Student tells of mission work in Russia
By Robin Morales
Before he was a nursing student at LCC, Chad Vondrasek, 46, lived in Russia for 14 years. There, he was persecuted by the State for engaging in missionary work as a part of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Originally from Lansing, Vondrasek moved to Russia shortly after his baptism in 1990.
He lived in a northwestern city between Moscow and St. Petersburg called Veliky Novgorod. From there he distributed Biblical literature, conversed about Christianity with locals and conducted home Bible studies.
“That was about the same time that the Soviet Union broke up,” Vondrasek said. “It was quite exciting for a lot of us, including me, to see how such a huge country like the Soviet Union, where (it) had been very difficult to do any Bible teaching work or communicate with people, now everything just completely opened up.”
Travelling by foot, train or public bus, Vondrasek said his days in Russia were spent making friends and talking with the Russian people, whom he described as “very friendly.” According to Vondrasek, persecution from the Russian police and authorities developed over time.
“It was gradual,” Vondrasek said. “At the time that I came in the ‘90s, things were very calm … There wasn’t much trouble at all.
“Little by little, there were more and more negative reports about us in the news … It got to the point where, in like 2009, several of our publications were declared extremist by a couple of court cases.
“I would often get arrested when I was out meeting people,” Vondrasek said. “I would be interrogated by police and authorities … They would say, ‘Oh, we know that you guys work for the CIA,’ and they would accuse me of being a spy.
“It was stressful. Each time we went out we didn’t know what we were going to run into,” Vondrasek said. “At any time, police could show up.”
Instances of persecution were unpredictable and varied. Everything from verbal abuses to accounts of torture were suffered by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia. Currently, upwards of 30 organization members are serving up to six-year prison sentences and many more are awaiting trial.
“On April 20th of 2017, the Russian Supreme Court banned our activities, banned our organization, criminalizing us, basically declaring us an extremist organization,” Vondrasek said. “There have been several instances of torture, basically treating us like terrorists, (and) there’s no basis for it.”
The situation eventually forced Vondrasek to leave Russia, or face a prison sentence of his own.
“As things began becoming more and more tense and federal officials basically made it known they weren’t happy that I was there, things were not looking good … It’s very likely they might have put me in prison.”
Vondrasek returned to the United States and has been an LCC student since January 2017. He is a part of the nursing program.
“There’s work in nursing and I like helping people,” Vondrasek said. “I’m fascinated by the way that we’re made, the way the body is designed and things.”
Despite the dangerous and ongoing situation confronted by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia, Vondrasek said he would like to return some day.
“(I) would love to go back,” he said. “(I) love Russia. It was home.”