Eliza and Natalia: A Story of Church Abuse from Russia

What I fear most is power with impunity. I fear abuse of power, and the power to abuse.-Isabel Allende link

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TWW is sure getting around!

Eliza Melnikova and Natalia Levinskaya are two very young women who have been working towards serving God in a full time position in missions. However, they have had a couple of bad experiences in churches. They found TWW while doing research in the Internet on church abuse! They wrote me and told me about their difficulties, breaking my heart. They said they were looking for someone to believe them. I did because their stories, while taking place in a different culture and with different expressions, deal with the the misuse of money and authority driven pastors. 

This story hits home for me since my father's family immigrated from Russia. Their names are now placed on the wall on Ellis Island. My father could not speak English until first grade. I grew up learning to make traditional foods, including pierogi. I have been privileged to visit Russia on three occasions as I sought to understand grandparents. My grandmother, a peasant woman, once told me that the Tsars were bad enough. Then came Lenin who was no different. They fled to the United States to escape poverty and oppression.

As you read their story, please be aware that you are reading about a different culture. The churches with which they were affiliated were Pentecostal/Assemblies of God which, according to them, are the predominant churches outside of the traditional Russian Orthodox Church. Life is not easy for the average Russian citizen. As the economy rebounds from years of controls, commodities can be in short supply. Substance abuse, particularly alcoholism, is common. However, the people are warm. On my visits to that country, I was hugged by many Russian grandmothers and grandfathers. 

Here is their story told in their words. I have done very little editing. I intend to continue to correspond with them to offer them our hope, love, and prayers.

I feel like to begin this, I must start from the beginning. My name is Eliza Melnikova and I am from Russia. I am 20 years old. I came to know the Lord Jesus Christ at the age of 8, when a street evangelist shared the Word of God with me and presented me with a Bible. My life changed on that memorable day. Ever since that day, I dreamed of becoming a missionary someday and sharing the Gospel with the hurting. I dreamed of traveling to faraway lands to share the love of God. I dreamed of singing to glorify the Lord and let the people know just how loved they are, by God. Little did I know that none of these dreams would come true, due to the people I trusted with all that I am – the church.

Difficult home life

It is important to say that I wasn’t born in a happy family. Mine was a rather broken one. My mother always loved me, but my father was an alcoholic. My parents were divorced when I was eleven and my mother married another man. He was extremely controlling, abusive, and also had drinking problems. I was barely ever happy at home, but God kept protecting me. It is amazing what a beautiful relationship I had with Him in the midst of all the pain I endured at home.

Exchange student in the US,

When I was 16, I won the competition that changed my life. It allowed me to go to the United States as an exchange student, for a year – something I’ve been dreaming of. Remember how I said it was my dream to go overseas where I could serve the Lord. That year was truly amazing. I met some of the most special people in my life, went to a church I loved, was able to use the talents I’ve been blessed with to share the Gospel.

Returned home to turmoil

The only thing that bothered me was the turmoil my family was in. My stepfather got even more abusive, and my mother was suffering. It was getting worse day by day. I graduated from high school that year and when I came back to Russia, everything seemed to go downhill at a rapid pace. My stepfather was extremely abusive to both me and my mother, but she would not leave him out of fear. He would continually abuse me physically, verbally and emotionally. Living like that was hell on Earth, but I never let go of God’s hand.

She left home

At some point when I couldn’t take it anymore, I left home and started working several jobs to support myself and my mother. My dream was to go to college and learn to sing professionally, but it was not possible. I still want to, but it’s not possible at all. My mother was not able to pay the tuition, and neither was I. I was renting a tiny, dingy apartment at that time, and kept praying to God to open doors for me to do what He wanted me to.

Church: wealth gospel, bullying, elitism and God's princesses!

Around that time I found a church to go to. I fell in love with it immediately, not because of something in particular, but rather because of my desperate need to belong, to love God together with other brothers and sisters. Something was off from the very beginning, and I sensed it – there was, clearly, some sort of ‘elite’ in the church and they would not even acknowledge me, I was very put off by the way they taught about finances – that if you are wealthy, it means you are blessed and have a relationship with God, but if you are poor, it means something is wrong with you spiritually; I was rather disgusted by how extremely and openly rich the pastor was and how mean and spoiled his children were. But I was lonely, I was scared, I was used to being abused and overlooked, so I tried to ignore those signs and keep enduring it all, ‘for Christ’s sake’, as I thought.

I will be lying if I say everything at that church was bad at that time. Not really. There were some moments I will be forever grateful for. But I had to go through some terrible things, also. I was constantly being bullied by the church youth (remember, I was only 18 at the time) about not being ‘beautiful’. I had some health problems in my early teens, so that led me to gaining some weight due to medications I had to take. I was constantly told that true God’s people are always given wonderful looks too, so it’s another way you can tell if someone is really serving the Lord or not. It seems insanely stupid to me now, but imagine how painful it was for a lonely, abandoned girl who desperately needed some acceptance and affirmation!

Then came the ‘God’s princesses’. I am talking about the privileged daughters of the church’s pastors and leaders that were a cruel clique. They were treated with extreme love (not sure if it is proper to call this sick, selfish admiration love, but here you go) and allowed everything, period. Only God knows all the hurt I went through at the hands of the ‘princesses’ (they really are called this way by their parents and other people at church).

