Tanya: A Story of God’s Amazing Providence in Communist Lands

By Debby Thompson Published on October 16, 2021

Chapter excerpted from Pulling Back the Iron Curtain: Stories From a Cold War Missionaryreleased on October 12. (New York: Morgan James, 2021). Used by permission.

Debby Thompson tells moving, exciting, sometimes harrowing and often funny tales of life behind the Iron Curtain, where she moved in 1977 with her husband Larry and their toddler-age daughter Anne Coleman to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in communist lands.

Tanya from Leningrad

“Hello. My name is Tanya.”

Larry and I participated with our Polish language institute on a three-day cultural excursion from Lublin to Kraków. A cheerful woman’s abrupt introduction interrupted our early morning daze as we stood mindlessly in the lobby of the youth hostel. Other group members mingled around, yet she walked directly up to Larry and me. She wore an orange turtleneck sweater, though it was the middle of summer. Her short hair had a mind of its own; her worn jeans needed washing. Her only luggage was a well-traveled backpack.

“May I please join your tour?” Her odd question, spoken in perfect English, made more sense when she explained further. “I am from the Soviet Union; my home is Leningrad. For the first time in my life, my government issued me a passport to travel outside the borders of my country. I may never get this opportunity again. By going with your group on your bus, I could see so much more than I can ever see traveling on my own.”

A Divine Appointment

After gaining approval from our leader-lecturer, Tanya from Leningrad boarded the bus with us. This providential work of God rapidly redefined my definition of “divine appointment.” In a Polish youth hostel packed with travelers, He supernaturally brought Tanya from the Soviet Union to us, two covert American missionaries.

The opportunity to share the Gospel came soon, and Tanya listened with the hunger of the Ethiopian in the Book of Acts. I pray never to recover from her response when asked, “Would you like to invite Christ into your heart?”

“Yes, yes I would. But first, you must hear an unusual story from this past year.”

She continued. “I was walking home from university on a cold, November afternoon. My route took me past one of the foreigners’ hotels, and suddenly an object fell on the ground in front of my feet. I looked up to see someone throwing books from a top floor window of the building, and one of these books landed there at my feet. Quickly I grabbed it, tucked it in my heavy winter coat, and ran for my life. If the police saw me, I would be arrested. Fortunately, I made it safely home where, with numbed fingers, I hurriedly unlocked the doors to our family flat. In the privacy of my own room, I removed the strange object from inside my coat. With shock, I discovered this book to be a Bible. I did not own a Bible; I had never even read a Bible.”

Explaining further, she said, “Since November, I have been reading it, and am prepared. Without that Bible, I would never have been able to comprehend this conversation we are having. Now I understand and want to respond to what you have shared with me. I want to invite Christ to come into my life.”

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Heaven and earth stood still as two heads bowed, one from Mississippi and one from Leningrad. At that sacred moment, Tanya invited Jesus into her life to be her Lord and Savior.

Since that brief interlude in 1977, I have not seen or heard from Tanya. For her safety, we did not exchange addresses. I don’t even know her last name, but I do know that her eternal name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. One day, she and I will meet again at the feet of the One whom Tanya from Leningrad came to call her own.

This heaven-orchestrated appointment taught me:

Different country

Different culture

Different language

Different government


Same Gospel. Same Savior.

The Other Part of the Story

If you dare, I invite you to read further.

Months, even years passed, before I learned what, I believe with all my heart, could be the other part of this story. In the chill of the Cold War, our dear friend and ministry partner Miss Scotty from Mississippi joined a delegation to the Soviet Union. Her highly guarded trip included Leningrad. Compelled by the Holy Spirit, she tossed her smuggled Bibles from the top floor of the foreigners’ hotel where she and her group were forced to reside. One by one, as she threw the Bibles from her window, she prayed for someone to pick them up. Yes, this is a true story.

One woman 

One Bible

One student

One missionary

One God

One Gospel


Debby Thompson, author of  The Leader’s Wife: Living With Eternal Intentionality®, is an award-winning writer and speaker. Debby and her husband Larry have served in global missions with Campus Crusade for Christ International (CCCI) since 1974, and are counted among the pioneering Western missionaries who lived covertly behind the Iron Curtain in communist Poland. Now living in Cincinnati, Debby serves on the Global Leadership Council of Athletes in Action International, the sports ministry of Cru. An active grandmother of six, she is also a sought-after author, speaker, and mentor for women around the world. Debby blogs at DebbyThompson.com. You may email her at [email protected]. 


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