In 1971, Inga Karstina was born in the Siberian village of Saratovka near the border of Kazakhstan. Inga became involved with a bad crowd of criminals and drug addicts at an early age. Her reputation in the village was terrible; people were both frightened of her and disgusted by her. For several decades she was in and out of prison.
But in her late thirties, Inga glimpsed a very unusual ray of hope.
She’d heard from some other criminals that her friend Sasha, well-known and respected among thieves, had become a Christian worker in a local Baptist church. Inga explains, “At that moment I was tired from my life and was looking for something to bring peace into my heart, but I couldn’t find it anywhere.” Sacha’s story captured Inga’s heart and imagination. When she called him, he invited her to a barbecue at OM’s Discipleship Centre. If he could be changed by God, Inga reasoned, there might be hope for her.
At the barbecue, Sasha invited Inga to participate in a Christian rehab program in the city of Novosibirsk and Inga agreed. In rehab on September 2, 2012, she gave her life to Christ.
Just as Inga had once devoted her life to sin, she now gave herself wholeheartedly to Jesus Christ. She became an active witness in her village. Sasha explains, “Through me, the Lord started a small revival in my village. At first my relatives repented, then my friends and acquaintances, then neighbors.”
The gospel of John tells a story a bit like Inga’s. In John 4, a local woman with a poor reputation encountered Jesus and dashed to tell everyone else in the village about him. Just like the people in that Samaritan village, Inga’s community saw the dramatic changes in her life and became curious.
Many received Christ and today they meet with Inga in a small house church.
The same year Inga came to know Christ, she met a man named Dima who was studying at OM’s Russia Discipleship Centre. Dima had also served several years in prison and came to faith there. He told Inga about the opportunity to study at OM, which led her to participate in an eight-month residential course that included Bible-based lessons, ministry in local churches, monthly mission trips to outlying villages, and the practical work of cleaning and cooking. During that time, a vision of her future began to crystallize.
Dima and Inga realized that reintroduction into society after time in prison can be very difficult. Often, the relationships that remain are destructive and former criminals need to learn marketable skills to survive.
God gave Inga a vision to return to her village and open a small farm and rehab center for former criminals. The farm would serve as a place of safety and Christian encouragement. It would also give young men the opportunity to learn basic farming skills that could provide for their futures. For her dream to become a reality, Inga needed help.
OM’s Business for Transformation division gave Inga a loan of $3,500 (US) to purchase the first farm animals — eight pigs and two cows. If OM’s intervention was Spirit-driven, the land donation to start the farm was perhaps even more so! Two drug dealers, who were serving long sentences and were not yet men of faith, agreed to let Inga use their house and property while they were imprisoned.
No sooner had Inga graduated from the Discipleship Centre course, than she fell ill with tuberculosis in her spine. In the summer of 2014 she was hospitalized and was so ill she could hardly move. Even as she lay ill, God was still at work. Another graduate of the rehab center named Volodya, jumped on board with Inga’s vision. He was from Inga’s village and knew her before she became a Christian.
Both Volodya and his parents came to Christ in response to Inga’s testimony.
After months of prayers for healing, Inga turned a corner and was released from the hospital in November. What the enemy intended for ill, God used for good. Inga recognizes how God used her illness to teach her humility and dependence on God. With OM’s loan, Volodya renovated the old house and bought the animals for the farm. The rehab home’s first guest arrived January 2, 2015, and more are expected. Today the house that was once used to cook and sell drugs is a haven where the Bible is studied and lives are rebuilt. Volodya and his parents also host the village’s small house church. Inga and Volodya expect to repay OM’s loan by May 2015.
Today, with God’s help, Inga continues to recover. She’s not allowed to sit for the next six months, but she carries out the farm’s administrative needs from a lying or sitting position. Despite her current challenges, Inga is filled with joy and sees God’s hand in her circumstances. She plans to return to OM for another session of study in February. Inga prays and works for full physical recovery, money to purchase a car for the ministry, and the opportunity to open a similar rehab center for women.
Inga welcomes addicts and thieves to walk the road she’s traveled. With boldness she exhorts, “Stop a moment and look at your life. Then look at what we’ve done with our lives with God. Turn to God, he loves you and is waiting for the prodigal sons and daughters, who Satan had deceived at the beginning of their lives. The truth is only found in God.”
When people ask Inga about her motivation for ministry, she smiles and says, “Just as God pulled me out of the garbage, I want to help others find God so that He can transform their lives.”
Lord, we thank You for Your heart of compassion toward the lost and forgotten. For us You sent Your only Son. We ask You, in Your great mercy, to shine Your light into the darkest corners of this world. Use us as You will, Father, to bring the beauty of new life in Christ to those who have not yet heard, that they might also believe and follow Him.
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