Many other things also went on there…

She shows love anyway.

I felt that this was sick. They have an elite and everyone else was going out of their way to please the elite and be closer to them. I wanted to leave many times, but felt compelled to stay. Finally, I gave in and did all I could to share God’s love with these people, both the elite and the ‘average believers’. I decided it would be my first mission. People barely valued me then, but now I think they do feel my absence since not everyone would be willing to be so patient and keep loving. Since I was not allowed to really participate in the ‘ministries’ and sing, which was my dream, as the ‘princesses’ were always preferred, I decided that my ability to love will be my greatest talent.

Celibacy ridiculed

I think I should make one more notion: I am celibate, by my own choice and revelation. I was constantly ridiculed, mocked, and ‘disciplined’ for this, but I know what I did this for and I won’t give up. I decided to dedicate myself to the Lord and remain permanently single in order to be able to wholly focus on Him and live for Him only. This is my passion, my calling – to love God! It was been a blessed and difficult journey, but I believe there will be reward for this, once I reach heaven.

She meets Natalia who became her best friend.

Things began to change in several months. I met Natalia, who is now my very best friend and sister. She was slightly older, and a special woman of the Lord and a missionary. She is also celibate. Ever since the day we met, we knew God brought us together was a special purpose, ‘for such a time as this’! We became close friends after several months.

Imagine just how happy I was when Natalia invited me to join her on her upcoming mission trip to Buryatia, which is a small Buddhist republic within Russia! After prayerfully considering this, I knew that this is what God wanted for me, so I said yes! That was probably the third best decision in my life, after saying yes to the Lord as I accepted Him into my heart as a child and saying yes to going to the States as an exchange student! I was so happy! I thought everyone at church would share my happiness, but what followed me telling them about it was one of the worst experiences of my life.

I shared the news with the people at church and didn’t think it was anything bad. I introduced Natalia to my mother and she just loved her. Everything seemed to be so wonderful. Natalia seemed to finally bring peace into our family. My mother was finally making her first steps in the direction of the Lord. For once in my life, I was so happy.

There were signs that something was wrong. I noticed how disparagingly some people at church looked at us, how curtly they talked to us, but since they have never been the nicest of people, I just figured it was their normal behavior. I also assumed they must have been tired, or upset about something.

Pastor says she cannot be a missionary because she came from a 'dirty" family.

Then one morning I get a call from the pastor, asking me to come to church ‘for a talk’. I didn’t really think there was anything terrible coming my way. I came to church all happy and excited, expecting to be prayed over prior to my trip, and what I heard was something I’ll never understand and never forget. In a nutshell, he told me I should not go on that mission. He told me I was not really worthy of being a missionary, as I came from a ‘dirty’ family. He then told me many disgusting lies about Natalia that ‘the girls told him’. I still feel so much pain from that day that I shall not repeat the mean, terrible, untrue things he said. I left the church heartbroken on that day, thinking the worst was already behind me. I was so very wrong.

I later learned that the people at church have been plotting this ever since they heard about our mission trip. They strategically kept making up rumors, just so we wouldn’t go. The girls were apparently jealous. They heard from the pastor of the controlling church Natalia left many years ago and poisoned the hearts of many, many people I trusted. On that horrible day, I lost all the friends I managed to make at that church and other churches that were like it. But the worst was still to come.

Eliza is threatened and runs away

A few days later, I wake up to my mother banging on my door. I knew something was terribly wrong. I get up to talk to her, and find out that the people at church called her and told her all the ugly things I was told on that day, plus many more. She was infuriated! Even though she never went to that church and never even liked them, she was mad now. She told me that I either had to stay ‘at home’ and keep going to that church, or they (her and church pastors) would lock me up. Only God knows how terrible that was. How scared, hurt, and lonely I felt. Her mind was completely poisoned against Natalia, although she used to love her and Natalia never did a single thing wrong either to her or the pastors. She looked insane at that moment, and I was just so afraid.

Please do not judge me for what I did. I knew that staying there locked up at home where my stepfather would beat me up and call me terrible names, was going to be nightmarish. So I just told her I was going anyway, packed my belongings and fled. That night Natalia and I spent at the train station in the nearby city. I kept receiving messages from the church members, telling me they would find me anyway and I would not hide from them, that God has cursed me and what I was doing. I felt like a hero in a horror movie.

I later learned the pastor was stealing great sums of money from the church, which gave him the ability to live and raise his kids in such tremendous luxury. His girls would often make fun of the ‘poor’ people at church, apparently oblivious that it was the money of those ‘poor’ people that gave them the opportunity to wear designer’s clothes and travel abroad nearly every month. That was sickening! You know, he is one of those ‘honorable front seats at all churches’ kind of pastor.

Eliza's mother is sorrowful for her actions and no longer trusts Christians.

