The following material is from (pgs 76-83 of the 2008 Yearbook)
(the magazine Antireligioznik declared: "Voronezh Oblast is rife with sects")
With World War I raging, the little contact that had existed between the brothers in Russia and those elsewhere was lost...Little did they know that their country was soon to experience some of the most remarkable events of the 20th century, many of which were in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. In the latter part of 1917, the Russian Revolution brought the 370-year rule of the czars to its end. Unaware of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, Russia’s new rulers, the Bolsheviks, had ambitious plans to establish a new form of human government, one distinct from all previous forms. Thus, within a few years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, took shape. It would eventually encompass almost one sixth of the earth’s landmass.
It is noteworthy that a few years before the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin, the first leader of the Soviet Union, had said: “Everybody must be perfectly free, not only to profess whatever religion he pleases, but also to spread or change his religion. No official should have the right even to ask anyone about his religion: that is a matter for each person’s conscience and no one has any right to interfere.”
In some parts of the country, these official principles held by the Social Democratic Party allowed sincere ones to share Bible truths with others. Generally, though, the new State was atheistic from the beginning and took a hostile stand against religion, labeling it “the opium of the people.” Among the first acts of the Bolsheviks was to issue a decree separating Church from State. Instruction by religious organizations was made illegal, and church property was nationalized.
How would this new government view those scattered groups of Bible Students, whose allegiance was to God’s Kingdom? Writing from Siberia some time after the 1917 revolution, a Bible Student painted this dreary picture: “You are probably aware of the situation here in Russia. We have a Soviet government based on Communist principles. While it is true that one can note the well-known push in the direction of justice, everything to do with God is being jettisoned.”
By 1923 opposition against the Bible Students had intensified. The brothers wrote: “This letter is written for the purpose of informing you of what is happening in Russia. . . . We have the necessary things, food, clothing, . . . but we are in great need of spiritual food. The books that were sent to us were confiscated by the government. So we beg you to send us extracts in letter form of all literature which you have in the Russian language . . . Many are hungering for the Word of Truth. Not long ago five persons showed their consecration by water immersion, and fifteen Baptists have joined us also.”
The December 15, 1923, issue of The Watch Tower commented: “The Society is making an attempt to get the literature into Russia and will continue to do so, by the Lord’s grace.” By 1925, The Watch Tower was available in Russian. Its impact on the witnessing work in Russia was immediate. For instance, one member of an Evangelist group had difficulty reconciling the doctrine of hellfire with a God of love. When he raised this question to fellow believers, they prayed that God would save him from such thoughts. Later, he and his wife were given some issues of The Watch Tower and immediately recognized the truth. He wrote asking for more literature, saying, “We await manna from across the ocean.” Other brothers in Russia also regularly confirmed receipt of such “manna,” thanking the brothers in the United States for the Christian love they showed in producing such faith-strengthening literature.
(Russian convention held in Carnegie, Pennsylvania in 1925)
“Send Me A Little Bit Of Everything”
A touching letter from Siberia appeared in The Watch Tower of September 1925. A schoolteacher from a peasant family related that he and his family had moved from the south of Russia to Siberia in 1909. He wrote that he had read the publications with heartfelt joy, and added, “The wish of my heart is to be led ever deeper into the holy truths of God in order that I might fight against darkness with more ability and strength.” He concluded the letter with a request for more literature, writing, “Please, send me a little bit of everything.”
The response from the editor was published in the same issue. “We have tried to send literature into Russia for some time, but all our attempts have been thwarted by opposition from the Russian government. This letter, as well as others like it, is like the call from Macedonia: ‘Step over . . . and help us.’ (Acts 16:9) We will come as soon as the opportunity permits and if it is the Lord’s will.”
Indeed, what a powerful instrument The Watchtower and other publications would prove to be in preaching the good news “for a witness” in the Russian language! (Matthew 24:14) By 2006 the number of copies of publications published by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russian reached 691,243,952, a figure higher than any other language except English, Portuguese, and Spanish. Jehovah has richly blessed the efforts of his Witnesses to proclaim the Kingdom.
