My Love for Music, Life, and the Bible

As told by Boris N. Gulashevsky

Imagine a blind man in his 60’s who had suffered two severe heart attacks. Tears are flowing from his eyes as he thanks God for revealing Himself to him. That was my situation just 11 years ago.

I WAS born in 1930 in the Ukrainian village of Tsibulev, in the district of Cherkassy. In 1937, during one of the Stalinist repressions, my father was arrested and convicted as “an enemy of the State.” Our apartment was confiscated, and we were shunned by most of our acquaintances. Soon many of them were also arrested. Those were times of widespread distrust, betrayal, and fear.

Two months after my father’s arrest, my sister, Lena, was born. Mother, Lena, my brother Nikolai, and I spent that winter in a tiny room that had neither windows nor a stove. Afterward, we moved to my grandfather’s house. Nikolai and I took care of the house, chopped firewood, and did repairs. I liked working with my hands. I made shoes and did carpentry work. I also loved music, so I made myself a balalaika from a piece of plywood and learned to play it. Later I took up the guitar and the mandolin.

Earlier, I had been baptized in the Catholic Church. But since I didn’t understand the teachings or customs of the church, atheistic views seemed reasonable to me. After World War II, I joined the Komsomol (a Communist youth organization), and when opportunity arose, other members and I argued with believers, trying to prove that there was no God.

 When I Lost My Eyesight

Following Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union in 1941, the front line passed through our village several times during the second world war. On March 16, 1944, I was injured during a bombing and lost my eyesight. I started to feel despair and hopelessness, as well as pain.

When the battlefront moved westward and the Germans were driven back, I began to take walks in the garden and listen to the birds sing. Feeling sorry for me, Mother gave me vodka to drink, and locals invited me to their parties, where I provided music. I smoked, and I drowned my despair in alcohol. Soon I realized that this would not solve anything.

My aunt, a schoolteacher, learned about schools for the blind and convinced Mother to enroll me in one of them. In 1946, I began school in what is now named Kam’yanets’-Podil’s’kyy, where I eagerly took up my studies. I learned to read and type in Braille. I also continued my musical studies, spending hours mastering the concertina. Seeing my efforts, the assistant principal allowed me to play his accordion. I also learned to play the piano.

A Home of My Own

In 1948, I married one of the teachers at the school, who had helped me with my studies. Her husband had died during the war, leaving her with two young daughters. After I finished school, I moved into her home. I did my best to be a good husband and father, earning a living playing music. Then, in 1952, we had a son.

I made arrangements to build a house for our family, hiring others to construct the foundation and external walls, but I did many things myself. Touch and imagination helped me to compensate for my blindness. I would hold a piece of wood in my hands, feel it, and picture it in my mind. After that I could form it into wooden objects, including wooden tools. Steel tools I ordered from a factory. I laid a brick stove, made furniture, and accomplished other tasks.

A Pipe Orchestra

I obtained further musical training and became a professional musician. After mastering various musical instruments, I learned to play the pipe. Once, I repaired a small pipe made of bamboo. In time, I learned to make my own pipes. At the time, the experts did not think pipes could be made that would produce bass notes, since the large size of the pipes would mean that the sound would be too soft. That was why there were no pipe orchestras.

However, I managed to construct a pipe with a special resonator that intensified the  sound. This meant that pipes with low bass notes could be made without losing sound volume. In time, I began to make different sets, or families, of pipes that could produce complex harmonies.

Previously, I had organized orchestras made up of traditional musical instruments. One of my orchestras was composed of only blind musicians. Then, in 1960, I organized an orchestra that played exclusively on pipes​—the only one of its kind in the Soviet Union and possibly the world.

Discoveries and Doubts

In 1960, I had some musical instruments repaired by an expert, who started talking to me about religion. As usual, I argued with him, claiming there was no God. He suggested that I just listen to what he read from the Bible. Since I had never read the Bible, I decided to listen.

I was deeply touched by the account about Jacob working hard to provide for his family. Listening to the account of Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery and his trials, as well as how he later forgave his brothers, made me cry. (Genesis, chapters 37, 39-45) I also really liked the Golden Rule, about treating others as we wish to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) Thus, I became acquainted with the Bible and came to love it.

I began attending Baptist meetings along with my friend and was presented with the “New Testament” in Braille, which I started to read carefully. However, I noticed contradictions between what it said and Baptist teachings. For example, as the Bible shows, God and Jesus are two different individuals and God is greater than Jesus. (Matthew 3:16, 17; John 14:28; Acts 2:32) Yet, Baptists insist that God and Jesus are equal, part of a Trinity. I read my “New Testament” many times, literally feeling through every word, and was certain that this teaching was not in the Bible.

In the Bible translation we had, the word “hell” was used. I tried to picture hell as taught by the Baptists​—a place of eternal fiery torment. That made me feel awful! The Bible says that God is love, and I could not imagine that he would create such a place. (1 John 4:8) Time passed, and my doubts about hell, as well as other Baptist teachings, increased.

Big Changes

By 1968 my stepdaughters were already married and had children of their own. At that time, my wife and I began having serious differences. Thinking back on those days, I regret that we did not show enough love and patience with each other. We divorced, and my two subsequent marriages also ended in divorce.

In 1981, I moved from Kam’yanets’-Podil’s’kyy, where I had spent 35 years, to Yoshkar-Ola, about 400 miles [600 km] east of Moscow. There I continued my creative activities. One of my orchestras had 45 members who played a variety of pipes. These ranged from an eight-inch-long [20 cm] high-pitched pipe less than a half inch [1 cm] in diameter to a more than nine-foot-tall [3 m] double-bass pipe eight inches [20 cm] in diameter. Our concerts were broadcast by radio and television, and we performed throughout the country.

