Chapter 4 – A. Ryab
They Thought For Themselves, Chapter 4
A New Song
by A. Ryab
I was born to Jewish parents in Kiev in 1958. My parents tried to hide our Jewishness. There was nothing Jewish in our home and we never attended synagogue. Yet, even as a child, I wanted to be Jewish because my mother and father were. I couldn’t rationalize it, but it just felt right inside.
As I grew up, the only religion I was exposed to was atheism. Atheism was taught in the former Soviet Union as the truth. In college they even offered a course on it in which they ridiculed people who believed in God. When my professor claimed that science had proven one hundred times over that there is no God, I wanted to ask for even one proof out of a hundred. I didn’t feel atheism was based on any scientific proof. But I didn’t have the courage to voice my inner thoughts.
I Knew There Was a God
I somehow knew there was a God. I knew that even something as simple as a wristwatch could never have been constructed through random acts of chance. How could all those tiny pieces of metal have assembled themselves together over millions of years? Only a fool would believe that.
If a wristwatch could not have evolved, how could they ever expect me to believe that something as complicated as a human being just “happened”? Even one cell in the human body is much more complex than a watch. People have to be blind to deny the existence of a Creator.
I come from a family of musicians. My grandfather was a violinist and composer. My father was a violinist. My mother is a classical guitarist. They were well known in the former Soviet Union. My father even played in the orchestra, which was a great accomplishment since Jews were discriminated against.
When I was five years old, I began to study piano at music school. I didn’t know how good I was until I entered a few competitions in the fifth and sixth grades. To my surprise, I won the first prize twice. After I finished music school and decided I was going to be a professional musician, I practiced between six and eight hours a day at least six days a week.
I appeared to be on my way to a promising career, except for one thing—I was Jewish. In the Soviet Union, that was a major drawback. When a Jewish person wanted to enter college or pursue a career, it was much harder for him simply because he was Jewish. In spite of the odds, I did manage to gain admission to college and earned my bachelor’s degree.
The next step for me would have been to attend the conservatory. I was talented enough to get in, but at that time my grandfather emigrated to the United States. This was in 1979 before large numbers were allowed to leave. Now I had two strikes against me: I was Jewish and the grandson of a “traitor.” My grandfather was a well-known art critic. Because the circles of music and art are so closely aligned, everyone in music knew that my grandfather now lived in a capitalist country. As a result, they would never accept me into the conservatory.
The Long Wait
At that point, I wanted to get out of the country so badly I didn’t care where I went. Of course, the authorities made the process very difficult. I don’t know of one person during that time who was allowed to emigrate without great challenges. You are required to gather numerous documents, some of which are ridiculous. For example, a friend of mine who was divorced for many years had to get a document from his former wife saying that she would allow him to leave.
In the office where I submitted the documents they called me a traitor. I was prepared for the verbal abuse, but it wasn’t pleasant. I didn’t feel I had betrayed my country. I believed every person should have a choice where to live.
After I turned in all the documents, I had to wait. Some people were forced to wait for years. Eventually, someone calls you and tells you whether you can go or not. But the waiting period is very difficult. I couldn’t work because I had applied for permission to emigrate and no one would hire me. And now the army wanted to draft me. They do that to bring more fear and harassment.
When I had waited for about eight months I started to get very anxious. I learned that in some cases people were denied permission to emigrate. I became very fearful. I thought, What if they don’t let me leave? If that happens I can never establish myself as a musician in Russia. I would always be persecuted. People would always know that I had tried to “escape” from Russia and my future life would be full of misery.
I needed to pour out my heart to someone, but I didn’t feel there was any human who could possibly help me. So I thought, if there were a God in heaven, I should try Him. The question was, Where do I find Him? My first instinct was to go to a synagogue, but I didn’t know where any were. And you don’t want to walk around the streets of the Soviet Union asking, “Where’s the nearest synagogue?” If the person you talk to is KGB, you might end up in prison.
So I decided to go to a church instead. The one I found happened to be Russian Orthodox. As I walked inside, I got confused by all the pictures of saints on the walls. There were so many, I didn’t know which one to pray to. As I walked around the church I saw a replica of Jesus (Yeshua is His Hebrew name) on the cross. My atheism class helped me because I had learned that Jesus is for the Christians. Of course they taught that He never existed, even as a man. I certainly didn’t know anything about all the saints pictured there. So I decided to pray to Jesus. I said, “Jesus, please get me out of this country.” Then I turned around and left.
Our family received permission to emigrate soon after that. But I forgot about the prayer. We emigrated in 1979 to Chicago. Right away I started to study music at DePaul University.
Now that I was in a free country, I wanted to investigate my Jewish roots. I began to read about Jewish history. I even went to a reformed synagogue a few times. Although I was a bit bored with the service, I was excited to be among my people. My heritage had been withheld from me for so long, it was like getting back something that had been stolen. I also got involved at a Jewish community center.
I Find the Messiah
One thing I learned was that Christians and Jews do not mix. I never knew that before. My atheism course had taught me a little about different religions, but I didn’t know that Jews were told not to accept Jesus as their Messiah.
One day my sister came home and told our mother she believed in God and that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Mom didn’t take it very well. As they discussed the matter, I listened from another room. To my surprise, what my sister said made sense to me. That was a miracle in itself, because I never gave much weight to anything she had to say.
Quietly, without telling anyone, I began to read books about Jesus that my sister had brought home. One book was about several rabbis who had found the Messiah. That was stunning to me. I was totally amazed that a rabbi could believe in Jesus. The book also discussed prophecies of the Bible that had been fulfilled. I was fascinated by passages such as Isaiah 53, which contained so many Messianic prophecies.