Witnessing To Russians Abroad
With the coming to power of the Bolsheviks and the creation of a Communist State, many Russians immigrated to other countries. The Watch Tower and other publications in Russian were printed outside the Soviet Union. Thus, the Soviet government could not interfere with the flow of spiritual food to other lands. By the late 1920’s, Russian publications were reaching people earth wide, and letters of appreciation came from Russian people in such lands as Australia, Finland, France, Latvia, Paraguay, Poland, the United States, and Uruguay.
Eventually, the brothers organized Christian meetings and the preaching activity in Russian in some of these places. In the United States, Bible lectures in Russian were regularly broadcast from radio stations. Russian-language congregations were formed, such as one in Brownsville, Pennsylvania, and conventions were organized. For instance, in May 1925, the brothers held a three-day Russian convention in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. It was attended by 250, and 29 were baptized.
(Br Rutherford sent George Young to Moscow to help the Bible Students in Russia)
The Situation Changes
After Lenin’s death, the government intensified its attack against all religions. The year 1926 saw the forming of the League of the Militant Godless—a name that aptly defined its goals. The ever-present atheistic propaganda was intended to root faith in God completely out of the minds and hearts of the people. In a short time, the spirit of atheism spread throughout the Soviet Union’s vast realm. In a letter to world headquarters, one Bible Student in Russia noted: “The youth are absorbing this spirit, which undoubtedly is a great hindrance to learning the truth.”
The League of the Militant Godless published atheistic literature, including a magazine called Antireligioznik. In 1928 the magazine declared: “Voronezh Oblast is rife with sects.” Among others, it mentioned 48 “Students of the Holy Scriptures” whose “leaders were Zinchenko and Mitrofan Bovin.” It is noteworthy that The Watch Tower of September 1926 contained a letter from a Mikhail Zinchenko from Russia. He wrote: “The people are hungering for spiritual food. . . . We have very little literature. Brother Trumpi and others are translating and copying Russian literature, and that is how we are spiritually feeding and supporting one another. We send greetings from all our Russian brothers.”
In September 1926, Brother Trumpi wrote that there was hope that the authorities would allow the brothers to receive literature in Russian. He asked the brothers at Brooklyn Bethel to send tracts, booklets, books, and Watch Tower bound volumes through the office in Magdeburg, Germany. Responding to this request, Brother Rutherford sent George Young to Moscow. He arrived there on August 28, 1928. In one of his letters, Young wrote: “I have had some interesting experiences but do not know how long I will be permitted to remain.” Although he succeeded in meeting with a high-ranking official in Moscow, he was only able to receive a visa that was valid until October 4, 1928.
Meanwhile, the newly formed Soviet State’s attitude toward religion was unclear. Several government documents expressed a hope that religious groups would be assimilated into the Soviet workforce. In the years that followed, this hope became policy. It is important to understand that the Soviet government did not wish to kill Jehovah’s people; it battled to win minds and hearts. It sought to convince God’s people to conform, to coerce them into being exclusively loyal to the State. The last thing it wanted was for people to give their allegiance to Jehovah.
After Brother Young’s departure, the Russian brothers continued to preach God’s Kingdom zealously. Danyil Starukhin was appointed to organize the Kingdom-preaching work in Russia. To further this work and to encourage the brothers, Brother Starukhin visited Moscow, Kursk, Voronezh, and other cities in Russia as well as Ukraine. With other brothers, he preached to Baptists at their prayer houses, expounding the truth about Jesus Christ and God’s Kingdom. In January 1929 the brothers in Russia arranged to rent a church building in Kursk for 200 dollars a year so that they could openly hold meetings.
Later that year, the brothers at Brooklyn Bethel requested permission from the People’s Commissariat of Trade of the USSR to import a small shipment of Bible literature into the Soviet Union. The shipment included 800 copies each of the books The Harp of God and Deliverance as well as 2,400 booklets. In less than two months, the shipment came back stamped: “Returned as Forbidden to Enter by the Administration of Printed Matter.” However, the brothers did not give up hope. Some thought that the reason for the return was that the publications were printed in an older Russian alphabet. From then on, the brothers ensured that all Russian literature was translated accurately and printed according to the latest developments in the language.