“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4
, On November 5, 2016, a desperate request began to spread among the disciples in the Vladivostok church through messages and calls: “We need prayer help! Our sister Vika lost consciousness, she’s in a coma, and the doctors don’t understand what happened!” This news was a complete shock for everyone because Vika (Viktoria) Artyukhina was not yet forty and relatively healthy. No disease had threatened her life before. Few people understood at that moment the test Vika, her family and the whole Vladivostok church would face over the next three years. God led us alongside Vika and her family through this journey, and allowed her suffering to be a contribution to the church.
In the summer of 1997, a successful law student Viktoria Kondratenko unexpectedly got up early in the morning and decided to take a walk along the city quay promenade in the center of Vladivostok. Vika was always hyper-responsiveto her studies, so she often went to bed late, sitting up for school, and sleeping on weekends. But not on this day. By coincidence, the embankment of the city is a favorite place of prayer for the disciples, and Vika inevitably became the manifestation of two sisters’ prayers that morning. Despite her success in school, Vika often experienced emptiness and depression. God’s word was a response to her search for the meaning of life.
For a month, Vika studied the Bible. Her desire to be baptized was negatively received by the family. A wonderful career was waiting for her. Not only had she studied well, but she was to also inherit the dynasty, the pride of her parents. In Russia, most people are distrustful of everything non-traditional. Biblical teaching is not an authority for many people, even if they are positioning themselves as Christians. And Vika began to invest all her ardor and energy into the conversion of disciples and to build the church. This took a lot of time. It caused fear and rejection not only from Vika’s family, but also from fellow students.
A month later, Vika began to lead a house church, then a group of students. In a short time, she managed to win the hearts of the disciples with her jealousy over the house of God. Bright, spiritual, singing in a worship group – she attracted the attention of the brothers. In 1999, she dated a brother in Christ, Denis Artyukhin. Denis says that although his attention was attracted by the bright red jacket that Vika was wearing, he was still more struck by the coincidence of aspirations.
Vika, like Denis, dreamed of working for the church, being a missionary, and devoting all her time to ministry. Soon their dreams began to come true. They began to work for the church, one after another. Soon the wedding took place. Now it’s almost impossible to watch the video from the wedding ceremony without a lump of tears in the throat, because the promises that Denis and Vika made at the wedding, will be tested over time. “I will take care of you, I will always be with you, in spite of any difficulties and trials” Denis said on April 28, 2001. He fulfilled every word from the oath made at the wedding. Denis became a real example of not only a faithful disciple, but also as a devoted husband.
Denis and Vika kept their dream of ministry even at a time when both of them were fired from work from the church. Vika finally began to fulfill the dream of her parents. She worked as a lawyer. Denis worked as a sales representative. They had a daughter. Although Vika was registered with a cardiologist since a young age, doctors did not reveal any complications during pregnancy.
As soon as ministers were needed for the church in the city of Khabarovsk, the Artyukhins again were ready to serve. In 2010, the Artyukhins returned to Vladivostok. With age and experience, Vika had time to delve into self-reflection a little more. She was one of the first sisters in Vladivostok to see signs of emotional co-dependence in herself. For Russia, such a deep awareness is not typical. Most people do not deal with their feelings and emotions. As a mentor to women, Vika was always involved in the depth of relationships and often sympathized with people so much that she cried a lot during conversations. Then sleep disturbances started, and her heart began to ache. She was open about this, but, as one of the sisters shared, “it’s hard to believe that such a joyful person has serious health problems.”
As an active person, Vika began to look for answers to her questions. In Moscow and Kiev, she talked with the ministers and counselors. Having no special expertise, and at her own risk of, she gathered a group of sisters in Vladivostok to study the book “Secure in Heart” by Robin Weidner. I was lucky to be part of these meetings. We progressed for a year and a half, analyzing each chapter very carefully. Vika did not lead us as an expert, but as a pioneer, exposing her heart, rising in modesty, sharing her fears and challenges with us. In parallel, Vika studied methods of spiritual counseling. In 2015, Denis and Vika conducted the first weekly spiritual training in Vladivostok for married couples lasting two months. My husband and I had the privilege of participating in this training and it improved the quality of our relationship.
Next to her, you may watch how a dreaming, thinking person can light a dream in the hearts of those around her. Her husband who had no higher education, began to deeply engage in self-education. They, as a couple, acted as mentors in marriage for many families. The main thing that Vika could teach the married sisters around her was spiritual respect for her husband, despite the initial difference in material situation and educational level. Denis always boldly says that in many things he admired his wife. She was for him “an example through her behavior”.
November 5, 2016, not only Denis’ life, but also the life of the whole Vladivostok church was divided into before and after. Vika with her husband and 10-year-old daughter arrived at an event dedicated to the children of disciples. Everyone had fun, were setting up refreshments and arranging chairs. Suddenly Vika fell right in front of everyone present. She lost consciousness and signs of life. Before the ambulance arrived, Denis and another sister did artificial respiration and indirect heart massage on Vika for fifteen minutes.
Awareness of how serious this was didn’t come soon. At first everyone hoped that our prayers would work quickly. We thought the news was about to come, that Vika woke up and that doctors would explain to the family what was happening. The church quickly organized a chain of prayers and fasting. Disciples from many of the Russian churches joined. Many disciples throughout Russia personally sympathized with them and took an active part in constant prayer. But days went by, then weeks to months. Doctors shrugged their hands. It was impossible to give forecasts for the exact diagnosis was unclear. The coma was replaced by akinetic mutism, or vegetative state. In this state, Vika lived for almost three years.
