His Saving Grace
My childhood goal was to be like my uncle. My dad’s younger brother was the European [wrestling] champion. I looked to him as my role model and wanted to become a wrestler like him. Little by little, this dream of mine began to come true as I got good grades in school and trained at a local club to acquire skills in wrestling.
"I was mad at the system…and most everything."
It was 1970, in the city of Donesk, Ukraine, when I became the junior champion of the USSR. Next step was to go to the world championships to compete in the 60 kilo weight class. In order to represent the Soviet Union, a person not only had to be a strong wrestler, but also had to meet a certain standard of a model Soviet citizen. This was to prevent an athlete from shaming or dishonoring the Soviet flag. I was raised the way other kids in our republic were raised which was very strictly so when I was turned down because I fell outside the parameters of behavior that were acceptable for travel at the time, I was very offended. I was mad at the system, at my coaches and most everything.
"My 25-year nightmare began."
I decided to spend more time with kids who made trouble. I tried my first cigarette with them, and then hash, and then stronger narcotics and pills of various kinds. My 25-year nightmare began and I experienced years of trying to train and wrestle, but fell into a hopeless lifestyle of crime in order to support a heavy drug addiction.
My brother tried so hard to help me. He took me to different clinics that would help my body temporarily, but not the soul. I didn’t know at that time that only God could heal my soul and no one else. I would try to fill that emptiness with narcotics, and needless to say, the narcotics continued without hope.
"I would be there in body, but my mind wandered to a different place."
Christians began talking to me about God at a drug rehabilitation center. I didn’t take them seriously, I thought they were weaklings and what they had wasn’t for me. But the thing I liked best about their meetings was the songs. The Christian songs were good and kind. But as they talked, I would be there in body, but my mind wandered to a different place, where I could get narcotics.
"My lifestyle had brought me to the verge of death, but God…brought me to life."
Former drug addicts ran a rehab center in the mountains with meetings in the mornings and evenings. Eventually, I became sober enough to hear the words of Jesus, “Come to me all you who labor, and I will give you rest.” These words really touched my heart, because that’s what I needed. I needed peace in my spirit. God intervened in my life. My lifestyle had brought me to the verge of death, but God sought me and brought me to life.
I have been with God now for 10 years. He’s given me a job to work with athletes as a coach, even achieving the title of ‘Outstanding Coach of the Year.’ The wrestlers I coach know not only moves, but also that I am a Christian. It’s interesting that God has given me the gift of writing and singing songs. Praise the Lord, even though I don’t consider myself a singer, composer or good guitar player, those gifts I’ve been given, I use in church and prisons. The songs are about things I have gone through. I came to God through songs and I am so grateful that He is using me to help bring His saving grace to others.