My Name is Leonid
The August 2017 edition of WorldView magazine features Unto the Jew, a gripping account of the ministry of Jacob’s Hope work among the Jewish community of Ukraine. (Read it by clicking here, and learn more about this AGWM ministry at jacobshope.com.) Pastor Leonid and Olga Vasserman are key ministry leaders with Jacob’s Hope in Ukraine. This is their remarkable story of addiction, revelation, deliverance, and ministry.
My name is Leonid Vasserman. I grew up in a normal Jewish Soviet working family. My father was a house painter and my mother a dressmaker. We weren’t religious, but we clearly knew we were Jewish. Society wouldn’t let us forget about it. Even though Odessa was a very Jewish city, we saw displays of anti-Semitism daily.
When I was 13, I became curious about my people’s origins and was told by my mother that the Bible would be the best source to learn more. We did not have a Bible at home, and I did not know where to get one, but my mother borrowed a copy. I read it very quickly. I was surprised to learn two things. First, that the Jewish nation was chosen by God, and second, that Jesus was a Jew. So many people surrounding us believed Jesus the Jew was a god, yet they hated Jews.
I got married when I was 18. I knew it was forever; it was the only thing I was sure of. But I wasn’t so sure about other things, and was searching. It was the beginning of 90s — a hard time for our country. The USSR collapsed, and it was difficult to find a job, especially a well-paying one. But I got a good job with a nice salary.
Despite my good job, I became addicted to gambling. At the same time, our neighbor, Lida, started sharing the gospel with my wife, Olga. While I was going deeper into gambling, Olga was discovering God’s truth, love, grace, and mercy. In 1993, I took Olga to a Christian service led by Reinhard Bonnke, left her there, and went gambling. I lost a large amount of money that night. Olga and Lida started sharing the gospel with me, but I was completely closed.
Then my family became aware of my gambling and financial problems. Nonbelieving friends told Olga to divorce me, while believing friends told her the only hope for our marriage was God. She decided to pray hard for me and continued to share the gospel with me.
I prayed and asked God for help. He told me I had to quit my job or I would never be able to quit gambling. From human perspective, that was a foolish step. I had many debts, and I knew there was no way to find another job. But I believed it was an answer from God, so I did it. Now I had no job, and the problems weren’t solved. Olga kept praying for me; meanwhile, my parents helped to pay almost all my debts.
Olga invited me to a Christian Christmas celebration held in the Russian Theater. I went with her. In the crowd, I searched but couldn’t find any other Jewish faces. Yet people on the stage kept saying good things about Israel, about Jerusalem, about Jewish people in general. I was surprised.
Then Olga invited me to the Passover celebration held in the same theater. I had another nice experience. After the celebration, she invited me to the church service, but I refused. She suggested we go to the home group instead. I agreed, but said, “We will go there once, then we will see their real attitude towards Jewish people and the subject will be closed.”
At the home group, I wouldn’t even sit down; I stood in the doorway. The woman leading the study read from Exodus 32. From their discussion of the chapter, I understood that Jewish people were judged by God for worshipping an idol. I saw the story as a display of anti-Semitism, so I told my wife we were leaving. Everyone was surprised to see me so angry. I agreed to check that chapter out myself and we left.
After that, I bought a Bible and began reading. Since I didn’t know where the home group had been reading from, I had to start from the beginning of the Book. I was so angry. When I found Exodus 32 and saw that people at the home group were right, I became angry at myself and agreed to attend the church service.
At the end of the service there was an altar call. I stepped forward. I showed no visible change, but inside I clearly knew my whole life changed. I was born again, repented of my sins, and accepted Jesus the Messiah of Israel as my Lord and my Savior in May 1995.
Immediately I began to actively serve at that church. Richard Harvey (the former director of Jews for Jesus in London) ministered to me every day for two weeks. Because of our friendship, I became a volunteer in the Jews for Jesus ministry and joined as a missionary in 1996. Since then I have served as leader over the Jews for Jesus Odessa branch and have organized and led outreaches around Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Russia, Iran, Israel, and New York.
In 2010, after returning from a Jews for Jesus outreach in Israel — where we met Jeff Coose of Jacob’s Hope — Olga and I realized that God had called us to start a Messianic congregation. After praying and coordinating the decision with Jews for Jesus leadership, we made our first steps. With the participation of Gennady Gelman (a fellow Jews for Jesus missionary) and Jeff Coose, we began New Jerusalem Church in Odessa. Today the church is attended by around 100 people. We are all involved in evangelism, often with Jacob’s Hope. Every year around 12 people are baptized; most of them are Jews.
In 2015, we announced and began a new congregation, The Promised Land, in another district of Odessa. Today, 50 people attend there regularly.
God is opening His ways to us, showing us how to accomplish His tasks. Collaborations between our Messianic congregations, Jacob’s Hope and Jews for Jesus are having a huge impact on the Jewish community of our city. We are regularly in touch with about 5,000 Jewish people. For every Passover, Rosh Hashanah, and more, we invite them to celebrate with us. We send out literature about Messiah Jesus, and we have home Bible studies. From the beginning of every outreach, we reveal that we are Jews who follow Jesus as the Messiah. We hide nothing.
Acts 18:9,10 says: “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city’” (NIV).
There is a lot of work to be done. But I believe Acts 18:9,10 is also God’s word for us, and that is why we continue our work.