How an International Criminal Joined God’s Gang! (Ruslan’s Story)

Mar 25, 2015 3486


Ruslan immediately before sharing his story with us

My name is I am Ruslan Yenchinka and I am 40 years old. I was born in Poltava, Ukraine, and I was addicted to hard drugs from the age of 5.

Very early in life, I saw how my father cheated on my mother, and how he fought with her and drank alcohol. It was hard to see this, and I made up my mind never to drink. I’ve done everything else but drink.

Because of the family situation, when I was ten months old, my mother took me to stay with my grandmother, a thousand kilometres away in Siberia. I stayed with my grandparents until I was three years old, and when my father and mother came to get me I didn’t even recognize them. From this age I began feeling that nobody cared for me, and that I was unloved.


Ruslan (L) with recovering drug addicts and criminals at the drug rehab centre. Philip Rodionoff is third from the right, and Eliezer is fourth from the right.

And then I began having a recurring dream that frightened me, so when I was five years old I was sent to the psychiatric hospital, where I was put onto a mind-altering drug. By the time I was 12 I was already dependent on them. I was considered to be psychologically impaired.

The problems in my family continued and I felt that my family didn’t need me. Although my mother had no time for me and she didn’t love, me, she saw what was happening and how these drugs were affecting me negatively. Because of this she arranged for me to be taken off these medications when I was 12 years old. Because I was dependent on them, I suffered withdrawal, and it was a very difficult time for me.

I grew up on the streets with my friends, and when I was 16 I tried street drugs, and I began injecting heroin every day. It reminded me of the feeling I had had when I was on medication. The heroin cost money, so together with my friends we formed a gang and began running criminal stand-over rackets, pick pocketing and committing assaults and armed robberies. We travelled all over Ukraine and Europe committing our crimes, and that’s how we made money.

Ruslan and a patient outside the drug rehab centre in Poltava

Ruslan and a patient outside the drug rehab centre in Poltava

I had always believed in God, even in Soviet Union times when I was growing up. Since I was young I began praying to God. I mean, I never really thanked God or listened to Him, and I certainly never obeyed Him, but I just told Him what I wanted to get from Him. And I thought that He loved me anyway no matter what crime I committed.

I always thought that God was with me, because everything was working out in my life the way I wanted it to. I even thought that it was God who helped me commit my crimes. I escaped unscathed many times from very dangerous situations where I should have been killed, and I attributed that to God. I remember once when I was affected by drugs and a friend and I had committed a crime against another gang, and those gang members were chasing us to kill us. We jumped over a very high fence, and then just sat down on the ground on the other side. We were too exhausted to run any further. We didn’t care. We thought that the fence was so high that only God could have thrown us over it! Now I realize that was just the drugs talking!

Now as I look back I realize that God didn’t help me do the crimes, but he certainly protected my life many times.

When I was 20 years of age I watched a movie about the life of Christ according to the Gospel of Luke. We had “stood over” and threatened a movie theatre, so we could watch the movies for free. Why? Because we could – and so my gang and I watched every movie they had.

CrucifixionWhen I saw the movie about Christ, there is only one scene I remember. That was the scene with those two criminals crucified on either side of Jesus. Jesus forgave one of the thieves, and so I thought that he must have been a good and noble thief. I thought that Jesus loves such thieves and forgives them, so you can do whatever crimes, but just be noble about it, and you would be all right.

I thought that I was a noble thief like the one on the cross. I rationalized my crimes because I only robbed the rich and never the poor. I was an “honourable” thief. I didn’t understand that God did not want me to steal from or harm anyone… Period. My thinking was so twisted that before I would commit a crime I would pray, and I always seemed to get away with it.

At 21 years of age, in 1995, I was arrested with three of my gang members. We had broken into the apartment of the city’s Chief Architect with weapons and masks, and we were arrested for armed robbery and assault.

At that time Ukraine still had the death penalty. When I was arrested and thrown in prison, before my trial, the prosecutors investigated other crimes that I was involved with, and they discovered other crimes that I had committed that deserved the death penalty. I knew that I would be executed by firing squad.

In fact it was my mother who did a lot for me, visiting all the authorities, begging them to withdraw the charges, so at the end most of the charges were dropped, and I was only charged for two crimes,. This is in spite of the fact that there were more than ten, worse, crimes that had I had been charged with at first.

As soon I was arrested I began reflecting on my life, and praying a lot and fasting that I might be spared from death.

I told God that I didn’t want the kind of life that I had led any more. I didn’t want the crimes. I didn’t want the drugs. Now I came to understand and love my parents more as well. I didn’t want to see my mother cry, or to see my father have to come and visit me at the prison, putting him to shame. I had a girl whom I loved, and I wanted to be with her and have a family. Unless something changed dramatically in my life, I knew that I would die early, either executed by the law, or killed in the midst of committing a crime, or dying from drug abuse, or simply dying in prison.

All my life I thought I had believed in God, but I knew very, very little about Jesus Christ. Now as I sat in prison, I realized the enormity of my sins, and I realized that there was nothing I could do to redeem myself from these sins. And then I realized that Jesus was the only one who could redeem me, and so I wanted to get to know Him better. No one had ever done anything special for me, and if Jesus had redeemed me – something I could never do for myself – then I realized that He must be a very good and loving friend indeed!

There were no prison ministries in jails back in those days, but my room-mate had a Baptist book called “Jesus is Your Friend.” I read it over and over again. I read it so many times that in the end it was falling apart.

Because of that book I decided to read the gospels for myself. I read them continually. I paid special attention and focused on the words that showed me how Jesus treated sinners. My heard was broken by the love of Christ.

