“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” (Proverbs 25:25)
After several years, on account of some joyful national happening, an amnesty was granted, giving Paul Tikhomirov and George Solovyov their liberty. Taking leave of those convicts who had been converted, they commended their spiritual children to God. All cried at the parting.
Tikhomirov and Solovyov began their way on foot in the direction of Irkutsk-Tomsk. Their most ardent desire was to succeed in getting into European Russia to their old homes, of which they still had feeble recollections. Everyone whom they met on their wanderings or in the lodgings took an interest in them and asked who they were, where they had come from, and where they were going. All were deeply moved by the life story of the former robbers, and in the hearts of many the desire was awakened to serve the Lord also. In many of the colonies they found believing brethren, with whom they spent the evenings in brotherly discussions and the reading of the Word of God. The believers rejoiced in the triumph of the gospel manifested in the conversion of the lost sinners, and glorified the name of the Lord. In one of the settlements where they spent Sunday and testified to a large congregation concerning their former life and their conversion, a great awakening started; a good number of souls turned to the Lord. This brought great joy to all.
In the first days of spring, when all nature was coming to new life after winter’s long sleep, the migratory birds flew in large flocks toward their old homes, where in the fall they had left their nests behind. Tikhomirov and Solovyov also hastened toward their home town, where, however, their houses had been destroyed long ago. In their wanderings, they kept close to the railroad. Vainly Tikhomirov tried to remember the name of the station where he had lost his parents and his sister. He would have liked to see once more the pile of snow fences in whose shadow he had passed through so much sorrow and hardship in his childhood. As he remembered his experience, tears ran down his cheeks, and he exclaimed, “Oh, my beloved ones, you have all forsaken me, and now I have to wander about alone in this wide world!” But then he remembered that neither had the Son of God a place of refuge on this earth; even among His own He was quite alone.
Toward the close of the day the wanderers drew near to a small town situated on the banks of a river not far from the railroad. Turning into one of the streets, they asked the people, “Are there any believers here?” A neat little house among the tall pines was pointed out to them. Nearing the place, they noticed two children playing at the door of the house, and in the yard a young, well-dressed lady, who was quite busy. She greeted them kindly, however. The men told her that they were believers and asked for lodging. The young woman led them graciously into the house, saying, “For the brethren in the Lord there will always be a place.”
She then called her husband, who was working in the garden. He came at once, greeted the guests cordially, and conversed with them while his wife hastened to prepare the tea. Before the water in the samovar [Russian teakettle] came to a boil, she had milked two cows and set the table. What a feast: large pieces of fresh butter, cream, a large pitcher of rich milk, two or three kinds of cake, boiled eggs, and wonderful white bread. It was a quite a sight for the eyes of the hungry wanderers. The large lamp threw a bright light on the snow-white tablecloth, and the shining samovar hummed cheerfully.
The friendly lady of the house entered in her white embroidered apron and said to her husband, “Ask the brethren to come to the table.” They sat down to the well-laden table, and the head of the home asked the blessing. He thanked the Lord for His love and care and for the guests and asked Him to keep them in faith and bless the food. It was the first time in his life that Tikhomirov had sat down to such a richly-laden table amid so hospitable and kind a family. His heart overflowed with joy and delight. The children, a boy and a girl, were also at the table and listened attentively to the conversation.
Tikhomirov, at the call to supper, had to stop relating the story of his experience at the point where the robbers in the thick woods began to read the New Testament that they had taken from the murdered travelers. At the request of the head of the house, Tikhomirov continued his story. In vivid words he pictured how the gospel entered into his own and his comrade’s hearts; how they regretted their evil deeds and decided to change their way of living and deliver themselves to justice; how the district attorney was converted; and how they were sentenced. Further he told them of his stay in the transfer prisons and of the years he spent in compulsory work until he received amnesty.
The hosts could not take their eyes from the narrator, and the lady of the house often wiped the flowing tears from her cheeks as if she wanted to hide them from the others.
During this narration the time passed unnoticed until the large clock loudly announced the midnight hour. Then they all knelt and thanked God for His wonderful grace in the salvation of the lost sinners. When the lady of the house arose, greatly moved, she said, “But where do you want to go now?”
“We have determined to return to our former homes,” answered Tikhomirov.
“Do you still have relatives there?” she continued.
“Solovyov still has a mother, who is a believer and lives in the Government of Kiev. I have nobody—neither father nor mother. I am simply going to look up my childhood place, my home village in the Government of Mogilev. First of all, however, I have the great desire to tell my countrymen of Christ and His love for them.”
“Are you an orphan a long time already?” resumed the hostess.
“I lost my parents when I was eight years old; I lost them in Siberia on our migration trip. My father died two days before the passing away of my mother.”
