A Missionary to Russians

A Missionary to Russians


Peter Deyneka, Sr. was a great man of God with a heart and passion for ministering to people in Russia and the countries of the former Soviet Union. In this series, I would like to highlight the life and ministry of Peter Deyneka, Sr., the Deyneka family, and the Slavic Gospel Association, founded in 1934.

My research interest in the life and ministry of the Deyneka family developed while I was doing my postgraduate studies in the early 2000s. I come from one of the former republics of the Soviet Union. I speak Russian. From childhood, I heard from my Christian parents and grandparents about the contemporary giants of faith that preached Christ to the Russian-speaking people over the radio: Ivan M. Sergey, Derek Prince, and Earl Poysti. Peter Deyneka, Sr. was a member of that pantheon. When my faculty advisor suggested that I research one of the missionaries that impacted the lives of many, I was naturally drawn to the figure of Deyneka, Sr. A few years later, I was blessed to have direct contact through correspondence with Peter Deyneka Sr.’s daughter Ruth Deyneka Erdel.

In the first piece, I will talk about Deyneka’s early years, his conversion to the Christian faith and the first steps in ministry.

Perhaps, capitalizing on Peter’s boldness, David Fisher describes Peter Deyneka Sr.’s role in ministry to God’s people: “In the body of Christ, Peter Deyneka, Sr., was a vocal cord.” [1] Moody Memorial Church pastor Paul Rader emphasized: “His Russian people who sat in darkness had the light brought to them by him. He is spending his enthusiastic, victorious life in Christ that “others” might have the gospel.” [2]

Unfortunately, Peter, Sr. died in 1987 when Gorbachev had just started his Perestroika and Glasnost. He passed away without seeing the doors of freedom being opened in Russia. Fisher states that “the reality of the “open door” waited for his son, Peter, Jr., as the Soviet Union and Communism collapsed in 1990.” [3]

Peter Deyneka, Sr., was born in Staramlynia, Belarus, in 1898. [4] His parents sent him to the United States in 1914 to earn a living to help the rest of the family. [5-6] “To leave Russia, Peter had to borrow money from all of his relatives and obtain the signature of a priest to get a passport.” [7]

In a 1996 interview, Deyneka, Jr. shared that his father came to the United States when he was fifteen or sixteen. [8] Deyneka, Sr. himself recollects that he left Russia as a young man. “There I left behind my big family. We were eight children. I arrived in America to work and help my parents feed the family.” [9]

Deyneka, Sr., settled in Chicago, where he first did manual labor and later became a machinist. He sent almost all the money he made to his family in Belarus. Rohrer and Deyneka, Jr. write, “Half a world away, the Deyneka family lived in daily suspense. If Peter failed in the New World, all their hopes of freedom from servitude to their lenders would be gone… He sent his family as much money as he could squeeze from his small paycheck, living on dried bread and salami. His hard work paid off the family debt in one year.” [10]

Because of the political turmoil after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, and the Civil War, Russia experienced severe famine. For several years Peter received no news from his family. “Deyneka’s family had caught the full impact of the dreadful starvation plague. Three brothers and two sisters perished from hunger before Peter learned of the tragedy.” [11]

Even though Peter was raised in a Russian Orthodox family, he was not interested in Christianity. “Russian immigrants in Chicago who were activists with the International Workers of the World began calling on Peter. “We are going to change the world!” they boasted. “There is no God. We’re going to make the world better ourselves!”” [12] In his autobiography When a Russian Found Christ, Deyneka, Sr. writes: “After I had been in Chicago a short time, I quit Greek Orthodox Catholic Church, as I no longer believed in God; and I became a strong Atheist. I became discouraged and sick of myself and this world without Jesus Christ. I did not know that Jesus died for my sins and that he could set me free and give me rest.” [13]

Peter, Sr., was finally convinced that Chicago atheists were right. He did not want to hear about God and spent his money on the theater, smoking, dancing, and drinking. But despite partaking in the world’s pleasures, he had emptiness within himself. This changed when in 1916, he heard the words of a Russian hymn sung by five Russian men at Union and 13th streets. “That afternoon in 1916, as a lad of eighteen years, he heard for the first time the revolutionary message that Christ died for sinners and that by faith in Him, a believer could have peace with God.” [14]

Peter, Sr. began attending Moody Memorial Church, pastored by Paul Rader. Initially, he regarded worship services as another opportunity to polish his English. He was often tempted to leave the church, but the beautiful music captivated him so much that he could not go. [15]

“Rader’s sermons and the Sunday school class Deyneka attended [16] convinced him of his need for personal salvation,” [17] “and he became a Christian in Chicago at the old Moody Church.” [18] He was convinced he needed personal salvation and committed his life to Christ. It was during the Sunday school class session that he raised his hand in a desire to be remembered in prayer. That Sunday night, after listening to the message preached by Rev. Rader, Peter accepted Jesus. “Peter bravely went into the prayer room where Christian workers with their Bibles were ready to help those seeking salvation. Peter knelt and wept before God, realizing he was a needy, lost sinner without Christ.” [19] This took place in 1920. Peter was baptized on July 25, 1921, at Cedar Lake, Indiana. [20]

After his conversion, Peter became interested in evangelism. Fisher writes, “God soon ignited a fire in him to witness to anyone who would listen, especially Russians.” [21] Deyneka became involved in the evangelistic programs in the church and later in those of the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle, founded by Rader in 1921. At the same time, he took time to prepare himself for full-time Gospel ministry by taking night classes at Moody Bible Institute and correspondence courses from World Wide Christian Couriers, a correspondence school started by Rader. Rohrer and Deyneka, Jr. point out the following: “Now [Peter] could not talk to enough people to share the joy of his spiritual birth. He found himself testifying for the Lord at work, on street corners, in gospel missions, and to individuals wherever he met them. Each conversation fired his zeal hotter, causing him to grow in his determination to become a soul-winner.” [22]