I should probably tell you how my mother is doing now. Years passed, and it’s like she awakened from slumber. She herself states she does not know how they could do that to her, how they could allure her. Sadly though, she was terribly wounded by what happened. She can’t trust Christians anymore, especially pastors. She feels guilty for what she did. She is truly sorry. I am beyond thankful to God for how much He has changed her heart. She was finally able to leave my stepfather. She is no longer controlling. I know God is doing something miraculous with her heart.

The mission trip goes well.

Now I would like to elaborate more on the mission trip we went to after all this. Nothing could stop us. We went, and it was amazing. We were serving in a small-small village with another special lady. What God did there through us is incredible. I truly feel like all that we went through before we could go was worth it. Seeing people finding Christ, their hearts restored, it was worth all the pain we both went through. It was worth it! I am now convinced that it was truly God’s will for us. It was glorious!

After our time of service there was over, we served in many other places, in some for a long time, in some for short period of time. We never joined a church. God let us connect with some special people of God during all these times, so we could travel, serve, and do His work. I was also reconciled with my mother!

Their plans to travel to America are thwarted.

Fast forward to summer and fall 2014. We both always knew we were called to go overseas also, and when we were offered a ministry position in the USA (by my friends), we were overjoyed! Unfortunately, our plans did not come to fruition at that time, but we do not lose hope. I am still confident that the Lord is leading us there, and He made us stay here for awhile longer for a reason. We could not afford the paperwork we needed to complete in order to move (the passports, visas, and so on all cost too much for us to be able to afford). We trust in God though, that He will work something out.

They try a new church.

While we were in the process of trying to move, I found a new church in the area and suggested that we try it out. We went there one Sunday, and received such a warm welcoming into the church we both felt absolutely compelled to stay! Everything seemed so lovely. The pastor and his wife were so hospitable, so welcoming to us. I felt like I have finally found a refuge where I could heal after all the pain I endured at church before.

It was started by former drug addicts.

I should tell what kind of church that is. It is the plant of the bigger church that bears the same name. That church started as a rehabilitation center for drug addicts. Every plant of that church has a rehab of their own, all their pastors are former drug addicts, and most, if not all members, are either former drug addicts or their relatives. I have never had any problems with drugs, and neither was Natalia. It is quite strange we were so drawn to that church, but I guess it happened because they were so open and welcoming and we really, really missed that.

We got very involved within a quick period of time, joining many ministries. Natalia is an amazing counselor and has helped many hurting girls and women. I was one of them at some point. She was quickly appointed as the leader of ladies’ fellowship, I was given a singing ministry, which made me so happy! We were pretty upset at that time about our failure in moving to the States, so it was great to start something new and have some sort of distraction. Isn’t it funny how easily you can get involved in something and think that you know what this place is all about, but in reality, you are just clueless and have no idea?

Addiction to religion

I used to admire them for being so courageous and ‘rescuing the drug addicts’, but do you know what these rehabs are actually like? They are usually just a small, shabby house where these people are locked in, with strict rules and regulations, where they are not allowed anything at all and all the ‘ministers’ do is cram them with religion? Sometimes they are made to work, of course they are not given any money they earn, all that money goes to the ministers that ‘keep’ the rehab. Sometimes it ‘works’, as they think – and the poor folks only trade one addiction for another, that is, addiction with religion, but in most cases, it just doesn’t. Most people get so put off by all that has to do with Christianity that they run away from that place and never want to hear anything about Jesus again. Some kill themselves later. Most begin drugs again and then die of AIDS or cancer.

During the short 5 months we were part of that church, three people committed suicide and innumerable folks ran away from the rehab and now live in the streets, taking drugs, simply because they were treated so poorly at the rehab. The ‘ministers’ there are all former drug addicts who went through all the hell at the rehab themselves and liked it, because they could trade their drug addiction for a more ‘fulfilling’ one, as many of them state themselves – addiction with their ministry, where they can exercise authority, fulfill their ambitions and control people to their heart’s content. I would not wish getting under the hands of such a minister upon anyone. They are mostly ruthless, cruel, and enjoy using Scripture for their own profit. Here’s how we became their victims.

Let me introduce you to the pastor and his wife. Pastor Maksim was a heavy drug addict for most of his life and spent over 10 years in jail, as we later learned. He became a believer in a rehab himself, and was a very ambitious minister ever since. He became a pastor after about 4 years of his conversion. He came to our town as a missionary to plant a new church and a rehab and soon met Olga, the lady he would later marry. She became a Christian two years ago, after over 15 years of being on drugs. She was in rehab of a different church, which she left, because most people were scared of her for her love of manipulation, disrupting families and later living with a gang member and drug addict who was not her husband. That woman destroyed every ministry she touched, and most people she was ‘overseeing’ either abandoned their faith altogether or committed suicide. I am not kidding. She had to separate with the man when he was put in prison, and about a month after, she was already in a relationship with pastor Maksim! She is a very charming person, actually, and it’s hard to stand up against her charm and charisma.

I am not telling all this to bring anyone down or get any revenge. I bear no resentment. The only reason why I want to speak up is to stand up for the hurting people who were hurt by the church and rehab there. They will not listen to anyone, because they were hurt so deeply. I want the whole world to know about this, so that we could all raise our voices in prayer for these voiceless people, who are like sheep without a shepherd.