And then I read the words of Christ to the woman caught in sin when He forgave her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” Now I knew what I had to do. I had to totally change my life, and I knew that I could not do it by myself, but only by the power of God.

In this way, during those ten months in jail before my sentence I became friends with God. I had prayed for God to set me free, and He did, but not in the way I had expected. He set me free from sin and everything that had held me back in past.

I prayed every day, and sometimes for days. I read the Bible every day. I stopped doing some of the criminal activity that I had started doing even in jail. I publicly proclaimed myself to be a believer, with the Bible in my hand. No one harassed me in jail. They knew my past as a tough criminal and they had respect for me.

At the end of the ten months that I spent in jail before my trial, I was sentenced to seven years in jail. I had been praying that God would set me free from prison, but He chose not to. So I smoked my last cigarette and give my life totally to God and to be faithful to Him anyway. I was able to bear the announcement of my prison sentence because now I was friends with God, and I knew that God must have had some other plan for me.

When I changed prisons after my sentencing, what I didn’t know is that I was taken to one of the only prisons in the Soviet Union that had a church in it – amazing! Up until now it had been just me and God. But when I got to the new prison, the Christians there got in touch with me and I starting worshipping God regularly with them. I became very active in witnessing to the other prisoners. Many who knew me in my previous life as a criminal became Christians as well, and began attending church.

The prison didn’t give us any work to do, so my friend and I created some flower–beds and brought some beauty to the prison. And the warden of the prison would say to the other prisoners, “See is the work of believers. They know how to find beauty in life.”

Now my prayer was that God would set me free before my sentence was completed. And God did indeed set me free a year before my seven-year sentence was completed. In all the time I was there, and from what I knew of the time before or after, no one was ever released early unless they paid a huge bribe.

But I had prayed to God that he would let me be where I could better serve Him. So at the right time God freed me. And many of those who remained in prison gave glory to God, and for others it was a great testimony, because they knew that I didn’t have any money at all with which to bribe the authorities

When I was freed, many of my friends on the outside were dead because of drugs or gang shootings or other violence. And I wanted to help those of my friends who were still alive. So I decided to help them overcome their drug addiction.

Ruslan at his dest at the drug rehab centre

Ruslan at his dest at the drug rehab centre

I went to study in Moscow and St Petersburg in an interdenominational institution, where I learnt the principles and techniques of drug rehabilitation. Then I came back to Poltava in Ukraine, where I set up a drug rehabilitation centre for men in conjunction with a state hospital. The government provides us with medicines, food, salary, housing, and we provide the psychological, social, and spiritual elements to the men who come here. And this is all under the umbrella of the state.

This rehab centre of which I am now a director is unique in all of Ukraine, since we are the only rehab centre that is based on Christian principles, but which works together with the state hospital. I invite Christian pastors to come in and help to provide spiritual teachings and support. This is truly a miracle, because the government does not allow this anywhere else in the country.

The government has tried to force me not to teach the gospel and Christian principles, but we have such good results compared to other rehab centres in Ukraine that I tell them that this is just the way it is, and that I will continue teaching the men about the love of God.

We have had many thousands of men – between 5,000 and 10,000 – who have spent time at this drug rehab centre. There have been many, many hundreds of men who have completed the programme, and of these, we know of at least 500 men who are today clean. These are men who were criminals, gang members, heavy gamblers, and so on.

Ruslan (on the left) leading a session at the drug rehab centre

Ruslan leading a session at the drug rehab centre

Generally speaking about 85% of the men respond very positively to the message of the gospel, and this is in part because they see how my life and the lives of our staff have been changed. Many of my staff members have been on drugs and spent time in prison as well, so they are inclined to trust us more than if just a pastor or someone else spoke to them about God. And many of the men have become Christians as a result.

We have encouraged some the men from the rehab centre to go to the evangelistic programme that you and Dr Rodionoff are running at present. This is the first time we have done this at the centre, since normally we just run small group Bible studies. The feedback from the men has been very positive and they want to continue attending. They liked it very much. Usually we do small group studies, but they men are getting a lot from going to the programme and from hearing your presentations.

L – R: Dr Philip Rodionoff, Ruslan, Dr Eliezer Gonzalez – just after he shared his story with us

L – R: Dr Philip Rodionoff, Ruslan, Dr Eliezer Gonzalez – just after he shared his story with us

So that you know what our needs are…. The men who come to the 28-day programmae at the drug rehab centre pay a fee for being here. This also helps us with our costs. It is not a large amount but there are men who cannot even pay for this small amount. Maybe we could find people willing to sponsor a man here. We would be willing to organize Skype meetings regularly so that sponsors could keep track of progress of the person whom they are sponsoring.

One day we would also like to help women, since we have a big problem for women with drug addiction as well. Another thing that we would like to have one day is a recovery centre for people who are traumatised by the war in Ukraine. These are dreams, because we know that the needs are great. But for now we will continue to do the work of God and we will continue to cast our bread upon the waters, knowing that He will provide.

But the reality is that we would appreciate any kind of assistance from you and the people at Good News Unlimited. We need your prayers and we need resources with which to share the gospel. For example, we would love to have copies of the book Jesus Only for the men, and for any kind of help that you can give by working together with us. I know that already Good News Unlimited is a conduit for God’s blessings to us here, and I hope that this will continue for the future.

– Ruslan Yenchinka (as told to Eliezer Gonzalez through an interpreter). Three men from this drug centre gave their lives to Christ and accepted the gospel and gave their lives to Christ at the evangelistic meetings.. Good News Unlimited is providing the drug centre with copies of the book Jesus Only, for the men who attend the centre, and is exploring other ways to help Ruslan’s ministry.

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