The lady grabbed the table with both hands and stood leaning forward, looking Tikhomirov deep in the eyes. Her husband looked at her, surprised, and could not understand the reason she questioned the guest so thoroughly instead of preparing the beds for the night.
Tikhomirov continued. “We—my sister and I—remained as orphans; she was somewhat older than I. The day after the death of our mother I lost her out of sight. Up to this moment I do not know what has become of her. Surely she must have perished like so many orphan children of the immigrants, on account of the impossible living conditions. She was a good girl and cared for me as my own mother.” At this point Tikhomirov began to cry.
Pale as death, with tears streaming down her face, the hostess exclaimed, “Is it possible that it is you, my beloved brother, Pasha? Tell me quickly; my heart tells me it is you.”
“Shura! Do my eyes really see you? You, my angel, my beloved!” he cried, weeping like a child.
“Yes, it is I; I am your sister; you, my beloved! How my heart cried out for you!” The brother and sister threw themselves into each other’s arms, kissing and weeping. Then Tikhomirov reached out for the children, who, crying, looked at the mother. Presently he kissed the children and the husband of his sister.
Even Solovyov took part in the general joy and was greatly touched by the unexpected reunion of the brother and sister. Oh, what joy there was! Shura was so excited that she did not know what to do first. Again and again she drew near to Pasha, put her arms around him, and said, “Is it truly you, my brother? Do I really see you? Oh, what joy! As you neared our house I had the impression of having found something valuable; my heart was full with an unspeakable joy. I did not know how it came. I was prepared at once to offer you refreshment and lodging. After all the distress that I have experienced, I am ready to help other needy ones also, but in this case my heart yearned especially to do so. Now I know why. It was my beloved brother who came to me; for twenty years we have not seen each other. What a joy!”
Again they fell on their knees and praised God with such a fervency as never before. Even the five-year-old daughter of Shura prayed, “Dear Savior, I thank Thee that Thou hast brought Uncle Pasha to us!” They all cried, and Alexey Vasilievitch thanked God for the precious gift that had been granted to his wife.
It was already three o’clock in the morning, but they could not sleep; even the children had not lain down. Once more they drank tea, conversing together. Finally, just before daybreak, they went to bed, having commended themselves to the care of God. On account of their recent experiences the sleep of all was restless. Pasha dreamed of how he had read the gospel to his robber pals in the woods and of how he had parted from them. He dreamed of the district attorney, the court, the transfer prisoners, and the compulsory labor. When he awoke and convinced himself that he had only been dreaming, he thanked the Lord anew for what He had done. At the breakfast tea, he again expressed the same astonishment and admiration at the wonderful grace of God in caring for orphans.
Shura asked her brother to repeat his experiences from the time of the parting at the snow fences at the railroad station, and then she related her own story. She had suffered much in the barracks for the girls, remaining there until late fall. With the beginning of autumn, since the barracks were not heated, an epidemic had set in and the children had died by the dozen. Then the good people from the surrounding villages had come and taken the children with them to save the little ones from freezing. Shura had been taken by a poor but believing widow who had four children of her own. In a small hut where the flat roof was covered with turf, Shura had spent the winter with Aunt Dunya (a pet name for Eudoxia); there she had had enough bread.
Aunt Dunya used to read the New Testament and pray with the children. In this colony was also a school which Shura had attended, and she studied diligently. She enjoyed reading very much and especially liked to read in the New Testament. At the age of fourteen she had experienced the grace and knowledge of salvation and requested baptism, through which she had received the fellowship of believers.
Four more years passed. Shura had grown up to young womanhood. She was known as a diligent worker and was the best singer in the choir. Everybody loved her. It would not have entered anyone’s mind that she was not the daughter of Aunt Dunya. They loved each other very much.
The choir of the village often visited the neighboring villages and towns to witness for the Lord. Once the singers had decided to visit the town where Shura now lived. There the Lord had blessed their service richly. Under the influence of the spiritual messages of the preacher, who had come with the choir, and under the effort of the wonderful singing, a number of people had turned to the Lord, among them a young bookkeeper who was employed in a business house. Within a year he had become the husband of Shura. They had since lived together in love and harmony, and were now blessed with two children.
When Shura had finished her story, she reminded Pasha of how he would have thrown himself under the train after the death of their parents, and of how she prevailed upon him not to take the desperate step, saying, “Despair not, my beloved; God will not forsake us.” Now Pasha and Shura were constrained to think of the words of the Psalmist, “Sing unto God, sing praises to his name: extol him that rideth upon the heavens by his name JAH, and rejoice before him. A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains.” (Psalm 68:4-6) At this they praised God anew.