From working on a kibbutz in Israel, to smuggling Bibles behind the “Iron Curtain,” to working as a student pastor in England, Phil Derkatch searched for something that he couldn’t put his finger on. It wasn’t until he heard the gospel of victory over sin and met people whose lives spoke overwhelmingly of the effect of obedience to this gospel that he finally knew he had found the home for his spirit that he had been searching for all those years.
“I was brought up in a good Christian family. I spent my childhood and youth surrounded by very caring, kind Christian people. I was taught about Jesus and the forgiveness of sins, and I got a personal connection with God. It was a very healthy, safe atmosphere.
“By the time I was about 17 years old I began to sense that something was missing. I felt I needed more than I was hearing or seeing. So as a teenager on the cusp of making life’s big choices, I cried out to God, asking Him that He would do something with my life. I didn’t know what that something was, but I wanted to be a complete and total sacrifice for God. Not knowing what it would mean tangibly, I made a firm decision that I would find God’s will for my life.”
The journey begins
“It came into my heart then to go to Israel for a time and hopefully find what God had in store for me there. But when my time there was over, I still didn’t feel that I had found what I was looking for, and so I reached out to a mission in Maidstone, Kent, in England. For some years my family had been translating and publishing Bibles in Russian and Ukrainian, which they smuggled behind the “Iron Curtain.” I was really enthusiastic for this work. I’d heard stories of what people behind the Iron Curtain suffered just to have a Bible and have God’s Word available to them. These stories pierced my heart, and it was with this in mind that I contacted the mission, who were active in distributing these Bibles. They agreed to have me come and work with them, but recommended that while I wasn’t travelling I attend a missionary college. I wasn’t interested in preaching or collecting money, but they strongly exhorted me to get an education. I was assured it wasn’t a theology school, but a very hands-on missionary school.
“So I agreed to attend this school and begin my missionary training. At the age of 19 I began to work with a young medical student, and the two of us travelled behind the Iron Curtain into eastern Europe in a minibus. We were smuggling across some of the very Bibles that my family had printed in their printing house in Toronto! Many times we drove through the borders of these Soviet countries with Bibles secreted away in the minibus. It was a serious responsibility that sat heavily on my shoulders. If we were caught, there would be some serious consequences. But, more than this, if the recipients were caught, they would have faced hard labour and imprisonment and, in a worst case scenario, they would have lost their lives.
“Through this work I met many wonderful, self-sacrificing people. But none of them had anything that went further than that, and I strongly felt that a true Christian life went deeper than good deeds and sacrifices. Although it was a tremendously good and necessary work, I felt that I was not getting any deeper than a surface life.”
A gospel so contrary
“But through a young man I had met in Israel, I came into contact with a whole group of people from BCC who believed in, preached, and lived a gospel that was completely different to anything that I had heard before. Most significantly I met a man named Sigurd Bratlie. This man was instrumental in helping me understand this new and foreign gospel. It was from him that l first heard about victory over sin, and that the Word of God was to be believed exactly as it is written. Here I first started to feel that I was hearing something that began to fill that desire and longing for something more that I had always felt. It was a gospel that was so contrary to everything that I had heard and learned throughout my Christian life, that I had a hard time comprehending it. But the lives of the people I met who believed in this gospel spoke strongly of its truth. Without understanding the message itself, I saw the fruit of this life in these people. I saw a deeper life that produced the virtues of Christ in those who lived it. It was this that powerfully drew me, even before I came to faith and understanding of it for my own life.
“Now I was hearing that Jesus had come in flesh and blood like the children, with sin in the flesh (Hebrews 2:14) and that it was possible to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. It was a very hard concept to grasp for a young man who had always been told that Jesus had no sin, and that He was special and unique and completely separate from us. But now I was hearing that it was possible to become like Him! The fact that these people who preached this unheard of gospel themselves radiated the virtues of Christ convinced me that finally I was hearing the truth; finally I had found God’s will for my life. When I travelled to Norway to attend a conference at BCC’s main conference center, I walked in there and immediately my spirit felt that it had found what I had been looking for my whole life. I knew I had come home.”
Read part 2 of Phil’s journey to the truth here.