"When I think of life during the time of persecution compared
to life with freedom, I can say that freedom is good for
the body but bad for the soul; persecution is bad for the body
and good for the soul." --Igor Yaremchuk
Those are difficult words to digest. Freedom is all I've ever
known, and I easily forget that it's a privilege. It's hard for
me to imagine Christians past and present suffering just for their
beliefs. Beyond the Rapids sheds light on one family's
trials and triumphs in the midst of harsh religious persecution.
Evelyn Puerto records the true story of the Brynza family's faith
and perseverance despite persecution while living under communist
rule during the early twentieth century to shortly after the fall
of the Soviet Union. Though spanning three generations, the book's
main focus is on Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza and his wife, Valentina,
as they reared their four children in an environment opposed to
the Christian faith.
The story is told from the perspective of the Brynza's four children,
beginning with their only daughter, Lena. In Part I, "In the Rapids," Lena
remembers what life was like growing up as an oppressed believer.
She lived during a time when children were forbidden to go to church
and teachers were allowed to pick on the Christian students in
school. Her family was always poor, as her father would often be
fired from his jobs because of his faith. Lena recounts fascinating
stories from her grandparents, who endured religious persecution
Lena's older brothers, Yakov and Viktor, take turns telling their
sides of the story in Part II, "Seeking and Finding ." Yakov
remembers the difficulty of choosing Christ over success. He also
tells of his struggle with anger and frustration even after becoming
a Christian. Viktor wanted to cling to worldly pleasures, such
as drinking, smoking, and fighting, and still be a Christian, but
he shares how miserable he was leading a double life. Eventually,
he was saved while in the army, and he even resisted many threats
from commanders to refrain from meeting with other believers.
Also in Part II, Igor Yaremchuk--the man Lena eventually marries--shares
what his life was like growing up in an unbelieving home and how
God used various situations and even atheist propaganda to draw
him to Himself.
In Part III, "Biting my Elbows," we hear from Lena again. She
shares her struggles of entering the work force, remaining true
to her faith, and falling in love with an unbeliever. She recalls
meeting Igor for the very first time and reveals the details of
their very strange courtship. In this section, Lena and Igor take
turns telling of their unique relationship, their marriage, and
their eventual life in America.
Veniamin, the youngest child, recounts his life's journey as a
Brynza in Part IV, "Coming Home." Shame and humiliation turned
to anger and rebellion early on. Veniamin was an ill-behaved child
in school, causing much grief to his parents. Later he became involved
in crime, joined the Red Army, and married an unbeliever. Veniamin's
wife briefly shares about her relationship to Veniamin, about being
a part of his family, and coming to accept Christ as her Savior.
I loved this book! I am grateful for this family's willingness
to share and for Evelyn Puerto's dedication to complete the book
and present it in a way that was interesting to read. It was as
if these individuals had been invited over to my home to give their
personal testimonies. I hung on every word. I was reminded often
of the amazing grace and love of our God. Highlights for me were
learning of the "mysterious miracle bush," Igor's incredible salvation
experience, and Igor and Lena's highly unusual courtship!
What a coincidence that my two oldest children were in the midst
of studying about the Cold War as I was reviewing Beyond the
Rapids! I wish they were old enough to read this book now,
but I think I will wait until they are a little older. I would
recommend this book for high school aged children and up.
You can visit www.beyondtherapids.com to
find out more about the author and the Brynza family. Links are
also provided for book purchase. Both links list the book for under
$15.00, and half of the proceeds are donated to the Irpin Biblical
Seminary. When you are finished reading Beyond the Rapids,
you can keep up with the blog on the site, too!
I give Beyond the Rapids five stars! It's incredibly
inspirational, and I think every Christian should have a copy.
It has certainly impacted my life and strengthened my faith. May
we all have the courage to persevere like the Brynzas and live
in a manner worthy of the gospel, no matter what happens.