I was driving home a few days ago from a difficult meeting.
The people weren’t difficult but the issues were.
As I arrived in my drive way I began reflecting on the struggles and the frustrations that we had faced in our meeting. My wife’s car was not in the drive way, she had not yet returned from her meeting. So I decided to switch on the radio and unwind a little. I was so glad I did. I caught the last few minutes of an interview with a remarkable Russian Christian poet, essayist, and human rights advocate, Irina Ratushinskaya.
Irina studied physics at university and was approached by the KGB in the early 1980’s to befriend foreigners and gather information that might be useful to the Soviet communist state.
The KGB told her that this would probably involve having sex with whoever she was being assigned to. She refused on the grounds of her Christian ethics. It seems the KGB noted her dissent. Irina’s gifting and passion was not in physics but in poetry. She wrote beautiful poems about life and faith in the oppressive totalitarian state. Inevitably Irina was arrested and in March 1983 and after six months of interrogation, she was sent westward to a remote prison camp in Mordovia where she was housed in a camp within a camp for female political prisoners. Irina published the story of her experiences in the prison camp in her book Grey is the Colour of Hope.
In this concentration camp she quickly assimilated into a tightly knit band of a dozen women prisoners. United as one, they resisted their captor’s efforts to punish them physically or break them psychologically. For her resistance, Ratushinskaya served several stints in solitary confinement.
She kept going through her faith and her poetry. Daily she wrote poems on bars of soap using the burned ends of matchsticks because they would not give her any paper or pen. She memorised hundreds of her poems and somehow managed to smuggle the out of prison. They were published in several languages, prompting many writers from Europe and North America to campaign for her release.
On the day before the Reykjavik summit in the summer of 1986 she was released on the orders of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, as a gesture of good will towards the west. Her life in camp was full of grey, but her hope was never extinguished. At the close of the radio interview the journalist told the listening audience that the interview was taped several years ago and was played because Irina had died last week in Moscow.
She faced daily hardship, cruelty and isolation yet somehow survived and resisted with resilience and faith.
Her story reminded me that Irina is one of millions around the world who have suffered dreadfully because of their faith and their non-conformity. Her moving story powerfully reminded me that my grey times are in comparison petty and minor. In my down moments may the stories of courage and faithfulness inspire me to find hope.