Christian meetings played an important part in helping new ones to grow in faith. In fact, newly baptized Christians were just as eager to offer their homes to host meetings as were those who had been in the truth for a long time. All who attended were warmly welcomed, and this too greatly strengthened their bonds of love.
When several students were ready for baptism, special meetings were discreetly organized. In August 1973, brothers arranged for such a meeting outside Sokhumi, near the shore of the Black Sea. But the 35 candidates did not have time to get immersed! Before the meeting ended, the police interrupted it and arrested some brothers and sisters, including Vladimir Gladyuk.
As soon as Vladimir and the other brothers were released, they contacted all the baptismal candidates again. Two days after the first attempt, the candidates finally got baptized. Vladimir recalls: “We felt that Jehovah was on our side. After the baptism, we all prayed together, expressing our gratitude to Jehovah.”
Opposition Helps to Spread the Good News
Two days after the baptism, Vladimir Gladyuk was arrested again. Later, he, Itta Sudarenko, and Natela Chargeishvili were sentenced to prison terms of several years. Though saddened by this arrest, the publishers resolved to carry on in the ministry, but with greater caution.
To avoid drawing the attention of the authorities, the publishers traveled to towns and villages other than their own to preach. As a result, opposition actually helped to spread the good news to even more areas.
During the Communist regime, publishers living in larger cities witnessed in quiet streets and parks. They often encountered people who came from other towns and villages to visit relatives or do some shopping. If an individual showed interest, publishers asked for the person’s address and made arrangements to meet again.
Babutsa Jejelava was among those who traveled extensively throughout western Georgia. She recalls: “Since I had relatives in different places, no one viewed my frequent trips with suspicion. After about two years, I was studying the Bible with more than 20 people in Zugdidi and 5 others in the town of Chkhorotsku. All of them got baptized.”
A Pressing Need for Georgian Literature
It soon became obvious that there was a pressing need for publications in Georgian. When making return visits or conducting Bible studies, publishers felt the need for Bibles and Bible literature in the language that their students could best understand. *
Babutsa recalls how difficult it was to conduct a Bible study without any publications in Georgian. She says, “I had only the Bible and other publications in Russian, so I often had to translate the study material for my Bible students.” With nothing but a dictionary to help her, she translated articles from our magazines into Georgian. She also managed to translate the entire Gospel of Matthew!
Interested ones appreciated articles translated into their mother tongue so much that they were willing to make handwritten copies of the publications for their personal use. Because copies of the Bible in the Georgian language were difficult to find, some Bible students even became modern-day “copyists” of the Word of God.
“I Copied All Day Long”
Publications translated into Georgian were circulated among the brothers and interested ones so that everyone could take turns reading them. Each one would have just a few days or weeks to read a publication. So when a copy of the Greek Scriptures in modern Georgian turned up among the brothers, one family seized the opportunity to copy it.
Raul Karchava was only 13 years old when his father asked him to copy the Greek Scriptures. He says: “My father bought a whole box of notebooks and all kinds of pens and pencils, hoping that this would encourage me. Though I felt overwhelmed, I accepted the challenge. I copied all day long, stopping only to stretch my hands a little.”
Raul’s relatives were overjoyed when they learned that the brothers had agreed to leave the highly coveted book with them for a few additional weeks so that young Raul could complete his arduous work. In just two months, he managed to copy all 27 books of the Christian Greek Scriptures!
Despite the efforts of such hardworking copyists, the spiritual hunger of a growing number of Bible students could not be fully satisfied. In order to fill the urgent need, courageous brothers and sisters undertook the risky task of reproducing and distributing Bible publications from their home.
The preaching work in western Georgia was gaining momentum. But what about the eastern part of the country? Was there anyone in the capital city, Tbilisi, who could help sincere truth-seekers like Vaso Kveniashvili, mentioned earlier?
The Truth Reaches the Capital City
During the 1970’s, the Soviet authorities attempted to discourage the Witnesses by expelling them from their homes in one place after another. That is what happened to Oleksii and Lydia Kurdas, a Ukrainian couple who moved to Tbilisi. They had spent many years in Soviet prison camps because of their faith.
The Kurdases shared the truth with Zaur and Eteri Kessaev, who were very religious people. Their daughter Larisa, aged 15 at the time, relates their first contact with Oleksii and Lydia: “We tried to prove that the Orthodox Church was the only true religion. After several discussions, we ran out of arguments, but they continued to reason from the Scriptures.”
Larisa continues: “When we went to church, I would always read the Ten Commandments, which were written on the wall between two icons. But that evening, when Oleksii read Exodus 20:4, 5 to us, I was stunned. I could not sleep that night because I kept thinking, ‘Can it really be true that by worshipping icons we are actually breaking God’s command?’”
Determined to settle the question, Larisa ran to the local church early the next morning and read again the commandment “You must not make for yourself a carved image . . . You must not bow down to them.” For the first time in her life, she realized the meaning of this divine command. Larisa and her parents eventually got baptized and were among the first Witnesses in Tbilisi.
His Quest for Justice Was Rewarded
Nearly 20 years after his first contact with the truth, Vaso Kveniashvili encountered someone who attended meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Tbilisi. Vaso was happy to meet the Witnesses again. He had waited for so long.
At first, though, local Witnesses were reluctant to involve him in their activities, as Vaso was notorious for his criminal background. Some even feared that he might be spying on the Witnesses for the Soviet authorities. Hence, Vaso was not allowed to attend Christian meetings for four years.
When it became clear that Vaso had good motives, he was finally allowed to become part of the local congregation and get baptized. At last, Vaso could draw closer to the “God of justice” he had been seeking since his youth! (Isa. 30:18) He served Jehovah with that same unflinching attitude until his death in 2014.
By 1990, the preaching work was firmly established in both western and eastern Georgia. Some 900 publishers were conducting 942 Bible studies. The foundation had been laid for the dramatic increase that was to follow.