So this is what happened to us. We got involved in the church, super excited to be able to help. We both missed being part of a church family or any community of believers so much. Some things were wrong from the very beginning, and I noticed them, but as always, I would do my best to excuse it all. I would continually tell myself it was not their fault, they were simply overwhelmed, but genuinely good and kind. Does this sound like a lot of people who get hurt by church?

We noticed many wrong things about the relationship of our pastor and his wife. It was obvious that everyone his wife didn’t like for whatever twisted reason she had, would later get insulted, scoffed, or even excommunicated by the pastor. It was scary, to be honest. At one point Natalia had a dream, where she saw pastor Maksim get extremely rude and violent at us, but we just shrugged it off. Olga was showing her true self to us, slowly. She would continually lie to take advantage of us, whether it be financially or physically, to get us to do something she wanted.

Dividing families

Then we noticed she was strategically dividing our families, by rumors and manipulation, as well as trying to destroy our friendship. We were disgusted by how badly she spoke of certain people. We never brought a single slanderous accusation against anyone, not even those who hurt us. Olga would knowingly make other people say mean and humiliating things about us, making it seem like she was not behind this all. We were shocked, as we never did anything bad to her. I did share the story of how badly we were hurt in that other church, telling them confidentially how much we needed support and refuge. I believed we were safe there, but I was so wrong.

Asked to leave worship ministry

One time the pastor called and said he would be coming over, to have a talk. When I look back on that day, I do believe we both sensed something terrible was going to happen. He arrived, looking wound up already, and we offered him tea and lunch, which he curtly denied. What he then told me was something that wounded me deeply. Without any preparation, he bluntly told me he wanted me out of the worship ministry, saying I was ‘not ready’. He said that after having talks with my previous pastor and hearing some things about me, which were all made up by his wife, as I later learned, he decided it would be best for everyone.

He said I needed to not let my pride stop me from leaving the ministry. He said he only let me do it because he ‘didn’t have a better choice’, but ‘now he does’. I then started crying, which he ignored. All I wanted was to glorify God and share His love through something I thought I was called to do – singing! I don’t normally cry in front of people I don’t know well, so it was utterly humiliating, and he acted very indifferently and cruel, and accused me of pride and manipulation. He then said it was okay for Natalia to stay on the team, but not me for sure. Well, as you might have guessed already, that was Olga’s attempt at destroying our friendship and making me lose something I cherished. He then left, saying he was glad to get it over with.

After he left, I felt so bad I couldn’t stop crying for hours, which is not something that happens too often, as I am a pretty tough girl by nature. My head was aching badly, and so did my heart and my entire body, probably from so much stress. I was hurting so bad that I literally crawled to a drug store to get some pain relievers. I shall never forget that day.

As you might have guessed, Olga then took my place in the worship ministry. It will be fair to say she cannot carry a tune. After several days, she took Natalia’s woman’s ministry as well. Women stopped attending when Olga took over, because she was openly abusive and controlling. Most other people who were on the worship team ran away from the rehab and now do drugs. I am overwhelmed by this. We are both heartbroken.

Several months ago, Olga helped me find a part-time job as an English tutor for one of the church ladies’ kid. That was of great help at first, but once they had me out of the worship ministry, that job became terrible also. They probably asked the lady to stop paying me. She also started treating me very unfairly overall.

Leaving the church

After much prayer and contemplating, we decided it was best to leave that church. The only reason why we kept attending for so long was for those people we truly felt compelled to help, but apparently us staying there and hurting does not help anyone… Since that, all other members of the church started shunning us. It is sickening to think that they are all being abused, too, and then they still shun us as they are taught. Right now, here we are, heartbroken, used, cheated, without ministry, without jobs, not sure what the future holds. We are left after all this, without a penny. I can’t help but wonder  why I even live.

Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. I already love you very much.


Eliza and Natalia: A Story of Church Abuse from Russia — 39 Comments

  1. it just goes to show you that the signs and symptoms of the abuses of power and supposed privaledge are all over the world. i know a girl who is a schitzophrenic with manic depression who was turned off to God by those she tried to turn to for help and according to her ridiculed to the point where she left the church and school completely when she tried telling them about the things going on, it really breaks your heart when you try and tell them that isn’t who God really is or what he is about and they refuse to hear you. /sigh

  2. Wow…
    From a Russian 9 Marks/TGC/Elevation to a Russian Teen Challenge to a Russian None.

  3. NotARealPerson wrote:

    …it really breaks your heart when you try and tell them that isn’t who God really is or what he is about and they refuse to hear you. /sigh

    Because they’ve had their faces rubbed in God God God and found God was a Monster.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    NotARealPerson wrote:
    …it really breaks your heart when you try and tell them that isn’t who God really is or what he is about and they refuse to hear you. /sigh
    Because they’ve had their faces rubbed in God God God and found God was a Monster.

    or so they are slowly trained and brainwashed into thinking by the person trying to play His part, i left the church i was in slowly after hearing things like “you know as a christian you don’t really have to pay any attention to the old testament or any of the gospels and the first 3 or 4 chapters of the book of revelation” funny thing about that one is that i was stunned but had enough of my wits about me to look around and actually see people nodding in agreement! are there good men and women there of course there are just as there are bad but does that make God a Monster the obvious answer is no. point is brainwashing is forcing people unknowingly over a long period of time into accepting a reality that isn’t true or skewed and having that become the truth, either way my comment comes across i am glad that these women know the truth and i pray the one i mentioned comes to THE truth.