I wanted to know the truth. So I asked God to give me a sign if Jesus really was the Messiah. Suddenly, a bright light came into my room. It stayed for a little while and then it left. But even after God had answered my prayer for emigration to the U.S. and now had sent this supernatural light, I was still not willing to admit to anyone what I was beginning to believe. I had grown up in such unbelief that I asked God for another sign, but I didn’t get any more.
My sister attended Bible studies with a group that met right in the midst of the Jewish community. My mother feared that my sister would be persecuted for believing in Jesus and asked her not to go back. But my sister said, “I really want to study the Bible. Can the group come to our house?” Since our house was not close to the Jewish community center, my mother agreed.
When the group arrived for their meeting, they invited me to join them. I wanted to, but I still didn’t want to admit it. I said, “I’m not interested, but I’ll sit and listen.” During the course of the Bible study, the leader suddenly pointed to me and asked, “Do you believe that Yeshua is the Messiah?” Immediately, I was going to respond, “No,” but I couldn’t. Instead, a new-found strength welled up within me and I said, “Yes.”
By the time I told my mother, she had grown more accustomed to the idea. It didn’t matter that much to her whether we believed in Jesus or not. She was just afraid of persecution from the traditional Jewish community.
When I finished my master’s degree program at DePaul University, I gave two recitals. They were the best achievements of my life. For the two hours that I played the concerts and for a short time afterward I felt a great sense of accomplishment. People really loved the performances and praised me. But by the following day, I felt empty. All those hours of daily practice year after year had yielded only a couple brief moments of glory. Now the glory was gone and all that was left was this strange, empty feeling ….
At first, I wanted to produce and play more great music so people would lift me up again and tell me I was wonderful. Otherwise, I felt I would sink. It’s natural for a man to desire to be great, but we are not to use it to bring glory to ourselves. The Lord showed me He wanted me to live my whole life for Him. So for a year I didn’t play piano. And for about two years, I didn’t give any significant concerts. Piano was an idol for me. I put my idol on the altar and said, “If you don’t want me to use this the rest of my life, I won’t. I want my life to magnify you, God.”
In the meantime, I attended Moody Bible Institute where I met my wife, who also is Jewish and believes in Yeshua. After one semester, we had an opportunity to go to Israel. A highlight of my time there was when I prayed for a boy with epilepsy. We went to see him with a Russian friend who had just become a believer in Jesus. It was difficult to communicate because we didn’t share a common language.
We spoke English and Russian and the boy’s mother spoke Spanish and Hebrew. God showed me there was a demon causing the epilepsy. So for the first time in my life I told a demon to get out in the name of Jesus. Suddenly, the boy indicated he felt something leave him. He did not know what I had prayed because he didn’t understand the language. Months later I found out that he never had any more occurrences of epilepsy!
Playing for God
After we returned from Israel I began to understand that I was to use my talent for the piano to serve God. I also felt the desire to praise God with singing. That was interesting to me because I don’t sing very well. Anyone who becomes a new believer can receive a new song whether he is a musician or not. When that new song started to come out of me, I went to the piano and began to praise God. Some beautiful new music compositions came out of it.
God has continued in His faithfulness to me over the years. He has given me the opportunity to play in Sweden, Germany, Austria, Ukraine, Israel, and Canada, as well as the United States. I now have eight music recordings.
Maybe you are experiencing great difficulties in your life like I did. I looked in many different directions for the answers. But I found that the only way to have true peace and victory is through knowing the Messiah. He will put a new song in your mouth.
Commentary by Sid Roth
Although most American Jews are agnostics, most Russian Jews are taught to be atheists. This is rapidly changing in both countries. Hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews like Alyosha are now believers in Jesus. And there are hundreds of Messianic Jewish synagogues in America to accommodate Jewish believers in Jesus.
Where do you stand? Do you believe there is a God who created the world? When I was in school, the theory of evolution sounded reasonable. Today, I realize it takes more faith to believe this complex universe evolved through chance than to believe the account of creation in the Bible.
Consider the example Alyosha gave of a wristwatch. If you took it completely apart and shook the pieces around in a box for a million years, would it come out reassembled and ticking? How much more complex is the heart and the thousands of miles of capillaries that help make up the circulatory system?
Did you know the human eye has one million nerve fibers in each optic nerve? Each one is connected to the brain. When the eye points at something, it sends a message to the brain that tells the brain the distance to the object. The brain then sends a message to the muscles of the lens telling it how much to change its curvature. In a split second, the object is in focus.
In the last 24 hours your heart has beat 100,000 times, your blood has traveled 186 million miles throughout 60,000 miles of tubing in your body. Your kidneys have filtered over 42 gallons of liquid. And you have probably exercised 7 million brain cells. No machine made by man compares with your body.
By the way, if man evolved from the monkey, why do we still have monkeys? And why have we never found full fossils or animals that are part ape and part human? And why has every “missing link” between apes and men turned out to be a mistake or hoax?
I remember in high school we used to study the evolutionary date charts. They stated as fact that dinosaurs lived millions of years before man. At the Creation Evidences Museum in Glynn Rose, Texas, we can see evidence of human and dinosaur footprints made within minutes of each other captured in a limestone bed. Actually, this same limestone has 57 human footprints and 192 dinosaur prints—proof the evolutionary charts are fantasy. Man and dinosaurs lived on earth together.
What about the “Big Bang” theory? If a big explosion created order out of chaos, why has every observable explosion in history brought disorder?
The Bible says the real “big bang” is yet to come:
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10, NKJV).
Then God will bring us a new heaven and a new earth. It will be in perfect order—a garden of Eden:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away … (Revelation 21:1, NKJV).