Russia has never possessed the blessing of religious liberty. While periods of severe persecution have come and gone and come again, there has always been a hatred towards the gospel and Bible-believing people. Today, there are an unknown number of Russian Baptists meeting in unregistered churches across the country, avoiding as much as possible the eyes of the government while still carrying out the work of the Lord.
One early servant of God was Vasilia Ivanoff – born in the city of Baku, Russia in 1848. He was converted to Christ and baptized on this day (October 21) in 1870. In Baku Ivanoff established a Baptist church which grew to more then 300 members. The congregation was made up of Tartars, Turks, Armenians, Kurds and Russians, enabling a multifaceted ministry. He traveled extensively despite having no passport or travel documents. He baptized over 1500 converts, mostly at night and often after cutting holes in the ice. On one occasion there were 86 candidates for the ordinance.
Persecution against him began the moment he began to preach the gospel. He was arrested so many times he lost count, but he thought that he spent time in 31 jails and prisons. In 1895 he was sentence to incarceration in the Caucasus for four years. There he was made to serve as a beast of burden, grinding corn on a treadmill. When he was released he immediately returned to the calling God gave him. Twice he was sent to northern Siberia where for a time he was chained to the worst sorts of criminals. His imprisonments did nothing to cool his zeal for Christ.
In a book called Modern Baptist Heroes and Martyrs, Bro. Ivanoff testified, “My persecution began when I became a Baptist, but in spite of what I have suffered I am thankful that I have lived to bring the light … to hundreds of my fellow creatures.”