  5. Oh Eliza and Natalia we do love you and in my heart I weep for what you girls have been through.
    This is NOT Jesus! I am so glad you see this and stood up against a “religion” of elitism and control.
    Our family left the church too and have fellowship with one another at home. The Lord Jesus has been good to us even when it meant leaving friends. He is your rock and shield; just like when David was alone God was with him and protected him. You are so loved by Jesus and you girls are loved here. Please keep in touch with Dee and Deb and all of your family in Christ on the blog and do not lose heart.

  6. Eliza, your love and perseverance shine very brightly. It would be very easy to lose faith with what you’ve been through, but you’ve truly put your hope in Christ and nothing else. As Faith said, please keep in touch and know that we love you too!

  7. Eliza and Natalia,

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. Please know that I will be praying for you. Keep in touch!

  8. Елиза и Наталя! Спасибо за ваше печальное письмо. Я надеюсь что, Ы скоро будите к нам в США! Конечно , у нас тоже проблемы здесь, но возможно найти разные типы християны. Называюсья просто “верующая”, потому-что я следую моего Иссусa Христосa. Из-за этого, мы считаем сестре во Иссусем. Крепко желую, Анна (Ann)1

  9. Wow Eliza and Natalia. I’d like to say that things are far better in the West but I saw shades of Gateway in most of what you wrote. What you call “God’s Princesses” we call “the Circle of Exclusion” and boy is it real. With 200 pastors at one church there are always plenty of PK’s (American slang for Pastor’s Kid) that are always amongst the elite and always get the lead role be it group leader, worship singer, actor, dancer etc. And it is vile how vicious some of these privileged ones can act. The name “Circle of Exclusion” came from the floor of Habitation services (worship and prophecy services the first Sunday of every month) where the tippy toppy senior most pastors like Steve Dulin, Tom Lane and David Smith would form a tight circle prior to services in front of the altar with their wives so that their backs were to the public at all angles at all times. Many “peasants” would doggedly try to get the attention of one of the top guns just to say hello, share a testimony, ask for prayer or whatever. We’ll never really know because the Circle of Exclusion would never make eye contact and they would shift as a collective rotating right or left as a single cell unit to consciously exclude and ignore a more persistent church goer. Oddly, when another top gun like Todd or Blynda Lane would walk over, the circle would sort of mutate like an amoeba to silently absorb the approved elitist seamlessly but while never allowing eye contact with the riff raff. Many, many amused Sunday nights would we watch and giggle as a newbie would struggle desperately for a moment of attention. It was like being at a stadium as we’d all go “woooo-ooaaahh! Gramma almost made eye contact! She’s waving her hand! The purse is in the air! Ah and another swing and a miss” One time during the Olympics we even made score cards. You used to have to arrive really early for a seat so we were bored. The circle would expand and contract as duty called but no germs would ever permeate the outer cell. I went on to notice the circle existed on every level of GW including kids ministry.

    I tell you this so you won’t put too much faith in the US solving all your issues. Especially the greed and narcissist related ones. But I will also tell you this…. Do you know who I consistently saw treated the most poorly over the years? The most humble, the most holy and the most servant minded of the volunteers. I think deep down the elitists knew that the least of these humble godly servants also served to contrast against their earthly, materialistic, hedonistic personalities and narcissistic actions. Shortly before I left, I saw some of the best servants I had ever been privileged to volunteer with treated like garbage. Beaten down. Denied resources their peers received in spades. Despised and degraded.

    In a way, it is a high compliment to your servant hearts that your love and humility threatened the others so much that they strove to usurp you and hurt you. As difficult as this may be I encourage you to keep plugging away and count it all as joy. God will reward you. Eternity is forever. This life is but the blink of an eye. I will pray for you and if you make it to America I hope I can meet you. For the record, writing on blogs like this does make a difference over time. Nobody has to arrive early at a GW service anymore thanks to people like Dee. Hang in there!!!

  10. Eliza and Natalia – Spaseeba! I appreciate you sharing your story with us! I am so sorry for the abuse and pain you have gone through. Thank God that you have each other to lean on. And, now you have a people from all over the world who will listen and support you! I have been to Russia twice. Each time I have enjoyed meeting some wonderful people and enjoying your beautiful country. God bless and please keep in touch!

  11. I agree with those above. Don’t know anything about the Russian church situation, but I pray that you will find some faithful people who want to live like Christ for friendship and encouragement. Blessings to you both. I will read your story again tomorrow since it is very late here now. Please pray for us, too. We need one another regardless of where we are located.

  12. @ Headless Unicorn Guy:
    Um, I’m not sure what you meant by that?

    Everyone else – thank you so much for sharing your kind words and prayers! Your understanding and all your kindness mean more than you know! Love to you from faraway Russia!

