Man finds the promised land
In 1979, a 19-year-old Russian named George Fridlender left a life spent behind the notorious "Iron Curtain" to travel to his "promised land" of America.
It proved to be a long, treacherousand fascinatingjourney for the young man.
George, a piano virtuoso, and wife Kimberly, a gifted vocalist, are both graduates of the highly acclaimed Julliard School of Music in New York City. Each possesses a rich, operatically trained voice that they employed while touring Europe in opera companies for several years.
Today they still perform as a part of a full-time Christian music ministry. To date, the Fridlenders have shared their talents and faith with over 500 churches in the US.
The couple and their two children visited in the Camellia City recently.
On January 7th , First Baptist Church featured the couple in concert.
The evening of inspiring sacred music and amazing true-life tales would prove unforgettable for those in attendance.
America means a great deal to George Fridlender.
So do his Christian beliefs. Freedom and faith were the central themes of the touching stories he shared that night.
Fridlender's father had been sentenced to 17 years of hard labor in one of the Soviet prison camps in Siberia's frozen, desolate wastelands. His only son, George, was born within the camp walls.
"My father was arrested and sent away for the crime of being seen in the proximity of a church meeting.
The Communists really wanted to exterminate all Christians, but decided instead to send them to be slave labor in these camps.
Oh, it still killed them-but slowly," explained Fridlender. Amazingly, despite the government's harsh treatment, the elder Fridlender's faith in God never faltered.
Neither did his desire for his family to share in that faith and to one day live in a free society.
"My father was always talking about God, church, the Bible.
I could not see where his beliefs had done us any good.
I loved my daddy but I didn't like all this religion stuff," Frilender said candidly.
Yet circumstances would cause young George to become very much caught up in the very things he rebelled against.
His father had written a Christian book the family kept hidden from the KGB (Russia's infamous secret police).
"In 1979, my father was stricken with cancer.
He desperately wanted his book to be smuggled to the West before he died," explained Fridlender.
A seemingly fool proof plan was put into motion involving the younger Fridlender getting a copy into the hands of the US Embassy in Moscow.
The young man and his mother were intercepted by the KGB and arrested. "We were beaten and threatened, but finally let go.
However, I was ordered to report to their headquarters the next day," said Fridlender.
He shared his terror following the arrest. "I was SURE it was the end for me.
Frankly, I was desperate to save my skin.
My father said it would be OK; he would send me to someone who'd be able to help. I thought, Great. My daddy has inside connections!'"
The "inside connection", however, proved to be one linked to the ultimate "Higher Authority."
" My father actually wanted ME to spend my last precious hours of freedom going across town to see an underground Baptist preacher.
What good would that do me with the KGB ?
Finally, I said, OK' but I was really angry inside," Fridlender explained.
The minister would later look straight into young Fridlender's eyes and say, "Listen, if they were only going to send you to prison, you'd already be on the way.
Haven't you heard of all the people who go to KGB headquarters and are never seen again?
It's cheaper to kill you than incarcerate you, you know."
The minister had the young rebel's attention.
In a gentler tone, he added, "Whatever you may face, young man, you need to be certain you have the Lord on YOUR side.
Can you say that's true?"
The man's words struck a deep chord in the 19-year-old's hardened heart. As the two men prayed together, Fridlender said he felt the terrible burden of fear and anger lift from him.
All too soon the young man was walking through the seemingly endless narrow and dark corridors of the KGB headquarters.
Screams, sobs and terrified voices pleading for mercy could be heard behind the numerous closed doors.
Finally Fridlender was shown into his own interrogation room.
"Before I went to see that preacher, I had everything planned out. I had a list of names and addresses I was going to turn in to the police," Fridlender said, explaining, "You see, that is how it worked in my country back then.
We sold out our friends and neighbors to keep the police from harming us."
As expected, the KGB officer offered to go lighter on Fridlender's sentence if he could share names of "enemies of the state."
"I told him no. In my heart I could no longer consider turning people in.
The officer obviously couldn't believe his ears, so I said no' again louder.
He stared at me.
KGB officers didn't hear no' too often."
Fridlender explained with a wry grin.
Suddenly, Fridlender found himself sharing his newfound Christian faith with the officer.
After listening to the excited young man's testimony, the KGB officer simply grumbled, "Hmmph, there's a lot of THAT going around these days."
Fridlender grew bolder, replying with a grin, "Comrade, you wanted my soul but I've already given it up!"
The sour-looking officer responded, " Let me tell you something-I really, really don't like you, young man.
You've wasted too much of my time, now, GO!"
Soon, a shocked but jubilant Fridlender was making his way home to share his good news. Three weeks later, an official document unexpectedly arrived in the mail: an exit visa for the Fridlender family.
The elder Fridlender's dream was taking shape.
Sadly, Fridlender's father did not make it to the American shores.
He died in transit on a train 70 miles within Free Europe.
"Still, he died a happy man, knowing he was finally on free soil," explained Fridlender.
Since 1986, George Fridlender has been a US citizen.
He will never forget the moment when the immigration officer first shook his hand and said, "Welcome to America."
He's very happy in his adopted home of Clemson, SC, wife Kimberly's hometown. (Fridlender's even working on developing a southern accent.)
Life today is good for this former Soviet citizen.
However, Fridlender expressed his deep concern that many Americans take for granted the very freedom he and his family put themselves at risk to achieve.
Fridlender shared these personal reflections: "I am very proud to be an American, but even prouder to be a Christian.
I believe, without a doubt, that God has a special plan for each life. . "
"As Americans, we need to count our blessings a little more and appreciate all we have BEFORE we lose it.
We have so much to be thankful for . . . never, never forget that."