Facebook reconnects convert with missionaries 20 years after baptism

Vladimir Bevziuk journeyed to France early in 1995 in search of work. He hoped to improve the quality of life for his wife and 6-month-old daughter in Ukraine. In the end, he did, but spiritually rather than financially.

In addition to changing his life and the life of his family, Bevziuk changed the lives of the people in his hometown of Vinnytsia, Ukraine.

Bevziuk first arrived in Paris, where he trained to be in the French militia. Upon learning about his family, the militia rejected him. Discouraged, Bevziuk boarded a train to Marseille.

In Marseille, Bevziuk found work selling the Macadam Journal, or the “homeless newspaper.” People who had fallen on hard times sold the French publication in order to get back on their feet.

While selling this paper on a spring day in March, Bevziuk spotted a small group of young men and young women. They were unlike any Ukrainians or French people he had ever seen. Bevziuk described them as having a light that lit them up from the inside.

Bevziuk wanted to meet these young people and to be like them, to have that light inside. He wanted to be different the way they were.

He asked a passerby who these people were. The passerby answered they were Englishmen. Intrigued, Bevziuk approached them.

The young people weren’t Englishmen. They were American missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Bevziuk spoke with two missionaries named Benjamin Wolford and Jeremy Beck.

“It was getting down toward the end of the day, and we made eye contact with him,” Wolford said, recalling that first meeting. “It was very apparent that he was not French.”

Speaking no French and little English, Bevziuk and the missionaries struggled to communicate.

“He didn’t really speak French, (and) he didn’t really speak English,” Beck said. “In English, he said, ‘You, different.’ I still remember that.”

Wolford and Beck talked to Bevziuk on a street corner for nearly two hours. They gave Bevziuk a piece of paper with the time and address for the local congregation’s Sunday meeting in Marseille and invited him to attend.

LDS missionaries taught Vladimir Bevziuk in this Marseille church building. (Ben Wolford)

Immediately after parting ways with Bevziuk, Wolford and Beck called the mission office to ask for Russian materials. They wanted to give Bevziuk a Russian copy of the Book of Mormon. With no other way to contact him, the missionaries hoped Bevziuk would show up on Sunday.

Bevziuk arrived on Sunday, curious to see what kind of organization Wolford and Beck represented. There at the meeting, he observed that this group of French people had the same light as the American missionaries.

“I didn’t understand the language, but I felt something special,” Bevziuk said of that first Sunday.

Once the meeting was over, Wolford and Beck gave Bevziuk the copy of the Russian Book of Mormon.

After Bevziuk left the meeting, Wolford and Beck didn’t hear from him for a month. He was too busy reading the Book of Mormon. That month, he did nothing else but read in his spare time.

“I had a lot of questions, and reading the Book of Mormon answered a lot of them,” Bevziuk said.

In addition to answering his questions, Bevziuk felt himself changing within.

“I can say honestly that God spoke to me,” Bevziuk said.

After Bevziuk finished reading, he went to church to thank the missionaries for sharing this book with him. But Wolford and Beck had other ideas.

When Bevziuk thanked them for the Book of Mormon, the missionaries asked him if he would meet with them to learn more. He eagerly agreed.

The meetings Wolford and Beck had with Bevziuk were unique. At the time, missionaries worldwide memorized six gospel discussions. Wolford and Beck only knew the discussions in French, of which Bevziuk spoke little.

The church building in Marseille. The missionaries taught Bevziuk here. (Photo used with permission of Ben Wolford)
Jeremy Beck, Benjamin Wolford, Bevziuk and another missionary stand in front of a church building. Bevziuk said he borrowed his suit and tie from another member. (Ben Wolford)

During their meetings, Bevziuk would read the discussions in Russian while Wolford and Beck would refer to the discussions in French. Wolford and Beck then cross-referenced and shared scriptures with Bevziuk in English.

Wolford remembered discussing with Beck the need for humility. With a serious language barrier between them and Bevziuk, Wolford said the discussions needed to come from the Lord, not them.

“It was one of those situations where you let the Spirit teach,” Wolford said.

The language barrier did not deter Bevziuk.

“He was clearly very interested and clearly feeling something,” Beck said of their meetings.

