Olga Spisovskiy, her son-in-law, Peter Klyachenko, and her daughter-in-law, Lily Spisovskiy, each represent a different Christian family who moved to the United States from Russia in the 1990s. In Soviet Russia, their families suffered religious persecution, jail time, horrifying accusations, and harsh rejections, even from their own families. Although their stories are sobering, their past experiences give them a unique and important perspective on religious freedom, both under communistic Russia and in the United States. Here's what they had to share about their experiences with religious persecution and their understanding of what true freedom looks like.
Your family lived for years as Christians under communism in the Soviet Union. What was that like?
Olga: The government installed small microphones into our walls. People would come to our house and say, "We need to check your electricity." We knew they weren't there to check anything. But we had to speak very carefully in the house, because we knew they were listening to everything we said, and my father was afraid of us being thrown in prison.
My sister became a Christian at 18. At the time she was the head of her high school's Communist Youth Party, which was prestigious. She told the CYP director, "I cannot do this any longer because I accepted Christ into my life."
The school informed the KGB of her conversion, and as a result, the KGB spent years trying to take me and my siblings away from my parents, under the false accusation that my parents forced my sister to convert to Christianity. Every few months, my sister and my mother would drive to the state office so my sister could testify that her conversion was her own decision. Finally, when her story didn't change after years of questioning, the KGB had to give up. They had no case against my parents.
Also, a few times a month, the KGB would stop my father on his way to work and take him to their office. There, they would question him about the goings on of the church—details of meetings, who was attending. Those types of things. They'd hold him for two days without food or water. We used to say they wanted him to be like Judas; they wanted him to betray the church.
It wasn't a big deal for the KGB to operate this way. But for my father to agree to be that person would have killed him right then. He never told them anything.
My mama eventually went to the KGB officer in our area and said, "If you're not going to stop this, I'll tell everybody. I've had it. The whole world will know what you're doing to us."
Ashley Grace Emmert is a writer, editor, and TCW regular contributor who lives in the suburbs of Chicago with her sweet Southern husband and their small scrappy dog. Find her at ashleygraceemmert.blogspot.com or on Twitter at @ashgemmert.