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Meeting on the shore near Sokhumi, 1989

GEORGIA | 1924-1990

Early Truth-Seekers

Early Truth-Seekers

AS EARLY as the 1920’s, the Bible Students were putting forth efforts to reach sincere truth-seekers in Georgia. In 1924, an office was opened in Beirut, Lebanon, to direct the preaching work in the area that included Armenia, Georgia, Syria, and Turkey.

Although some seeds of truth may have been sown in Georgia during that time, they did not initially produce visible results. (Matt. 13:33) Over time, however, the Kingdom message spread and caused outstanding changes in the lives of many people in Georgia.

He Longed for Justice

When the second world war broke out, Vaso Kveniashvili was a teenager. Because Georgia was part of the Soviet Union, his father was soon drafted into the Soviet army. By that time, Vaso’s mother had died. Vaso, who was the oldest child, resorted to stealing in order to support himself and his younger siblings.

Vaso joined a gang and eventually became deeply involved in organized crime. He relates, “I felt there was more justice in the criminal world than in the government or society.” But Vaso soon realized that he was searching for something beyond what human society can offer. He recalls, “I longed for something that was just.”

Vaso Kveniashvili in 1964, soon after his release from prison

Vaso was eventually arrested for his criminal activities and exiled to a labor camp in Siberia. There he met one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who had been imprisoned for his faith. “Finally, I found what I was looking for,” Vaso recalls. “We did not have any literature, but I did my best to learn from what the brother was telling me.”

When Vaso was released in 1964, he returned to Georgia and searched for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the meantime, he kept in touch with his former fellow prisoner by letter. Sadly, his faithful friend passed away, and Vaso lost all contact with God’s people. He had to wait almost two decades before he would find the Witnesses again. More about him later.

Hardships That Turned Into a Blessing

A meeting in the forest

For Valentina Miminoshvili, a young Georgian woman, imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp resulted in a great blessing. There she met Jehovah’s Witnesses for the first time. What impressed her the most was their unshakable faith. Her heart was deeply touched by what they taught her from the Bible.

When she returned home after the war, Valentina began sharing her newfound faith with others. But her activity soon attracted the attention of the local authorities, who sentenced her to ten years in a labor camp in Russia. There she met Jehovah’s Witnesses again, and later she was baptized.

After her release from the camp in 1967, Valentina moved to western Georgia, where she discreetly resumed her preaching activity. She did not realize that she would soon become the answer to a heartfelt prayer.

Jehovah Answered Her Prayers

In 1962, Sister Antonina Gudadze moved from Siberia to Georgia when her unbelieving husband decided to return to his home country. Originally from Siberia, Antonina had come into contact with the truth through Witnesses who were exiled there. Now, living in Khashuri, a city located in eastern Georgia, she found herself separated from her fellow believers.

The Gudadze family in the 1960’s

Antonina recalls how Jehovah answered her prayers: “One day I received a package from my mother in Siberia, and I found some Bible literature artfully hidden inside. I continued to receive spiritual food in that way for the next six years. Each time, I thanked Jehovah for his spiritual guidance, encouragement, and care.”

However, Antonina was alone. She says: “I kept asking Jehovah to reunite me with my brothers and sisters. One day, two women entered the store where I was working as a salesclerk. They asked me, ‘Are you Antonina?’ The kind expression on their faces told me that they were my spiritual sisters. We embraced each other and burst into tears.”

Valentina Miminoshvili was one of the sisters. How excited Antonina was to find out that meetings were being held in western Georgia! She traveled to the meetings once a month, even though they were held over 200 miles (300 km) from her home.

The Truth Takes Root in Western Georgia

In the 1960’s, some Witnesses who were persecuted by the authorities in other parts of the Soviet Union sought to move to places where conditions were more favorable. Vladimir Gladyuk, a zealous and energetic brother, was one of them. In 1969, he moved from Ukraine to the city of Zugdidi, in western Georgia.

Lyuba and Vladimir Gladyuk

At first, those who came to Georgia conducted meetings in Russian. However, as more and more Georgians began attending the meetings regularly, arrangements were made to hold the meetings in Georgian. The disciple-making work was so successful that in August 1970, 12 local people were baptized.

In the spring of 1972, Vladimir and his family moved farther west, to the city of Sokhumi on the coast of the Black Sea. Vladimir explains: “We felt spiritually rich and were grateful to Jehovah for giving us his blessing. The congregation there grew very quickly.” That spring, the first Memorial was held in Sokhumi, and 45 persons attended.

“I Listened With My Whole Heart and Soul”

Babutsa Jejelava, now in her 90’s, was one of the first people who quickly accepted the truth in Sokhumi in early 1973. She recalls: “One day, I noticed four women engaged in a lively discussion. Two of them were nuns, and the other two, as I later discovered, were Jehovah’s Witnesses.” One sister was Vladimir Gladyuk’s wife, Lyuba, and the other was Itta Sudarenko, a very zealous pioneer from Ukraine.

Babutsa Jejelava in 1979 and 2016

Babutsa recalls her feelings when she overheard the conversation, “I listened with my whole heart and soul.” When she heard that God has a personal name, she quickly joined the conversation and asked if she could see it in the Bible. She asked so many questions that the discussion lasted for three hours.

Babutsa was afraid that she would not see the Witnesses again, so she asked, “Will you go away and just leave me here?”

The sisters replied: “No, we won’t leave you. We will come back next Saturday.”

Saturday arrived, and to Babutsa’s great joy, the two sisters came! A Bible study was started right away. Toward the end of the study, Babutsa again felt the need to ensure that she would not lose contact with God’s people. She said to herself: ‘I found these people. Now I have to make sure I don’t lose them.’

Babutsa came up with a plan. She recalls: “I knew that Lyuba was married, so I asked Itta if she too was married. Itta answered that she had no husband. ‘Then move to my apartment!’ I exclaimed. ‘There are two beds, and there is a lamp in between. We can put the Bible under it and talk about the Bible even at night!’” Itta accepted the invitation and moved into Babutsa’s apartment.

Recalling that time, Babutsa says: “Sometimes I would not sleep at night, meditating on what I had learned. Suddenly a question would come to my mind. I would wake Itta up, saying: ‘Itta, get your Bible. I have a question!’ Rubbing her eyes, Itta would answer, ‘All right, my dear.’ Then she would open the Bible and show me the answer.” Just three days after Itta moved in, Babutsa was out preaching the good news!

Babutsa had a close friend, Natela Chargeishvili. Babutsa remembers: “I thought that wealth would hinder her from accepting the truth, but happily I was wrong. From our very first conversation, the truth began to blaze in her heart.” Soon, both were zealously sharing their hope with friends, workmates, and neighbors.