Prayers for Vika became part of the life of the church. Every meeting of disciples began with a prayer for Vika, her health, the spiritual health of her family including Vera, her daughter. For three years, we were constantly waiting for messages from Denis about her condition. One of Vika’s friends, Sergei Glushonkov, proposed creating the “100 Friends of Viktoria Artyukhina” fund to ease the financial burden of the family and the church in Vladivostok. In Russia, there is little experience in the rehabilitation of such patients. The maintenance of such patients is an unbearable burden for an ordinary family, and for three years’ disciples around the world, not only from Russia, donated finances for Viktoria and her family.
The hope of a speedy recovery for most of the disciples was melting away. Only one person never doubted for a minute that Vika, if she did not return to her previous lifestyle, would certainly sit, talk, and be able to communicate. This of course was Denis. And his faith sometimes gave amazing results that astounded the doctors. Denis could connect with Vika even when everyone around her saw her in a “vegetable” state. From the movement of the eyelids to her breath, he understood what she wanted. He had no doubt that Vika had not lost cognitive abilities.
A year and three months after the onset of the disease, Vika’s speech returned. On Denis’ birthday, she was able to say a few words. For several months, she tried to talk. The doctors were shocked. Denis had to play a record of Vika’s answers to his questions to convince doctors of what was actually happening. Some doctors now turned to Denis as a specialist in the rehabilitation of patients of this type. They even discussed the possibility of sharing his report at a medical conference. Vika learned to eat by herself again, as the doctors were able to restore her ability to sit. There seemed to be hope, but Vika’s condition worsened with muscle stiffness, pressure sores and catastrophic weight loss. Progress was replaced by regression.
Despite the deterioration, Denis continued the struggle for the life of Vika. Every day he spent several hours in prayer to God, to strengthen his trust in him. Almost every day he cried during these prayers. He was helped by words of comfort from the Bible:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13
“For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” – Hebrews 2:18
Studying the book of Job, Denis kept a “Diary of Awareness”. He wrote down his thoughts, feelings, and decisions every day in order to have a clear plan of action. Seeing how desperately Vika was fighting for her life against all the predictions of the doctors, Denis felt supported by this incredible power. At some point, he realized that he himself needed rest and care. He began to take time to relax with disciples and friends, to prevent emotional and physical burnout. At such joint events, Denis charged people around with his faith in the goodness of God. He was invariably a servant, attentive to the joys and sorrows of others. He did not close himself in his ordeal and did not sink into unbelief and despondency. He began to lead a group of senior disciples of the “Crown of Glory” (Golden age) in the church.
On September 13, 2019, Vika died. Her heart stopped a second time, and now forever. The news of her death was no less a shock to the church than the news of a sudden illness. Denis’ messages about Vika’s health for those who didn’t see her personally over those three years evoked a feeling of optimism for recovery. Denis had always believed in the healing of his wife over the three years. His sermon of June 9, 2019 “Time of Trials” became a true hymn of trust in God, like the psalms of David. The departure of his wife to heaven did not make Denis trust in God less, although her death was a real shock to him.
Their daughter Vera (her name means ‘faith’ in Russian) is now a teenager and is studying the Bible. She shared that the support of her father helped her survive the time of her mother’s illness. In the beginning Vera felt loneliness. She recalled, “I came home from school, but nobody was at home. Mom was in the hospital, and dad was next to her”. A little later, Denis began to devote a lot of time to Vera. Many wanted to support Vera, but did not know how to do it. Vera herself learned to support others, and tried to smile. In a summer Christian children’s camp, Vera heard the Bible lesson given by the counselor about how Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son for God. For her, this lesson became a great consolation in her sorrow. Vera’s advice is to share your grief with friends and relatives, and do not lock it up; reflect a lot.
For three years, Vika’s illness affected the spiritual condition of the entire Vladivostok church. Disciples share that the lessons they learned over these three years are very different. Overall, the disciples admonish that if you need to talk with someone to resolve a conflict, do not put it off, because there may not be such an opportunity. Value those who are close and be more tender to each other, even if your relationship resembles Proverbs 27:17. This is the desire to fill a gap in the breach of the wall (Ezek. 22:30), fulfilling the duties that Vika carried in the church.
For many disciples, these three years have become a time of serious Bible study about the grace of God. The usual worldly reaction to such a situation is the loss of faith and hope, and immersion in grief. The most common question that the disciples asked God and each other over these three years was, “why didn’t the Lord take Vika to himself right away?” The answer to this question is not open to everyone, even now that Vika is already with the Lord. But the impact of this test on the Vladivostok church is obvious. We became more mature in our trust in God, not only during joy. We learned to pray through tears, rely on his mercy even when, from a worldly point of view, one should lose all hope. We spent a lot of time in prayers to God on our knees, in search of real humility for his will. We learned to rejoice during the trials and witnessed a stunning example through Denis’ faith.
When I come to the next meeting of the disciples, where Vika will not be, I will already be accustomed to her absence. And again, I will imagine how in heaven we will be greeted with glee, into which Vika’s voice is now entangled with a loud laugh (1 Chronicles 16:31). See you, dear!
Shared from icocnews.ru
Zvereva Alena – a disciple since 1993, lives in, Far East of Russia. She has been married to Sergei Zverev, for 22 years. For many years Sergey and Alena have served in various ministries in the church. They led a worship group, were responsible for the children’s ministry, the “Crown of Glory” group (Golden Age), and admonished large and small groups of disciples. They are faithful members of Christ’s community.