  13. @ LT:
    Thank you so much for your comment. I am sorry you have been treated like that and I truly understand all the pain you went through. Are you talking about the Gateway church? Funny as it may sound, I once visited a mega church here in Russia that is friends with Gateway, and mimics it in many ways. I was there for a youth camp, and that was one of the worst experiences in my life. A very, very elitist community. They even have a singer that goes out of her way to imitate one of the Gateway singers! She is literally worshiped and looked up to by most people at the church. Sickening. Anyway, I am truly sorry for what you endured. You are a special special treasure to the Lord’s kingdom, whether it is seen by people or not.

    As for the US solving all our issues, never on earth! That wouldn’t be possible. I’m afraid all our issues will only be solved once we reach Heaven! I have dealt with many, many different kinds of people while living in the US myself, and many cult(ish) churches as well, so I am very familiar with the overall situation. I don’t believe in the ‘perfect world’ or anything like this. But I do believe that much too often, God does communicate with us through some of our feelings and experiences, in order to bring us to places where we could truly serve Him. You see, here in Russia, there are hardly any churches except the ones where we were hurt, and once they have all these rumors about you, you will never, EVER be allowed to serve alongside them. In the Russian Orthodox Church, which is very far from our own beliefs actually, women missionaries are not allowed, which I respect. Neither is it currently possible for us to find a ‘normal’ job where we are, due to the current state of our economy (crashing down, complete crisis). So we are dealing with something very simple here. There is a possibility for us to work in our dream field in the US, alongside people I love and trust, and there is no such possibility for us here right now. It’s as simple as that. There is a possibility of both service and growth that we do not have here. And besides, nothing is permanent. If we do make it to the other hemisphere and ever want to move back closer to family, etc, we can.
    I thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking the time to comment on our story. It means a lot to me. You are in my prayers!

    You are all precious to God.
    In Christ’s love,

  14. Thank you so much for sharing your story, Eliza and Natalia.

    Eliza, God clearly has his hand on your life, and as his obedient and loving servant, you will never be alone. But, oh, how hard it is when the church constantly lets you down! Please don’t give up.

    I love Russian history and Russian culture and it was a real treat to read a story from there – thank you Dee for posting this. How great that TWW is multi-cultural and gloabl.

  15. “Addiction with their ministry.” Wow. That about says it all — whether it’s Russia or the USA. God help us.

  16. This is one of the saddest stories I have ever read on The Wartburg Watch. I am so sorry for all of your pain.

    There are many American churches like this. I don’t think Jesus was rich, and from what I hear he didn’t have sex.
    You have much more in common with Jesus then those people do, and you care like Jesus, I love people that care. You both sound very cute, adorable.

    I hope you get to come to America if you want, and have lots of fun when you are here. Please believe that you can get whatever you want, you deserve it:)

    Much love from Louisiana, USA.

  17. NotARealPerson wrote:

    Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:
    NotARealPerson wrote:
    …it really breaks your heart when you try and tell them that isn’t who God really is or what he is about and they refuse to hear you. /sigh
    Because they’ve had their faces rubbed in God God God and found God was a Monster.

    or so they are slowly trained and brainwashed into thinking by the person trying to play His part, i left the church i was in slowly after hearing things like “you know as a christian you don’t really have to pay any attention to the old testament or any of the gospels and the first 3 or 4 chapters of the book of revelation” funny thing about that one is that i was stunned but had enough of my wits about me to look around and actually see people nodding in agreement! are there good men and women there of course there are just as there are bad but does that make God a Monster the obvious answer is no. point is brainwashing is forcing people unknowingly over a long period of time into accepting a reality that isn’t true or skewed and having that become the truth, either way my comment comes across i am glad that these women know the truth and i pray the one i mentioned comes to THE truth.

    Huh, funny to read this (not really comical, but I hope you know what I mean). The church we left *majored* on the Old Testament and law, law, law. Of course, in reformed circles, “law” is called “grace” — being one of the Elect frees you from sin to obedience.

    We got teaching out of the Epistles, with heavy emphasis on keeping the Ten Commandments along with everything Paul said.

    I guess in the old Mars Hill churches, most of the teaching was actually from the Old Testament — I am remembering from reading comments, and since I never attended Mars Hill (but have plenty of friends from legalistic-leaning families who did), I might be remembering wrong. Anyhow, you can throw out the Old Testament and focus on parts of the New, or you can put heavy emphasis on the Old Testament (like the people we know who go to a Messianic church and observe all the OT feasts and dietary laws, and worship on Saturday instead of Sunday), and it doesn’t matter in the end if your pastor and his elders, or cronies, are on a power trip.

  18. LT wrote:

    What you call “God’s Princesses” we call “the Circle of Exclusion” and boy is it real. With 200 pastors at one church there are always plenty of PK’s (American slang for Pastor’s Kid) that are always amongst the elite and always get the lead role be it group leader, worship singer, actor, dancer etc. And it is vile how vicious some of these privileged ones can act.

    And sadly, Gateway is not unique. Our former church was part of a large reformed denomination, but it had its privileged (and vicious) elite. I cannot believe we stayed so long. I grieve the damage done to our precious children, now grown but rejecting anything to do with religion.

