christ in you

Christ in You, Christ in Prison: Dmitri’s Story

18 December 2023

2.9 MINS

Thrown in a communist jail in the USSR for starting an underground church, Dmitri discovered the powerful truth of ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’.

The following is an excerpt from Kurt Mahlburg and Warwick Marsh’s latest book, Jesus: The Centre of It All. Buy the book here.

Dmitri’s ‘Heartsong’ to Jesus

A faint hue warmed the dreary prison cell to signal the start of another day. Rising from sleep, the inmate stood at attention by his bed, facing east. Then, as was his custom, Dmitri raised his hands, filled his lungs with air and began singing his ‘heartsong’ to Jesus.

Familiar with the routine, prisoners in cells nearby reacted promptly with curses and jeering. Others laughed, mocked, or banged metal cups against the iron bars of their cells in protest. Some flung food and even faeces. But none of this deterred Dmitri. Prison might have separated him from other believers—surely the worst form of torture. But when Dmitri sang his heartsong, the stench, cold and misery of prison life faded and he found himself in the sweet presence of Jesus.

A Special Gift From God

There was another habit Dmitri had adopted to keep his faith alive during seventeen long years behind bars. Anytime he found a scrap of paper in the prison, he snuck it back into his cell. Then, using the stub of a pencil or a shard of charcoal, Dmitri wrote down all the Bible passages and songs he could remember and stuck the piece of paper to a damp concrete pillar as a praise offering to God. If a guard spotted paper on the pillar in Dmitri’s cell, beatings and death threats were sure to follow. But it was a price this prisoner was willing to pay to stay close to Jesus.

On this particular day, Dmitri was overcome with joy when he received a special gift from God: as he wandered the prison yard, he came across a whole sheet of paper with a pencil lying beside it. Rushing back to his cell, Dmitri filled the precious page with every Scripture, Bible story and song he could remember, and stuck the entire sheet to the pillar. It was the greatest offering he had ever given Jesus from this tiny cage.

A Prison Miracle

On this occasion, Dmitri received more than a beating. Guards came and detained him, then began dragging him away. They were taking him to the place of execution in the prison courtyard.

But as he was dragged down the facility’s central corridor, a most unusual thing happened. Fifteen hundred hardened criminals stood at attention by their beds, facing east. They began to sing. The words and the tune were unmistakeable. It was Dmitri’s heartsong, which they had heard sung every day at dawn for years on end. Praise filled the prison. It was the most beautiful sound Dmitri had heard in his life. These men risked their lives by singing, but they had to. They had been touched by the presence of Christ in Dmitri.

Terrified, Dmitri’s jailors released their grip on him and stumbled backwards.

“Who are you?” one of them demanded.

Standing tall, Dmitri replied, “I am a son of the living God, and Jesus is His name!”

The guards returned Dmitri to his cell. Soon afterwards, he was released from prison and was reunited with his family.

Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

This true story, which took place in the USSR, began after Dmitri started a small house church.[i] Communism had shut down so many places of worship and sent almost every pastor to prison until the nearest church was a three-day hike away. Beginning with just his wife and sons, Dmitri, who had no formal religious training, began teaching from their old family Bible. In time, singing and prayers were added into their sacred gatherings. Soon, neighbours heard about the meetings and asked to come too. When Dmitri was arrested, some seventy-five people were attending services, pressed cheek-to-cheek into Dmitri’s home and even leaning in through the windows from outside.

Dmitri discovered a powerful truth about the Christian life. He learned that believers can meet with Jesus anywhere in the world—even in a house church, even in the darkest of prisons—for the simple reason that Jesus is living inside of us.

Buy Jesus: The Centre of It All here.


[i] Adapted from Nik Ripken and Gregg Lewis, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected (Tennessee: B&H Publishing, 2013), 151-158.

Image via Unsplash.

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