A Russian Christian leader, whose grandfather was in prison for 17 years for his faith, whose father was a famous underground church leader, and who himself was constantly harassed for part of a two-year period for preaching on the steps of the Museum of Atheism in St. Petersburg, is now facing the greatest threat of his life - from the Russian Mafia.
Dimitri Shatrov Jr. says he has received death threats from the Russian Mafia who are trying to seize the huge church he is building in a prime spot in the city. When completed, the Good News Mission Church will be the largest Protestant church in Russia.
Shatrov says that the Mafia is constantly harassing him because the church is in an area of the city where they can conduct more business. Around the church are Mafia-controlled kiosks, already providing lucrative trade, but that is not enough.
"Our Good News Mission church is in a wonderful location because there is a subway station just 20 meters away," he said in an interview in St. Petersburg. "People in Russia don't use cars like in America -- most of the people don't have cars -- so they use the subway instead. Every day some 300,000 people use this subway station. It is a wonderful place for businesses and the Mafia wants our building and the land to expand their own businesses.
"We are having a fight with them and they are trying to take it from me," Shatrov continued. "I have the correct papers in order, but the Mafia in Russia is in government, and government here in St. Petersburg is very corrupt. I fight with them every day."
Shatrov was asked if the Mafia had threatened to shoot him. "No, they promised to explode me with a bomb," he said.
Shatrov then told how one man came to him and said that he had made 10 television movies attacking him and the church. He told him that he had already aired one of them on a local TV station and would run the rest of them if Shatrov didn't pay him money to stop them.
In response, Shatrov told him, "Jesus was crucified, but you know what, He is risen and those people who crucified him, where are they now? If you do something against me, you may kill me, but I will be resurrected and raised again, but where you will be, I don't know.' The following week, the person who threatened him was involved in a terrible car accident and after that he didn't show the other programs.
"I also told this story to the Mafia," Shatrov said. "I told them, 'If you try to do something against me, you think you are fighting against our Good News Mission organization and me, but you are actually fighting with Jesus, and I strongly believe in my God.' I told them that I trust in God and I believe what the Bible says - 'The man who trusts in God will not be ashamed.'"
Shatrov said that through all of these difficulties, he can see how God has changed him over the last 10 years: "I now trust God more and more and with all the work that we do, we try to do it for His glory, for his sake only. I am thankful and happy that God has given me a simple heart. I love people and I love to serve them."
He said that he has been able to start a Christian school for children. "Nikita Khrushchev, our former president, he was very good compared to Stalin, who killed millions in the prisons, but he was bad compared to Gorbachev."
According to Shatrov, Gorbachev once boasted, 'I will destroy the church, not like Stalin did through killing people, but through taking children from Christian families. If we know that the parents are Christian, we will take children from them and raise them in special camps."
When Gorbachev said, "I will show you the last Christian person on television" that made Shatrov "really angry, and so I thought it would be a good thing to have a Christian school."
Shatrov also addressed the current spiritual situation in Russia.
"I would say that it is very bad," he said. "We had great growth some 10 years ago when the door was opened, but if you open the door or window to your house, not just the fresh air comes, but also smog comes in. So we had lots of bad stuff come in through our window, like the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormon. So from America, we not only had the good missionaries come, but also the garbage as well.
"After 70 years of being in a prison -- the whole country was a prison --" says Shatrov, "people were hungry for spiritual food and when they ate it, they got sick of it, because they ate the wrong stuff."
According to Shatrov, the Orthodox Church is saying that all churches that are not Orthodox are cults and sects. "They say that if you are in Russia, you must be Orthodox, but according to our understanding, it is a dead religion
. Also witchcraft has become very powerful in Russia. Also, the Muslims do big missionary work in Russia, even in the Western part. However, I still believe that God will use our church to do His work."
St. Petersburg is a city of revolution, says Shatrov, "and I do believe a spiritual revolution will take place for the rest of Russia."