The following account of Natasha is moving. The power of her testimony is seen in her profound commitment to gathering with other Christians, not assuaged by the most difficult of circumstances. The story is lengthy but powerful and worthwhile. This heartrending testimony is told by Sergei Kourdakov, who was commissioned by the Russian secret police to raid prayer gatherings and persecute believers with extraordinary brutality.
I saw Victor Matveyev reach and grab for a young girl [Natasha Zhdanova] who was trying to escape to another room. She was a beautiful young girl. What a waste to be a Believer. Victor caught her, picked her up above his head, and held her high in the air for a second. She was pleading, “Don’t, please don’t. Dear God, help us!” Victor threw her so hard she hit the wall at the same height she was thrown, then dropped to the floor, semiconscious, moaning. Victor turned and laughed and exclaimed, “I’ll bet the idea of God went flying out of her head.”
On a later raid, Sergei was shocked to see Natasha again.
I quickly surveyed the room and saw a sight I couldn’t believe! There she was, the same girl! It couldn’t be. But it was. Only three nights before, she had been viciously thrown across the room. It was the first time I really got a good look at her. She was more beautiful than I had first remembered—a very beautiful girl with long, flowing, blond hair, large blue eyes, and smooth skin, one of the most naturally beautiful girls I have ever seen . . .
I picked her up and flung her on a table facedown. Two of us stripped her clothes off. One of my men held her down and I began to beat her again and again. My hand began to sting under the blows. Her skin started to blister. I continued to beat her until pieces of bloody flesh came off on my hand. She moaned but fought desperately not to cry. To suppress her cries, she bit her lower lip until it was bitten through and blood ran down her chin.
At last she gave in and began sobbing. When I was so exhausted I couldn’t raise my arm for even one more blow, and her backside was a mass of raw flesh, I pushed her off the table, and she collapsed on the floor.
To Sergei’s shock, he later encountered her at yet another prayer meeting. But this time something was different.
There she was again—Natasha Zhdanova!
Several of the guys saw her too. Alex Gulyaev moved toward Natasha. Hatred filling his face, his club raised above his head.
Then something I never expected to see suddenly happened. Without warning, Victor jumped between Natasha and Alex, facing Alex head-on.
“Get out of my way,” Alex shouted angrily.
Victor’s feet didn’t move. He raised his club and said menacingly, “Alex, I’m telling you, don’t touch her! No one touches her!”
I listened in amazement. Incredibly, one of my most brutal men was protecting one of the Believers! “Get back!” he shouted to Alex. “Get back or I’ll let you have it.” He shielded Natasha, who was cowering on the floor.
Angered, Alex shouted, “You want her for yourself, don’t you?”
“No,” Victor shouted back. “She has something we don’t have! Nobody touches her! Nobody!”
. . . For one of the first times in my life, I was deeply moved . . . Natasha did have something! She had been beaten horribly. She had been warned and threatened. She had gone through unbelievable suffering, but here she was again. Even Victor had been moved and recognized it. She had something we didn’t have. I wanted to run after her and ask, “What is it?” I wanted to talk to her, but she was gone. This heroic Christian girl who had suffered so much at our hands somehow touched and troubled me very much.
The Lord opened Sergei’s heart to the glorious good news of Jesus Christ. As he later reflected on Natasha, whom he never saw again, he wrote:
And, finally, to Natasha, whom I beat terribly and who was willing to be beaten a third time for her faith, I want to say, Natasha, largely because of you, my life is now changed and I am a fellow Believer in Christ with you. I have a new life before me. God has forgiven me; I hope you can also.
Thank you, Natasha, wherever you are.
I will never, never forget you.
(Sergei Kourdakov, The Persecutor [Carmel, N.Y.: Fleming H. Revell, 1973], 192, 194, 195, 199, 200, 251 in John Piper, Desiring God, 275-8).