failure. Yuri was the choir director at Nemchinovka Church where James worked when we first came to Russia. Yuri and Pastor Nicolai Epishin were the two men James traveled with as their interpretor when they spoke in churches in 1996 & 97.

Yuri had the most interesting history and life story of any Russian I had ever met. His mother was a famous soprano that performed at the Bolshoi during the 1930's, and narrowly escaped death during Stalin's purges in the late 1940's. Yuri grew up with the finest education and musical training available and showed great potential to be a rising star. However as a young man Yuri said he could never find 'peace in his soul'.. he began drinking heavily and using drugs. He also began to hang out with the Hippies (as they called themselves) and soon began selling bell bottom Levi's, Elvis records and Orthodox icons on the black market. This may not seem like serious criminal activity, but in the early 70's in Moscow this was a major crime. He and some of his friends were caught exchanging dollars for rubles and the entire *band* was put on trial. Part of the trial was televised and Yuri and his friends became celebrities of the era. The government decided to make an example of this kind of activity and so two of Yuri's friends received the death penalty. Yuri was put in prison (can't remember how long). When he was released from prison, he continued a life of drugs and alcohol... he was eventually put in a mental hospital and told that he had such severe problems he would never lead a normal life. He remained in the mental hospital for over a year being drugged and having shock treatments. In the midst of all this Yuri's Mother began praying for him and attending Moscow Central Baptist Church which was the only church allowed to open during Communism. I can't remember the date but sometime in the early 70's ???? Billy Graham made a historic visit to Moscow and preached at Moscow Central Baptist Church, Yuri ended up going for the first time in his life but the church was so crowded he couldn't get in.. he ended up walking around Moscow getting drunk. I can't remember the exact details, but somehow Yuri went to his Mother's friends and asked them to pray for Him.. there he ended up repenting and asking God to save him. I do remember he always talked about Luke 13 and how this was a picture of what had happened to him.. "And there was a woman who for 18 years had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not staighten up at all. And when Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, 'Woman, you are freed from your sickness.' And He laid hands upon her; and immediately she was made erect again, and began glorifying God." Yuri always shared this passage when he spoke in churches and told how God instantly healed him from alcoholism and drug addiction. From that day on Yuri walked in freedom and had such a love for his Savior. He began singing in the choir and soon met Nicolai Epishin - they became close friends and began holding secret meetings in the woods with young people from all over Russia. I could go on and on of all Yuri's fascinating stories. In 2001 a famous Russian television show (their equivalant of '60 minutes') did a one hour documentary of Yuri's life and the famous trial that had taken place. On national television Yuri got to share his life story and give glory to God for changing his life. Some 15 million viewers watched this show and heard his testimony. Yuri also wrote a book 'The chronicles of a prodigal son' that was published and sold throughout Russia. In the last 8 years Yuri has visited and shared in many different prisons, hospitals and churches with the simple message "I was a slave to sin, bent over and could not help myself; JESUS saved me!" With a smile spread across his face and his eyes beaming, his joy for life was contagious.

My personal favorite memories of Yuri are from our cross country trip made in 1997. James & I had been married 3 weeks when we picked up Yuri & Nicolai in our beloved Lincoln (Yuri called it 'the Leemooseen') and headed off for a month long adventure of travel and speaking in churches. One thing that fascinated Yuri about America was the Kentucky Fried Chicken lunch buffet.. he could not comprehend a restaurant where you could eat as much chicken as you wanted for only $2.99. I think we ate at KFC's in at least 7 different states - of course if every customer loved chicken as much as Yuri they would most likely no longer be in business. Yuri also loved American thrift stores... James said he had to smile when he walked into Nemchinovka church for Yuri's funeral and saw that he was being buried in his favorite blue suit they had bought together at a Texas thrift store.

Your life taught us so much Yuri. I'll never forget driving down the highway with you, Nicolai & James singing all your favorite hymns in three part harmony.. and you always telling Nicolai he was drowning you out.. I'll never forget kneeling every evening and praying all four of us for God to pour out His spirit with power and change people's lives all across America and Russia. I'll never forget your example of faith that even though the Doctors told you it was impossible for you to have children you have a 19 year old son Elisha who loves God with all his heart. I'll never forget how you loved to quote the verse 'for we were not given a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love and of a sound mind.' You forever had that gigantic smile spread across your face because you knew your loving Father and Savior had everything under His control. Our lives are forever changed because your life Yuri is in our memories.

Our hearts rejoice though because we can picture you before your Savior's throne hearing these words 'Well done thou good and faithful servant.'

Here is one of Yuri's favorite songs (this was also sung at our wedding, but it's even more beautiful in Russian)

O Lord, Thy light has shined in our darkness;
Thy love has claimed us each as Thine own,
Thy hands have opened windows of heaven,
meeting our needs with treasures from Thy throne,
How great our LORD, how glorious His splendor,
Shines through our nights, and fills us through all our days.


Anonymous said...

I stumbled on your blog from a homeschoolblogger link. I'm shocked yet encouraged by the life you all are living in Russia!
Several of your posts mentioned specific situations and needs that would never have even entered my mind as a possibility...so tragic are they.
Here's a question: Do you have need of any cloth diapers and covers? Or do folks there potty train as infants? We're about finished diapering with our newly 2 yo and are looking for a ministry to donate several dozen (some used, some new) diapers and covers to.
My blog is at homeschoolblogger dot com/mileshouse where you'll find my email as well. Not sure if I should post it here or not.
Also, do you have any specific needs? Thanks

Anonymous said...

We were saddened to hear about the loss, but at the same time excited to know Yuri is singing a new song now. Norman McMath FBC Borger,TX

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