In a 1986 contest that involved musical groups from all over the Soviet Union, I received a certificate and a medal for developing the art of the pipe. Years later a documentary movie entitled Solo for Pipe, or the Fairy Tale of a Musician was produced. The newspaper Mariiskaya Pravda reported: “Boris Nikolaievich Gulashevsky, who is featured in this movie, received a special certificate for being the originator of a pipe orchestra that is the only one of its kind in Russia.”

Searching for the Truth

When I moved to Yoshkar-Ola, I registered to use the library system, which had a lot of material for the blind. I became familiar with  the teachings of Catholics, Pentecostals, and Methodists. I also attended meetings of the Orthodox Church. To my surprise, I found they taught the same things I had heard in the Baptist Church, which I already knew were not based on the Bible.

An Orthodox priest, Alexander Men, wrote that God has a personal name​—Yahweh. He also said that the Jews once practiced pure worship, which later became corrupted by pagan teachings and idolatry. His writings deeply impressed me and strengthened my desire to search for the truth.

Greater Determination

In one of my orchestras, there was a musician named Liza, whose sight is so limited that she is considered legally blind. We married in 1990, and she also became interested in spiritual matters. That same year I went to visit my mother, who lived with my sister, Lena, in Baranovichi, Belarus. At my mother’s request, I attended the Catholic Church, where I received Communion. This was during the time of perestroika in the Soviet Union, and the priest devoted most of his sermon to the political changes. Once again, I was certain that this was not what I needed.

In 1994, I suffered two heart attacks and became seriously ill. That same year my mother passed away. Despite everything, I still kept reading the Bible. I had already read the “New Testament” 25 times, after which I lost track. But I kept reading it and had more and more questions. It became clear to me that I could not grasp Bible truths on my own.

Light of Understanding

In 1996, Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on our door in Yoshkar-Ola. I was suspicious of them, since newspapers had said that they were a dangerous sect. But then I thought, ‘What harm could they do to me?’ The first thing I asked was what they thought about the Trinity. They replied that neither the word nor the concept was in the Bible. I was delighted, since I had arrived at the same conclusion.

When I read Exodus 6:3 from the Russian synodal Bible, where God’s name, Jehovah, appears, my heart skipped a beat. I was amazed by the deception practiced by religions in hiding this name from people. And to think that the Witnesses bear the name of the Creator and reveal it to others!​—Isaiah 43:10.

I inundated the Witnesses with questions. For example: “Why does the Bible talk about hell? Why in the popular Russian synodal version does it say the earth will be burned?” I had question after question, but upon receiving answers from the Bible, I realized that I had found the religion I had dreamed about for years. With tears of joy, I fell upon my knees and thanked God.

The Witnesses soon began taking me to their meetings, and I was impressed by the attentiveness of the audience and by the rustling of pages as the speaker gave his part. When the speaker mentioned a Bible verse, people looked it up in their own Bible. I had never experienced such a thing before. At that meeting the Witnesses sang a song based on Isaiah 35:5 that began with the words: “When eyes of blind ones see again.”

I began enjoying a Bible study with the Witnesses up to four times a week. Soon I learned why God permits troubles and wars and how he will deal with the consequences of such suffering. I was especially impressed when I learned about God’s loving promise regarding his Kingdom, by means of which  his will for obedient humans to enjoy everlasting life on a paradise earth will be realized. (Genesis 1:28; Isaiah 65:17-25; Revelation 21:1-5) Bible truths became ever clearer to me, and on November 16, 1997, I was baptized to symbolize my dedication to God.

United in God’s Service

Soon after my baptism, Liza also started studying the Bible. Despite suffering paralysis, she made rapid spiritual progress and was baptized in 1998. She had to be carried to the baptism pool but was determined to serve God whole-souled. We hired a massage therapist, and Liza did exercises. In time, the paralysis disappeared. Now, she not only attends all the meetings but also engages in door-to-door witnessing and travels to distant territories to preach.

Each time I go out to preach, I pray for courage. After praying, I pick up my cane, leave the house, and head toward the trolleybus stop by a way I know well. When I hear approaching steps, I start a conversation about the Bible. When I get on the trolleybus, I sit down somewhere in the middle, talk about the Bible with people, and place literature. If someone shows interest, we exchange telephone numbers.

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a music teacher at a sanatorium. He was astonished by the wisdom found in the Bible. When this man returned home, he started studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the same sanatorium, I met the director of a local factory, whose son is blind. I shared my hope with him, and he became interested and appreciated the Bible truths he heard.

Since my baptism, I have helped eight people to become fellow Kingdom proclaimers and have studied the Bible with many others. Jehovah continues to provide my wife and me with immense support by means of our Christian brothers and sisters. They read to us, and together we discuss Bible-based publications. They also record convention and congregation talks for us. All of this has helped us to inscribe Bible truths on our hearts and to share those truths with others. Thus the congregation has become “a strengthening aid” to us.​—Colossians 4:11.

I devoted many years to music, and now I gladly sing Kingdom melodies. I have learned by heart all the songs from the Russian songbook Sing Praises to Jehovah. I believe that Jehovah found me in this wicked world and helped me find the way out of spiritual darkness. That is why I am convinced that someday he will also deliver me from my literal darkness.

[Picture on page 19]

Playing a C-major bass pipe

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Playing an accordion, 1960

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A pipe orchestra

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With Liza today