In 1922, Deyneka enrolled in St. Paul Bible School, from which he graduated in 1925. He shared, “As I read the Bible, I saw the fields of the world before me. I saw Europe and its needs.” [23] Years spent in Minnesota were difficult for Peter. He would often struggle in his classes, trying to master English grammar. “Down on his knees scrubbing dormitory floors in those cold Minnesota winters, Peter learned obedience.” [24]

While at St. Paul, Peter started a men’s all-night prayer meeting. “Many times, small brush-fire revivals would spring up in those prayer meetings as students were reconciled to each other and became more earnest in their zeal for God. These Friday night prayer meetings continued for many years after Peter graduated.” [25]

In 1924-25, Deyneka, Sr. traveled through South Dakota, Montana, and Idaho to help Slavic evangelical churches. In the summer of 1925, he decided to become a missionary to Russia.

In October that year, he traveled to Europe to visit his family in Belarus (also called White Russia). His parents’ home, due to political changes, was now in the territory of Poland. While there, he held numerous evangelistic services and distributed funds collected in America to starving people. Rohrer and Deyneka, Jr. write, “One day, near the Christmas season, a poor father rushed to Peter on the street and asked for something to take to his children for Christmas. Peter bought him some white bread – a delicacy as welcome as cake to that community. The father knelt right down in the mud on the street and thanked Peter.” [26]

Peter shared, “I found that the people here in White Russia were hungering to have a copy of the Bible or New Testament and to study the Word of God. And that there was a tremendous need for Bibles and songbooks. I found only two or three songbooks for a choir of thirty in some missions. People everywhere were begging and asking for New Testament or a Bible.” [27]

To be continued.


[1] D.Fisher, “Rushing to Russians. Peter Deyneka, Sr. and Jr.,” in Ambassadors for Christ, ed. John D. Woodbridge (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994), p.253.

[2] P.Rader, “Foreword,” in When a Russian Found Christ. Second Ed. (Chicago, IL).

[3] Fisher, p.253.

[4] E.Barrett & G.Barrett, Ruth Petrovna. Reaching Russians. (Loves Park, IL: SGA, 1998), p.183.

[5] In the book chapter titled “Rushing to Russians: Peter Deyneka, Sr. and Jr.” in Ambassadors for Christ, ed. J.D. Woodbridge (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994), p.253, D.Fisher indicates that Deyneka, Sr. immigrated from Russia in 1913.

[6] “Biography: Peter Deyneka, Sr.,” in Records of the SGA – Collection 237. Billy Graham Center Archives of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL [archives on-line], accessed 22 Sept. 2003; available from http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/GUIDES/237.htm

[7] D.B.Wicks, “A Beam of Hope. The Outreach of the Slavic Gospel Association.” Unpublished paper (Wheaton, IL, 1979), p.5.

[8] P.Deyneka, Jr., “Interview of Peter Deyneka, Jr.,” interview by Doug Buchanan, 13 Dec. 1987, Billy Graham Center Archives of Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL [archives on-line], accessed 22 Sept. 2003; available from http://www.wheaton.edu/bgc/archives/trans/381t01.html

[9] P.Deyneka, Sr., “The Beginnings of SGA. Interview of Peter Deyneka, Sr.,” 23 Nov. 1975, SGA file, Global Center, Beeson Divinity School, Samford Univ., Birmingham, AL.

[10] N.B.Rohrer & P.Deyneka, Jr. Peter Dynamite: “Twice-Born” Russian. Third printing (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), p.23.

[11] Ibid., 45.

[12] Rohrer & Deyneka, Jr., p.22.

[13] P.Deyneka, Sr., When a Russian Found Christ. Second ed. Chicago, IL.

[14] Rohrer & Deyneka, Jr., p.23.

[15] Ibid., 25. In his autobiography Deyneka, Sr. writes, “I enjoyed these meetings very much, but I did not like the preacher’s message; it seemed to me as though his message was about me all the time, and he knew all about me.” (P.Deyneka, Sr., When a Russian Found Christ, p.7-8.)

[16] Peter, Sr. attended the young men’s Bible class taught by the Rev. Harry Herring. (N.B.Rohrer & P.Deyneka, Jr., p.25).

[17] “Biography: Peter Deyneka, Sr.,” in Records of the SGA – Collection 237.

[18] P.Deyneka, Jr., “Interview of Peter Deyneka, Jr.”

[19] Rohrer & Deyneka, Jr., pp.25-26.

[20] Ibid., p.28.

[21] D.Fisher, “Rushing to Russians. Peter Deyneka, Sr. and Jr.,” in Ambassadors for Christ, ed. J.D.Woodbridge (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1994), p.253.

[22] “Biography: Peter Deyneka, Sr.”

[23] P.Deyneka, Sr., “The Beginnings of SGA. Interview of Peter Deyneka, Sr.”

[24] Rohrer & Deyneka, Jr., pp.34-35.

[25] Ibid., p.33.

[26] Rohrer & Deyneka, Jr., p.59.

[27] P.Deyneka, Sr., When a Russian Found Christ, p.11.

Oleg Turlac (D.Min.) is the editor of Christian Megapolis.

Photo: Pixabay.

© 2023 XMegapolis. Used by permission.

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