  19. Eliza –

    Thank you for sharing your story with us. I am so sorry for what you and Natalia have experienced over the last years. I would encourage you both to be the Church (which you are) wherever you find yourselves living. It is nice to be a part of a local community of believers, but don’t think that you can only do this at a church building. Be missionaries where ever you live.

  20. Sadly, one of the things that transcends cultures is this willingness to abuse power using the pulpit. From pastors looking for fame and fortune, to pastors seeking control over the lives and relationships of congregants, to the sick abuses committed in so called “rehabilitation centers,” these experiences in Russia mirror many of the same experiences told here that are happening in US churches.

    I pray for the best as you continue to live out your faith in spite of the horrific experiences you have endured.

  21. Eliza & Natalia, thank you for telling us your story. It is so sad to hear of you being treated in such a hurtful manner. You are in my prayers.
    God bless you both as you serve Him!!
    with love,

  22. A few days ago, I was completely fired by the church lady. So there is no income anymore, and no hope. Yesterday, both her and her spoiled daughter hurt me badly, just to put me down. Probably prompted by the pastor, whatever. Very much like them, leaving the people they can’t use anymore completely degraded and hopeless. So we currently have nothing at all, nothing. No hope for the future. I really can’t take it anymore.
    Sorry for the rant. I just had to get it off my chest.

  23. Totally understand….. church is a place to learn the bible….. not make profits…… learning bible can be done any time and place outside organized religion.

  24. Eli wrote:

    and no hope.

    Hi Eliza, we have a saying, “while there’s life there’s hope” – is there a similar one in Russian? I believe there is hope, just not in that church probably. I’m believing for you both that you can find opportunities and the means of staying afloat – a calm harbour. Please be encouraged !
    Dee quoted Isabel Allende at the top of this post. She is one of my heroes, someone who has been through a lot of suffering and tenaciously survived. I look up to her.

  25. Headless Unicorn Guy wrote:

    From a Russian 9 Marks/TGC/Elevation to a Russian Teen Challenge to a Russian None.

    It took years of reading The Wartburg Watch to understand a comment like this. There were so many acronyms when I first started reading – it was like learning a new language. Perhaps HUG can explain in “long form” ? Go on HUG, I give you a challenge to write an Eagle length post in response – double dare you ! (and Eliza might need to know the difference between a “None” and a “Done”)

  26. Maybe a tipjar can be set up for Eliza in the same way it was for Julie McMahon.

    As a convert from Evangelicalism to Orthodoxy, I would be tempted to unload on the Evangelicals in Russia, but the sad fact is that there are evil people everywhere, and their labels don’t matter.

  27. So sorry to hear of your suffering Eliza and Natalia. I will be praying for you my sweet sisters there in Russia! Much love to you both. Kisses on your cheeks. I wish you could stay with me.

    Here are two FREE books by Dr. Ronald Enroth about churches that abuse:

    1. Churches That Abuse, here: http://www.ccel.us/churches.toc.html


    2. Recovering From Churches That Abuse, here: http://www.ccel.us/churchesrec.toc.html

    I do not know how good your English is. You can always cut and paste portions of the book in to Google Translate and choose English to Russian to understand.

    You are not alone!

  28. @ Haitch:
    Thank you very much for your uplifting words. We’re not giving up. However, all churches of this denomination in our country are connected, so to speak, and once you are ‘shunned’ by one of them, all others will shun you also. They do have their sources of information on all ‘desirables’, and we are now undesirables.

    @ Haitch:
    Thank you! I have been reading WW a lot, and many acronyms still puzzle me. I shall take a look.

    @ Mule Chewing Briars:
    That would be extremely kind and helpful, I’m sure. We just need to see what Dee and Deb think, since this is their website. Maybe someone could ask them, I’m not sure how it works.

    @ Michaela:
    I am blown away by your kind, loving words. Thank you so much for making me feel so loved and accepted. It means a lot to me. I thank you for the links and I will DEFINITELY take a look at the ebooks. I speak fluent English and sure do miss having books in English to read! So thank you! May the Lord bless you abundantly and I look forward to meeting you face to face oneday if we ever do make it to the US (or in heaven 🙂 ).

    God bless you all, everyone. Your kind words, prayers and support mean more than you know.

  29. Eli wrote:

    and sure do miss having books in English to read!

    Happy to scrounge and send you some John Piper books… oh wait, they’re all sitting at the bottom of the wheelie bin (Eliza, this is me being funny – I actually did throw out my Piper books after I started reading here, and I don’t normally ever treat a book like that). In any circumstance, that is one author to avoid if you want to exist as an intelligent, independent female – in my own opinion, naturally.

  30. Haha, noooo. Piper is one of the reasons why I am extra cautious with Christian literature that reaches my hands.

  31. Greetings Eliza (and Natalia),

    Kisses to your cheeks (the Russian tradition!). Thank you for your nice reply.
    I will continue to pray for you any way I can and give you an assist.

    I am glad you will find Dr. Ronald Enroth’s free ebooks about churches that abuse useful.

    Keeping you in prayer. (Please post your progress, perhaps in the Open Discussion section.)

    Love and hugs.

  32. Eli wrote:

    Piper is one of the reasons why I am extra cautious with Christian literature that reaches my hands.

