Saturday, April 21st Chuck Colson "slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God"!* I am old enough to remember Chuck Colson's other life when he served in the Nixon White House. He went to prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. But Watergate DID NOT define Chuck Colson. Chuck said he went to prison and never left. That is true in the sense that he spent the rest of his life writing, speaking, founding Prison Fellowship and its related ministries including his daily op ed pieces on Breakpoint.
What defined Chuck Colson was his incredible faith in Jesus and his unique, scholarly ability to put his faith and faith concepts in words that gripped the heart of his audience! I own and have read many of his books beginning with Born Again which is the story of his fall from the halls of power and the new life he found in Jesus Christ. I think my favorite of all his books is Loving God which he wrote in 1983.
Chapter 2 in Loving God is titled The Russian Doctor. It is one of the most profoundly compelling stories I have ever read - perhaps because I have read most of the writings of the person who is the patient of the Russian doctor. The Russian doctor is Dr. Boris Nicholayevich Kornfeld, a Jewish doctor and prisoner in the Soviet gulag. If anyone kept a record of the offense that landed Dr. Kornfeld in the gulag it is lost in time. In prison Boris Kornfeld became a believer in Jesus. Another prisoner spoke to Boris about another Jew who lived, died and came back to life. Boris was captivated and eventually believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah of God! Dr. Kornfeld's new faith gave definition and boundaries to his bleak existence in the gulag. He refused to stoop to the "dog eat dog" existence in that dreadful place! He stood against injustice.
One night he was making rounds on a patient with serious pellagra - a disease caused by malnutrition that ultimately killed the patient. This man was clearly ravaged by pellagra. Dr. Kornfeld had been scavaging for white chalk, bread and herring to try to help his patient but the man was too far gone. He was too sick to even know his own name. He died as Dr. Kornfeld attended him.
As Boris Kornfeld walked away he came upon a criminal who had stolen the bread of another pellegra patient and was stuffing it down as fast as he could. In spite of the danger to his own personal safety, Dr. Kornfeld turned the man in to the commandant even tho he was effectively signing his own death warrent by his action. For safety the Russian doctor began sleeping near his patients. Apparently Dr. Kornfeld had never told another human being about his new found faith in Jesus.
One gray afternoon he examined a patient who had just been operated on for cancer of the intestines. This young man with a melon-shaped head and a hurt, little-boy expression touched the soul of the doctor. The man's eyes were sorrowful and suspicious and his face deeply etched by the years he had already spent in the camps, reflecting a depth of spiritual misery and emptiness Kornfeld had rarely seen.
So the doctor began to talk to the patient, describing what had happened to him. Once the tale began to spill out, Kornfeld could not stop. The patient missed the first part of the story, for he was drifting in and out of the anesthesia's influence, but the doctor's ardor caught his concentration and held it, though he was shaking with fever. All through the afternoon and late into the night, the doctor talked, describing his conversion to Christ and his new-found freedom. ... The patient knew he was listening to an incredible confession. Though the pain from his operation was severe, his stomach a heavy, expansive agony of molten lead, he hung on the doctor's words until he fell asleep.
The young patient awoke early the next morning to the sound of running feet and a commotion ... the whispers of a fellow patient told him of Kornfeld's fate. During the night while the doctor slept, someone had crept up ... and dealt him eight blows on the head with a plasterer's mallet. And though his fellow doctors worked valiantly to save him, in the morning the orderlies carried him out, a still, broken form.
But Kornfeld's testimony did not die.
The patient pondered the doctor's last, impassioned words. As a result, he, too, became a Christian. He survived that prison camp and went on to tell the world what he had learned there.
The patient's name was Alexander Solzhenitsyn. (Chuck Colson, Loving God, p. 27-34, 1983).
I remember well how my breath caught the first time I read this chapter! WOW! What a story!
The man who wrote that wonderful story and all the other chapters in Loving God has now moved on to the "BIG TIME - HEAVEN" but the things he said, the words he wrote and the way he lived will stand as a memorial to God's amazing grace!
*Ronald Reagan, 28 Jan 1986 after Challenger disaster quoting "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee