"I am a criminal concerning the Lord Jesus"
A Hardened Atheist Becomes a Child of God
The testimony of Gavril Barnut, at one time a hardened atheist and Communist Party member, was recorded on tape inside Romania during the early 1980s. Gavril shared this account with many people in Romania, including communist officials, calling fearlessly upon one and all to come in repentance to God. Here are excerpts from his recorded testimony.
My name is Gavril Barnut, and I was born on April 20, 1939, in Satu Mare, Romania. Before I relate the experience which brought me to the Lord, I would like to share about my life before I became a Christian.
I was a person who wouldn't believe in anything unless I could see it with my eyes and feel it with my hands. I was a hardened atheist and nobody could convince me that God existed. I couldn't even tolerate people who tried to talk to me about God.
My parents were nominal members of the Greek Orthodox Church. Just before my father was sent to war he felt the need to repent and be baptized, but he didn't have time to do this before he left. His last words to my mother were that she should repent, but my mother replied, "I will never repent and put my parents to shame by leaving the Orthodox Church!"
After my Dad was killed in the war, one of his sisters and my mother accepted Christ into their hearts. I didn't want to hear about this thing of repenting.
One day my mother said to me, "I will pray for you until you become a Christian or until I die."
I answered, "You may die ten times before I will repent once."
I was totally convinced I would never repent of my life of sin, because I was sure there was no God, no heaven, and no hell. All I could believe in were the material things which I could see and feel. I even went so far as to say to some Christians that if the Communist Party would ask me to, I would kill all the Christians.
As a young man, I was trained in the carpentry and painting trade. In the spring of 1958, while painting a room in the house of a Christian family, I was attracted to their daughter Florica. Even though I never intended to be a Christian, I had decided earlier that I would never marry a girl who cursed or used off-color language.
I asked Florica to marry me on the condition that she would give up her faith, since I could never marry a Christian girl. She replied that not only would she not give up her faith, but she would also never marry a boy who was not a Christian.
Finally, seeing that Florica was firm in her resolve not to marry me unless I first became converted, I decided to pretend interest in Christianity. I started going to church and was eventually baptized, and we got married. Soon after, I was drafted into the army where I spent the next two years.
After I returned home, I confessed to my wife that I had been baptized only for her and that I no longer planned to go to church. I instructed the church to take me off their membership list. I wanted to be free to do as I pleased. Well-meaning church members came to talk to me, but I pushed them out the door, refusing to listen to them.
In 1960, the church took me off their records, and until 1973 I was "free" from the church and guided by the devil. I was drinking, smoking, dancing and going to the theater. Since my wife didn't go with me, I went with other women. Now I am so ashamed of all those deeds, I never want to commit them again.
On a Saturday in June 1973, my mother came to visit me, and asked once again, "When are you going to repent?"
The next morning, she wanted me to go to church with her. I got very upset and told her roughly to go to church and pray as much as she wanted, but to leave me in peace.
Finally my mother, my wife, and the children left for church, crying, without me. At noon they returned and prepared a meal. When my mother wanted to ask the blessing on the food, I became furious and shouted, "In my house you will never pray. If you want to pray, go to your own house and pray until your knees are worn through, but never in my house!"
Crying, my mother left the house with these words, "My dear son, from today on, I will never ask you to repent again, but you may know that I will pray and fast for you until I die."
Carelessly I replied, "You will die ten times and your knees will be worn through, but you may know this, I have no intention of repenting!"
Unknown to me, as my mother was leaving she met my wife in the courtyard. Together they agreed it would do no good to try to talk to me concerning my soul. Both of them agreed to pray and fast for three days-Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday-asking God to deliver me from the evil spirits and to transform my life through His grace.
My mother had hurried out of the house without eating and now I wasn't hungry either. I left for the restaurant where I stayed until midnight, drinking. When I returned, my three children were in bed and my wife was crying. I took an instrument and started to play and sing loudly, saying to myself, "I want to enjoy my life here on earth, because after this life, there is nothing else."
The next morning, my younger brother and I went to a nearby village to do work on a house. For the next few days we really lived it up, listening to music records over and over, smoking cigarette after cigarette, and drinking just enough to be in a good mood.
On Thursday, the lady of the house called us in for lunch. As I came down from the scaffolding and stepped on the ground, it was as if a heavy weight hit me on the head. I looked around to see if my brother struck me with something, but no, he was on the ground too.
After that strike, it felt like electricity went through my body from head to toe, and I almost fell down. I began to shake all over and for no reason, began to cry. Before this I could never cry. I had a very stony heart. Now I cried so hard that nobody could stop me!
I couldn't eat, drink, or smoke. I cried all afternoon as I continued to work. In the evening when they called us for supper, I again couldn't eat no matter how much they insisted. Looking at my brother John, I said, "I have a part in the death of Jesus Christ! Do you think I am a criminal?"
Remembering a sermon that the preacher in my village had delivered, I proceeded to relate it to my brother. "Pastor Talpos preached that when the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, beaten, and mistreated, He cried out, `Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.' "
Again I said to John, "I am a criminal concerning the Lord Jesus! Until now, I didn't believe on Him, but from this moment on, I believe there is a God and an eternity!"
My brother replied, "Gavril, I think you are sick and should go to the hospital."
"No," I insisted, "I am not sick. I want to go home and lock myself into a room where I can read the Bible undisturbed today and tomorrow." It was as if a deep thirst was coming into my soul. All I wanted was to be alone, read the Bible, and find forgiveness for my sins.
John wanted to stay until the job was completed. The man we worked for, who was a communist party member, asked us to stay and work even on Sunday. I was also a communist party member, but I decided right there I would no longer work on Sundays. The next morning, Friday, both the man and my brother insisted strongly that I eat and almost forced me to drink alcohol, but I refused everything.
I went home and when my wife saw me, she exclaimed, "Gavril, what happened? You look as if you came from the grave!"
It was a beautiful, sunny morning. My wife was inside preparing a meal since I hadn't eaten anything since the previous morning, and I was seated on a small chair in front of the kitchen door.
Suddenly I felt warm air come over me, and after that, a short sleep. I stood up and said to my brother, "I feel that I will soon die." I entered the house and asked my wife to open the bed for me so I could lie down and die. My wife looked at me strangely and told me to quit talking like that. I lay down on the little bed by the door.
As I lay there with my eyes open, I saw a tall man coming from the left. His clothes were like burning sheet-metal and he had a very cruel look. As he moved closer and closer to my bed he asked, "Gavril, do you know who I am? I have come to take you. I am the devil, the one who has guided your life until today."
I quickly called my wife, and told her to get John and the children. I said to them, "Look at this man; he says he is the devil and he has come to take me. Please, don't let him take me!"
As they came closer, the devil moved to my feet. I could see him clearly.
I asked my wife's forgiveness for all the wrongs I did to her in my life and explained to them that now I must leave them. My wife began to cry and say, "Gavril, don't die! What has happened to you?"
I said again that I had to leave. "This man has come to take me!"
I kissed my wife, my brother, and the children. As I kissed the last one, my four year-old daughter, I could hear her voice coming as from far away, "Daddy, don't die." I couldn't say anything . . . my sight, my voice, and my hearing were all gone.
After I had kissed my little daughter, the devil said, "Now, follow me!"
Immediately I found myself in another world. It was dark, like a night with very little moonlight. Around me I could see burned trees, thorns, and sharp stones on the road where I was walking.
Seeing in the distance a big gate with many brilliant colors, I asked, "What is over there?"
"That is the gate to heaven," replied the devil, "but you will not get over there!"
Arriving in front of a long dark tunnel, I looked in and saw a multitude of people dressed in burning sheet metal clothes, with their hands lifted up and crying piteously for water. A terrible, raging fire was coming up out of the earth, with the flames shooting up to the sky. Thinking that maybe some of my relatives were in there, I quickly asked for a bucket of water to stop that terrible fire and save those people. But the devil shouted with a horrible voice, "There are no buckets and there is no water, only eternal fire . . . and this is prepared for you, too . . . GO IN!!"
I was extremely frightened and started to cry out with all my soul to God. Suddenly I saw a hand and arm between me and the devil. The hand was dressed in something whiter than the sun and rays were shining from it. A finger on the hand pointed toward me and a voice said to the devil, "Don't you see that he has faith as a little mustard seed?"
When the voice spoke, the hand disappeared and two angels brighter than the sun appeared.
The angel on the right said, "Because you didn't want to believe in anything, God decided today to show you things you never saw or heard before. Now, let's go!"
I felt myself moving upward. I saw myself with a transparent body, like glass, but in all colors. Two angels were holding my hands, one on the right and the other on the left. I looked down and saw my earthly body. I felt so happy and so peaceful in this new body, I didn't want to look at my old body anymore; it looked so ugly.
The angels explained to me that everyone who passes from life on earth receives a new body-either a devilish body or a heavenly body. But now, they said to me, I have only a guest body to visit heaven.
When we arrived at the gate to heaven it opened automatically. Everything was bright and shining. It didn't seem as if I was walking, it was more like flying. Looking around, I didn't see houses or people. I saw lots of flowers, and among the flowers were trees full of many colorful flowers. It was beautiful! Words cannot describe it! The sky was not arched like on the earth; everything was flat and bright like the sun.
The angels brought me to a palace. The walls were full of flowers. "Over there, behind that door, is the place prepared for you and all your relatives," said the angels.
"Who are my relatives?" I asked.
"All those who do the will of the Father," was the reply. The happiness I felt was indescribable.
The angels took me to visit my mansion where I saw my father and mother. My mom kissed and hugged me, saying how long she had waited for this day when I would be born again. Then my mother let me go and said to me, "Be careful, so as not to fall!"
I asked the angels to please go and tell my wife, children, and other loved ones to stop crying and to come see what a beautiful place I am in.
When my brother brought my body to the hospital, the doctors declared me dead. My wife began to cry, "Gavril, you left me alone with the children. What will I do now?"
Both my wife and my brother threw themselves on my chest, crying. At that moment my lips moved and my wife heard me saying the same words I had said to the angels about comforting my family. The doctors, also seeing my lips move, gave me many shots to try to revive me but to no avail. Finally, with my body turning blue and other doctors also declaring me dead, they moved my body to the morgue. At 9:00 p.m. the doctors wanted to do an autopsy, but my wife refused to sign the papers for permission to cut me. She continued to pray for me, asking, "If he is dead, why do tears continue to come out of his eyes?" The doctor himself later said he had never seen anything like this before.
In my vision the angels took me to see thousands of angels singing on a beautiful, flower-covered hill. In front of them stood the Lord Jesus Himself!
Next I was taken to some white doors where all my past deeds were recorded. Before my eyes passed everything I had done in my adult lifetime. I had to see each of the deeds separately: I was in restaurants drinking, in homes with bad company and bad music. All was exactly as I had spent my life of sin, in many details. At each door I felt so ashamed of my deeds.
The angels informed me that we would go see God. How could I stand in front of God with such deeds? I was very much afraid and began to cry loudly. In the distance I could see a dark cloud approaching. As it came closer, a white cloud came out of it, then disappeared, and a man stood there. He was dressed in a bright light. The angels said, "He is God."
I stood before Him, frightened, waiting for Him to order me to the place prepared for me in hell, knowing He knew all the terrible deeds I had committed. He began to speak with a soft voice, "Don't be afraid. You had sins-as many as the sand of the sea. But through the blood of my beloved Son Jesus, all your sins are washed away. I forgive you."
After that, God told me He decided I would go back to the earth to my family. He also told me that I should tell everyone I knew and those I didn't know that very soon grace would be taken away and the world would come to an end.
"Go," He said, "My Spirit will be with you."
I felt myself shaken, and I saw myself in my own body as I left to go back on the road I had come. When I looked back, I saw the road was rolling up behind me. When I inquired, the angels explained that the road was only for me as a visitor to heaven.
As I came out through the gate everything seemed dark. I looked up and thought I saw the moon, but the angel said it was not the moon, but the sun. From a high mountain I could see cities and villages. I saw the two churches in my county and crowds of people singing the song, "With gladness will all those reap that planted the seed with faith and tears." The angel on my left said, "Look, your brethren are waiting for you-you should go and praise God with them."
The angel on my right said, "Go and give a testimony to them about your repentance."
"Why? They already are Christians!" I replied.
"Christians need to repent again and again," said the angels.
The angel's parting words to me were, "Watch, and be careful not to fall!" Then they went back to heaven.
I awoke in the hospital basement morgue.
Earlier my wife had left with John to go home, but as they were walking on the street, my wife asked again, "John, why, if he died, are tears still flowing from his eyes?" She then told my brother how she and my mom decided to fast and pray that God would transform my life, and not to take my soul away before I became a Christian.
Suddenly my wife said, "John, I am not going home! I will go back to the hospital." My brother tried in vain to convince my wife that I was dead and that at 9:00 that evening the doctors planned to do an autopsy.
Unable to be persuaded to go home, my wife returned to the morgue and found me standing inside the door.
As she looked inside, she called, "Gavril, is that you?"
"Yes, Florica," I replied, "It is me. Go and tell the doctors to open the door."
The doctors came, as did many other people, but everyone stayed at a distance except my wife, who threw herself into my arms.
Then we went to Dr. Puscasu's office where he offered me a chair to sit down, but I refused, saying I wasn't tired. The doctor seemed uneasy and a little afraid of me as he asked me to tell him what illness brought me to the hospital in the first place. He had to make a diagnosis and prescribe some medicine. I tried to explain to him that my only illness was that of unbelief.
Finally the doctor became quite angry, insisting I tell him my medical problem since he could not write "unbelief" on his chart, and he had to make out a prescription. I replied that I didn't need his prescription, because I already received my medicine-the blood of Jesus Christ.
Many other patients came into the doctor's office and I told all of them what I saw and heard in my vision, urging everyone to repent and come to Christ.
Many people came to me afterwards to ask me if I saw their loved ones in heaven, but I recognized only my father and mother. I told everyone that everything that happened was because of the love of God.
Since that day, I have desired to follow Him and to tell others about Him, until the time when I get to the place prepared for me in heaven. I want all people to prepare to go there.
Everything is completely different now, and I don't have enough words to thank Jesus for His love for me.
We printed Gavril's testimony in our July 28, 1988, newsletter. In May 2007, Nate Bange (CAM's aid distribution director in Romania) visited Gavril and Florica to verify his story. Gavril shared many details of his experience and it compared closely with the printed account we had. He says, "I do not say that what I experienced was reality, but neither was it just a dream; I consider it a vision."
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