In their fourth meeting, Bevziuk pointed to the tags the missionaries wore and said he wanted to be like them. Wolford and Beck responded that he would need to be baptized. Bevziuk accepted the invitation.

For both Wolford and Beck, Bevziuk was the second and last person on their missions that they would ever see baptized.

The baptismal service was part French for the members and part English for Bevziuk. Wolford learned to say “receive the Holy Ghost” in Russian as well.

Bevziuk's baptism day. (Photo courtesy of Ben Wolford)
Bevziuk, center, stands in front of a church sign on his baptism day. (Ben Wolford)

Bevziuk said he struggled after his baptism. Both Wolford and Beck eventually finished their missions and returned to America, where they maintained contact with Bevziuk for a little while through letters.

Bevziuk remembered in particular one letter from Wolford. Wolford wrote it would be good for Bevziuk to return home, so his friends could know about the gospel. Those words struck Bevziuk as significant. However, he had no plans to return home soon.

It wasn’t until the president of the congregation invited Bevziuk to go to Canada with him that Bevziuk knew it was time for him to go home to his wife and daughter. He returned home in January 1996.

Transitioning from the church in France to the church in Ukraine was not easy for Bevziuk. There was not a congregation in his hometown of Vinnytsia. Eventually, he stopped attending church and lost contact with the American missionaries. However, he constantly thought about his faith.

On Oct. 9, 1997, more than two years after being baptized, Bevziuk began to read a talk by President Ezra Taft Benson. The talk was titled “Beware of Pride.” After reading just half of the talk, Bevziuk began to ask God for forgiveness. He poured out his soul to God. Bevziuk prayed and said he could no longer stay in Vinnytsia; it was too difficult. He wished to return to France, where attending church had been easier.

According to Bevziuk, God answered his prayer and reminded Bevziuk of the promise he made when he was baptized. He had promised God that in exchange for what he had done for Bevziuk, he would “bring forth good fruit” in Vinnytsia.

Bevziuk felt like Jonah in the Bible. He didn’t want to bring the gospel to Vinnytsia. He repented of this feeling after hearing God’s answer, but he still didn’t know where to start.

Not long after this revelation, he picked up an old Liahona the missionaries gave him in France. He read an article about the importance of taking the sacrament and decided he would take the sacrament no matter what; it didn’t matter which branch he attended.

Bevziuk traveled again to Kiev and met a man who told him to come just once a month to take the sacrament, which Bevziuk began to do.

One of the Sundays Bevziuk attended, a member of the branch approached him and told him he could start a branch in Vinnytsia if he could find ten friends to say they wanted the missionaries to come.

Excited, it took Bevziuk only a short time to persuade 10 of his friends to sign a petition stating they wanted missionaries to come to Vinnytsia. Of those original 10, only two ever agreed to be taught by missionaries.

The first sacrament meeting in Vinnytsia was Nov. 28, 1998. In attendance was Bevziuk, his daughter Alisa, a woman who met missionaries in Sochi, and missionaries.

The branch in Vinnytsia has grown from those original five to 150. Many of the people baptized were baptized by Bevziuk himself. Bevziuk became the president of his congregation, and positively influenced several young people to serve missions.

Bevziuk said he felt he was born to bring the gospel to his hometown and start a branch there. For years, the branch flourished.

Meanwhile, Wolford and Beck had no idea what had happened to Bevziuk or to his little family. That is, until Bevziuk’s daughter, Alisa, brought them together through Facebook.

Both Wolford and Beck were amazed to learn that Bevziuk was not only active, but had started a branch in his hometown.

“You reach a certain point in your life (when) you think, ‘What have I done with my life so far?’” Beck said. “When I heard how the story played out over the subsequent 15 to 20 years, I thought, ‘Wow, I made a difference in someone’s life.’”

Beck, Bevziuk and Wolford. Friends forever. (Photo courtesy of Ben Wolford)
Beck, Bevziuk and Wolford stand together. They recently reconnected through Facebook. (Ben Wolford)

The former missionaries expressed humble gratitude at the opportunity to be a part of Bevziuk’s story.

“In my mind, it was (Vladimir’s) time to find the truth,” Wolford said. “He left his little family to find something better and it took him to France. It took him to us.”

Carley Porter

Hails from Sparks, Nevada, desires to travel the world and make a difference through journalism. Loves tacos.

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