My Dad, Alex

Posted by Susan On June 20, 2011 3 COMMENTS

This past weekend marked five years since my Dad went to heaven on Father’s Day weekend 2006. It’s so true that you just never stop missing somebody who’s gone, and so much more within the context of celebrating such a day. Apart from my husband, there have been very few others who have had such an impact on my faith in God like my Dad, Alex Rybka did.

There are so many stories that could mark his life and character, but the one that rises to the surface of my memory repeatedly is the account of my Dad’s confrontation with immigration officers and KGB agents in the former USSR.

It was 1976, and although my parents had hustled through many airports in their years, this one carried a tension that they had never experienced before. They had just entered through the “Iron Curtain,” arriving in Moscow, Russia– which was part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic of that time– en route to visit their Ukrainian birthplaces for the first time since having immigrated to Canada many years before.

Communism had a strong, oppressive hold over Russia at that time, as well as the adjacent country of Ukraine. Though it would collapse within the next decade, the sober, controlling weight of statism was acute back then. During all those years living in the safety of North America, where as children we started every school day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, I simply could not conceive of a place where it was illegal to even mention the name of God in the schools. Yet there they were, my parents and my paternal grandmother, entering territory rigidly controlled by those who were at enmity with God.

Though strong in faith, my parents had no desire to be confrontational. As they inched their ways through the customs gate, both were cooperative and polite, though admittedly nervous. The tension of walking into the heart of communist territory was understandable enough– but even more acute was the tension of knowing that my sister had hidden many forbidden Bibles throughout their luggage, though they didn’t know exactly where, or how many.

There was a healthy respect for authority that my Dad always taught us by his example, and certainly respect for authority applied to civil magistrates. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,” Jesus taught, and therefore so did Dad. However, there was a higher authority to whom Dad owed his life and submission: “…[and render] to God the things that are God’s.” [Matt. 22:21]

As Dad made his way through Customs, the inspection officer, inevitably, found some Bibles in his suitcase, and thus the interrogation began.

“Do you have more Bibles in here?” he demanded after confiscating them, clearly irritated.

Dad, honestly not knowing how many Bibles had been hidden in his suitcase, answered in the negative. However, as the officer rummaged through the suitcase further, he found more, along with some hymnbooks in the Ukrainian language.

The customs officer flipped through a hymnbook, opened to a hymn and softly, sarcastically, began to hum it. Dad’s heart broke as he realized that this abrasivie, harsh, ungodly man confiscating Bibles from him had probably himself known some kind of Christian beginning.

“Do you have more Bibles?” he again demanded roughly, searching Dad’s jacket. Hardly waiting for an answer, the man became even angrier as he found Bibles stashed in Dad’s pockets, and in little nooks and crannies of his suitcase, where Dad honestly had no idea they’d been hidden.

Upset, the customs officer summoned several KGB officers who stood with him, surrounding Dad, questioning him and confiscating the literature.

“This is propaganda!” one of them harshly accused. “Don’t you know that in this country we don’t believe in God?”

“We don’t believe in God…” Though he’d been polite and cooperative to that point, hearing these words was just too much for Dad’s tolerance, and his heart was stirred beyond his own ability to cooperate. As he told us later, it was the Holy Spirit that rose suddenly in a dynamic declaration against the power of those terrible words.

Mom, meanwhile, at that point had successfully made her way through the customs gate, refocused her own attention, and stopped briefly to look around her and relocate where Dad was. In that split second, her heart felt like it stood still as her eyes fell squarely on her husband, surrounded by a group of scowling customs officers and KGB officials standing silently focused on Dad, whose index finger was pointing defiantly at them as he rattled on without stopping for breath!

Having grown up in Ukraine, Dad obviously spoke the Ukrainian language easily, and he also spoke Polish, since the border between Poland and Ukraine kept changing as he grew. (Though his birth certificate says he was born in Poland, Dad always denied he was Polish.) Russian did not come as easily for him, yet in sudden fluent Russian he addressed the circle of communist authorities:

“You say that there is no God, but you know that there is! The heavens themselves declare the glory of God and the firmament shows the work of His hands! You say there is no God, but the Bible tells us that one day every knee will bow to Him, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. One day you will bow your knee to the very one of whom you say ‘There is no God’…”

With amazing boldness and incredible articulation that only the Holy Spirit could equip him with, Dad challenged the godless declaration of these communist officials. Then, as abruptly as he had begun, he was suddenly silent.

The officers stood silent. Then, amazingly, one of them said quietly, “You can go.”

Only eternity will reveal the full impact of that moment. Even as he shared the report with us later, Dad never succumbed to arrogance over his triumph. Always, for years to come, when he related the story, it was with incredulous humility that the Holy Spirit would equip him with such boldness, as well as unbelievable fluency in the Russian language.

Somewhere in the world, I honestly believe there are men today that are living tesimonies of transformed lives submitted to the ultimate authority of the King of kings and Lord of lords because of a day in Russia in 1976.


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3 Responses so far.

  1. Amy Whitehead says:

    Hey Aunt Sue,

    It’s Amy; the middle child of your niece, Donna. Tira just sent this blog to a lot of the family; she also posted it all over facebook, so of course, I read it… more than once. And, I loved it. You described Baba and Gigi to a tee.

    There is not a day that goes by that we don’t think about Gigi. No one else can compare to how amazing he was.

    Hope you’re all doing well!

    Take care,


  2. Anthony Gugliotta says:

    Both the story and the storyteller and remarkable.
    I look forward to reading more!

  3. Tira Gugliotta says: Amy said..I posted this on face book. How could I not…This little blog was such an incredible picture of who Grandpa was. Aunt Sue you are an incredible writer..I could see this whole scene play out in my mind and of made me cry. We will never know the true impact of his life until we get to heaven. Thank you Aunt Sue for sharing this with us.

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