One of the most inspiring couples I have ever had the pleasure of interviewing are Inna and Andrew Ryzhkov. Their story is fascinating and their ministry is amazing.
The couple grew up in Belarus, under Soviet Communism.
If you are like me, you’ve probably never heard of Belarus. Landlocked by Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Ukraine and Russia, the country has a population of 11 million.
Andrew’s parents were both Christian "church planters," and from a very early age, his faith was rock solid.
Hearing about the pervasive fear of openly practicing your faith is sobering. Can you imagine being told that your faith might result with you being thrown into prison?
At one point, Andrew was told to denounce God and join the Communist Party. Andrew quickly replied that "God would provide." He studied architecture and construction, but secretly longed to study the Bible in the United States.
In 1995, after three long years of prayer, fasting and letter writing to the states, one of Andrew’s passionate letters ended up in the hands of Paul Alford, the president of Toccoa Falls Bible College. Alford was so moved by Andrew’s words, he personally invited Andrew and his brother, Igor, to come and study at the college.
Andrew was overjoyed, but also cautious, worried that the acceptance was a "trap" by the KGB. The brothers were in disbelief as they journeyed to America to begin a new life. Andrew told me that when he arrived at the Atlanta airport, he was so happy he wanted to kiss the ground.
Imagine the culture shock of going from Eastern Europe to Toccoa. Adding to the difficulties, Andrew and his brother didn’t know English.
The brothers didn’t let that deter them as they diligently studied. The more they studied, their faith was strengthened. A hard worker, Andrew is quick to give the credit for his success to God.
After graduating from college, Andrew got busy doing what he feels called to do: starting churches to help spread the message of Jesus Christ.
Ordained in 2000, Andrew was first asked by the Southern Baptist Convention to start a church in Doraville. Once that church was up and running, Andrew continued his quest.
For the past seven years, Andrew has pastored Calvary Russian Baptist Church.
Andrew and wife Inna also felt called to return to their homeland and help start churches there.
"There is so much poverty and despair in our country, we wanted to help spread God’s word to give the people hope," Inna said.
The couple also told me about the huge number of orphans in Belarus.
"There are so many orphanages and they are just horrible," Inna said.
Statistically, children who are raised in these orphanages are overwhelmingly going to end up in prison. In fact, the government of Belarus estimates that 95 percent of these children will end up incarcerated.
Inna and Andrew, the parents of five small children, with another on the way, are as passionate about children as they are about God. To help forgotten children, they created a program where the orphans can live with loving Christian families and essentially be fostered. The children see they are not society’s throwaways and discover love and self worth.
The couple travels frequently to Belarus on mission trips with Americans who want to help in this important work. While there, missionaries help build schools, churches, hold crusades, teach vacation Bible school and nurture the spread of Christianity.
We are so blessed to live in a country where we can openly worship, something most of us take for granted.
I can assure you that Inna and Andrew do not take it for granted, and they absolutely love and appreciate America. The couple has lived in Cumming for the past 12 years. They told me how grateful they are for our wonderful community.
Please help support their organization, Byelorussian Mission Inc., by attending a "Share the Blessing" banquet at 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at Lanier Technical College’s Forsyth Conference Center.
There will be a dinner and concert. Tickets are $75, tax deductible, and all proceeds will go to the organization.
Adlen Robinson is author of "Home Matters: The Guide to Organizing Your Life and Home." E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.