I Was Homeless and Hopeless, Then God Moved

Litvinov, 35, South Korea

[as told to Then God Moved editor Adira Polite]

I was born in the Czech Republic to highly educated parents who did not want me. My parents wanted to abort me, but a doctor discouraged them, so my mother begrudgingly carried me to term. Throughout my childhood, my parents reminded me that they’d never wanted me. The response to my youthful mistakes was always the same: “Remember, we wanted to abort you.”

My older brother, on the other hand, was adored. My parents said he was smart and capable and everything that I wasn’t. They sent him to school, but refused to let me attend, insisting that sports were my only hope. So, I gave it my all: martial arts, kickboxing etc. Sports, I believed, was the ticket to my parents’ approval.

Life worsened at age 13, when my mom was electrocuted by our clothing dryer. By the time the ambulance arrived, she was gone. I saw the whole thing. My father started drinking a lot after that. Eventually, to try to overcome his alcoholism, he started going to church. He met Christ shortly after and started sharing the gospel at home. This deeply annoyed me. I was relieved that “religion” had worked for my father, but I didn’t believe in God and I really didn’t want to hear it.

I continued to focus on sports, until age 18, when I lost the qualifying finals and my career unraveled. My identity and sense of purpose were rooted in sports, so my life suddenly felt void of meaning. I attempted suicide twice. When that failed, I developed a gambling problem. I began stealing to cover my losses, even from my own father. I gambled away every penny I stole from him.

I was too embarrassed to go back home, so I started living on the streets, begging and sleeping on roofs. One night, another homeless man put a knife to my throat. In that moment, I thought, “You’re the son of a diplomat, but this is where you’ve ended up. Who are you without God?” I’d rejected everything my father said about God, but I now realized that He was my only hope. I still didn’t know who Jesus was, but I knew that something about the faith had saved my father from alcoholism. So, I found my way to a church. Like many post-Soviet countries, Ukraine has many Korean residents and many Korean churches. This church was one of them. 

At one of the services, there was an altar call, or a call to repentance. I knew in my heart that this was my chance. I gave my life to Christ that day without hesitation. Two years later, I enrolled in the church’s seminary. Shortly after, I met a Canadian missionary team. I only spoke Russian, but through the workings of the Holy Spirit, I was somehow able to communicate with them. My English quickly improved and, within a month, I was fluent. One of my professors remarked on my gift and encouraged me to begin studying Korean. Again, through Christ, I succeeded. I was fluent within six months.

This spiritual gift enabled me to begin working as a Korean-Russian translator. I was the only one in my city, so I was very, very well paid. I started working around the clock and, as the money poured in, I began spending lavishly. The more I prized money, the further I drifted from God. As Scripture warns, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24). I lived this lifestyle for two years.

Finally, in 2010, three visiting South Korean pastors preached at our church. It was clear that their “gospel” was of the prosperity sort. As I listened, I realized that I, too, had replaced my love of God with a love of money. I knew I had to get out; the temptations were far too great in the Ukraine, so I fled to South Korea. Once there, I underwent 5 years of missionary training. During this time, I met my wife and started a family.

Litvinov, his wife Jusil, their 4 children, and Jusil’s parents, 2017

At the end of my training, I had a strong desire to move to China. I’d been fascinated by China since boyhood, due to youthful encounters with an elderly, very kind Chinese man in my hometown. I was hopeful that China would be my next step, but when I prayed about it, God told me, “You can go to China, but I will stay here.” I was so confused. When I asked what He meant, He said that there was a neglected community right there, in my South Korean city. He told me that no one cared for them, but He did. Those people were ethnic Koreans.

As I began researching this population, I found that most ethnic Koreans in Korea — i.e. populations that have returned to Korea from U.S.S.R. countries — only speak Russian. This language barrier hinders their upward mobility. On top of that, there is a stigma attached to them. Like many stigmatized populations, they suffer from unemployment, lack of education, crime, teen pregnancy, and the like.

It was during this study that I came across a pastor-run school for ethnic Korean youth. I contacted the pastor and, to my surprise, he told me that he’d been praying for someone just like me — someone who can speak both Russian and Korean. He told me that he had no money to offer me, but by the grace of God, I was able to join his staff anyway.

I saw so much spiritual warfare in that school. Most of the students’ parents were preoccupied with making money to provide for their families, so the kids received very little attention. There’s a lot of teenage addiction, ranging from the internet to alcohol and drugs. By age fourteen, many girls have already had abortions.

I could see that very few of our students knew Jesus. God made it clear that it wasn’t enough to just try to reach these kids in school. So, in 2016, a group of us decided to open a church specifically for ethnic Korean teenagers. We started out with only 10 kids. Today, we serve over 150 kids. It’s not just a Sunday ministry; we meet with these kids every day of the week. We meet in the morning for prayer and again after school to worship and study until late evening. We also host summer camps and minister to teenagers in other parts of Korea. 

Litvinov’s discussing his church on a local Korean television station, 2019

When I view myself and others with the eyes and heart of God, I can see that God is using my suffering for His good. Whenever I encounter dark times, He turns my suffering into a tool to serve the hopeless, especially hopeless children! Before I met Christ, I was broken, rejected, and unloved. But, the love that I never received from my parents, I received from Christ — and I’m now sharing that love with these children. It’s my prayer that the kids who feel what I once felt will discover hope and new life in Christ.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

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