    You’re very smart.

  33. Yes Eliza. I was referring to Gateway Church in Southlake, TX. And they do have a huge “outreach” in all of Europe. When GW brags about spending over $15 million on “missions” work a year, they are failing to disclose that GW loves their missions in posh cities all over the world. “Missionaries” meaning pastors and their wives, travel to high class hotels all over Europe. Morris’ shallow daughter Elaine (with her beauty school training and DNA as her only qualification) gives one 30 minute talk then gets to traipse all over Greece eating at fine restaurants, shopping at the best boutiques, staying at high end hotels and going to spas where fish nibble the dead skin off your feet. Tithers pay for it all! They also include in “missions” posh areas in California and Florida because the Worship Team can’t get closer to God at a lesser venue than Disney World. Plenty of trips to Tokyo and Australia too. Can you imagine having a $100,000+ annual vacation allowance? Scratch that. If you go to their partner, European Initiative http://www.europeaninitiative.com you’ll see plenty of GW faces in the picture galleries. What you won’t see is hard core evangelism, feeding the poor, caring for the sick and homeless. What you will see is privileged Americans hanging out at gorgeous European festivals, shopping malls and sporting events. They occasionally stage an open air drama or flash mob type of dance for five minutes of their week long trips then call that a “mission trip”. This is just a big European vacation at tithers’ expense where the word “Jesus” is mentioned a couple of times in order to avoid paying taxes on any of it. Likely in the form of “Jesus! Can you believe people are so stupid they pay us to take European vacations all year long!”

    Your shunning story also resonates. I know people who have spoken out against the false tithing teaching and they said Gateway put them on a church “terrorist” watch list. This list is sent to ARC churches plus other churches in your local area with a request that these churches BAN you from going there. People don’t understand how devastating this is. If you fairly question false teaching in any way, it’s an automatic church death sentence and it works at dissuading independent thought or questioning from everyone. It’s diabolical in how anti-God this truly is. It is very isolating. I feel for what you and your friend are going through. It sounds like your simple and pure pursuit of The Lord has left you two of the loneliest people in a country with 145 million people! That’s heart breaking.

    Fortunately it sounds like you and Natalia understand what’s what in the world of Evangelicalism. More so than many Americans. I do appreciate how limited your options seem right now. The fall of the ruble can’t be helping. Hopefully you can sort your paperwork, get to America and use your excellent fluent English to help educate people about how the Russian system works. Your faith must be very strong in order to hang in this long. As dark as it seems, I believe better days are ahead for you. Please update TWW. Blessings to you both.

  34. @ LT:
    All that you have said is very, very true here, also. I can relate to everything you said about GW’s ‘missions’, because it’s exactly what most churches here do also… and those that don’t, want to or plan on! It’s unbelievable. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind words and support, to know that somebody understands completely what we’ve been through means alot more than you know! You can’t even imagine what our life has been like lately. I do my best to try and keep positive, but it’s nearly impossible as we were robbed of almost everything by that church, except for our lives! They stole our savings, most of our possessions, and with that, our future, our dreams, our sanity. I’m crying as I type this, but I can’t take it anymore. They keep babbling on and on about how much God has blessed them and how much He wants to bless everyone else, yet they steal yes STEAL what little others have and pretend it was everyone’s fault but theirs! We live in such extreme, horrible poverty right now, all thanks to them. While the shallow princesses keep on recording ‘worship’ albums and traveling all over the privileged, posh places of the world all ‘in the name of Jesus’! I feel so broken right now. We barely have anything to eat, we can’t afford moving around our own city, we don’t have coats so we have colds all the time due to being cold outside, because they made us ‘donate’ almost all we had so that they could go on living in luxury. My mom’s birthday is coming up, and I can’t even afford getting her a card, let alone a present, I can barely afford staying alive now. How could they be so cruel? And how brainwashed can a person be to give to them more and more (by this I am also talking about myself, of course, as I did give to them all I worked for, as well as family gold I had). I feel like an object, no longed needed and therefore thrown away. I’m scared for my life and the life of my best friend. And these people all ALWAYS say ‘trust in Jesus, He will give you everything’ and stuff, well, I doubt they know what it’s like to have to trust in Jesus only. What it’s like to keep praying and trusting and nothing happens. To work hard, trust God and nothing changes. They always seem to have everything handed down to them on a plate, don’t they? And their pitying remarks, which sound very much like the ‘keep warm and well fed, go in peace, I wish you well’! And how they always say ‘Nothing is impossible, dream big’! Well, of course, for them nothing is impossible, isn’t it?
    We don’t even currently have internet at home, so we get online from time to time, pretty rarely.
    I really had to get this off my chest. I thank you for listening.
    Right now even the thought of going to America sounds bitterly hilarious. We’ve been working on a kitchen garden from early morning till late night, every day. My body is so sore, the work is very hard. We don’t get paid for this, we only do it to grow things. It is our only chance to survive right now. I’m sorry for the gory details, but we don’t even have feminine hygiene products right now, after all that happened we can’t afford any.
    I am so so sorry for writing it all. It’s just that you are the only people who understand.
    May God bless you abundantly.