It was early in 1964 that a document was brought out of Russia. This document, signed by 120 Russian Christians, was dated February, 1964.

It tells a sad story of what happened on Christmas Day in 1963 in the city of Barnaul in Russia, a holiday, celebrated in memory of the birthday of our Saviour Jesus Christ. People cele­brate by going to church, attending worship service, and of course their holiday dinner held in a festive mood.

However, in Russia, on Christmas Day four Christians sat in the People’s Court in the city of Barnaul. They faced a stern judge who sentenced them under Statute 227 of the Soviet criminal code. Under this statute, the leader of an underground church group, Pastor Subbo­tion, was sentenced to five years in prison.

A lay Christian named Nicolai Khmara was sentenced to three years. His brother Wasili Khmara received three years. His sister Ludmila received a two-year suspended sentence.

The families were in the court room. Many of their Christian friends were there, as were the wife of Nicolai Khmara and her four children. Nicolai was in the best of health, radiant and cheerful. Perhaps his family felt three years wasn’t too long, that time would pass speedily and their daddy would soon be back with them. Little did they know that this would be the last time they would see him alive.

Two weeks later, the wife of Nicolai Khmara was notified by the Barnaul prison authorities that her hus­band was dead. With some friends she came to the prison and received the body of her husband. They took the body home, placed it in a pine box, a coffin, in the living room.

The four Khmara children, the eldest 13, and the youngest just one month, were there. The older children looked at their daddy, but could barely recognise him as his body was purple and blue. He had been beaten. There were marks on his wrists from chains and hand­cuffs. He had been burned as though hot steel objects had been applied to the side of his stomach, and the bottom of his feet. Obviously, he had been brutally beaten to death. His mouth was stuffed with rags. On removing the rags, she found that his tongue had been cut out, no doubt because his jailers did not want to hear his Christian testimony.

Yes, Nicolai Khmara died a horrible death. Yet, what was the terrible deed he had committed? What was the terrible crime for which he had to pay with his life? Nicolai and his three friends had met secretly in the nearby village of Kulunda in the true fashion of an underground church
in Russia.

Several times they had applied to the authorities for permission to worship, but their requests were denied, because the hall where they wanted to meet didn’t have the sanitary and other facilities the officials demanded.

Many Christians came to pay their last respects during the four days Nicolai Khmara’s body lay in the simple coffin in the family living room. It was a solemn and mournful funeral procession.

The body was carried on the shoulders of friends to the cemetery. The funeral procession wound through the streets of the city of Barnaul.

by Paul Voronaeff

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