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EPISODE 15: KGB Agent Finds God
Raised in a godless communistic world, former KGB agent and undercover spy Jack Barsky found God when he was least expecting it.
To learn more about Jack and his story, visit: www.jackbarsky.com
Or read Jack's book Deep Undercover: My Secret Life and Tangled Allegiances as a KGB Spy in America
Hello, and thanks for joining in. I'm Jana Harmon, and you're listening to the Side B Podcast, where we listen to the other side. No matter who you are, if there's something common to all of us, it's that we want to be fully known and fully loved. We long for meaningful relationships. We want our life to have significance and deep meaning, but sometimes what we long for seems quite elusive. Despite outward appearances and even worldly success, we can find ourselves deeply lonely and empty. What happens then? What do you do? Where do you go?
Our podcast guest today had a life with all the thrill and adventure of a spy novel. That's because he was a spy, a genuine spy. Raised in Communist Germany, he worked for the KGB as an undercover agent literally. Yet with all of the trappings of worldly excitement and success, something was desperately missing. He didn't know how or where to find it. As a Communist, religion and God were not an option. That was only for the undereducated masses. Jack Barsky's story is one filled with dramatic twists and turns and transparency as he confronts his own dark night of the soul. He knew he was looking for something more than his own seemingly exciting yet shallow, empty life. Even though he may not have been looking for God, God was looking for him. Jack came not only to know about God, he came to know and be known, love and be loved by God himself. He came to find a life of satisfaction, fullness, and peace that had eluded him for so long. Come join me as Jack tells his journey from atheism to belief.
Welcome to the Side B Podcast, Jack. It's wonderful to have you today.
I'm delighted to be here.
As we're getting started, just so the listeners can get to know a little bit about who you are, even just right now, can you introduce yourself? Tell us a little bit about who you are?
Well, my name is Jack Barsky. I currently reside in the beautiful state of Georgia, in the suburbs, southeastern suburbs of Atlanta, with my wife, Shawna, and my soon-to-be 10-year-old daughter, Trinity. I retired from corporate life about 4 years ago, I spent some 35 years having a career in information technology, including executive-type management. But four years ago, I became a public figure, and at that point, it was time to say goodbye to corporate because my life story does not sit very well with a lot of companies. I did some things that are a little bit out of the ordinary. And I described all of this in my memoir, Deep Undercover, which was released three years ago. And so what I'm doing now, I'm engaged in public speaking. I do interviews such as this one. I write blogs, and I'm working on some other things that are not very much related to my career in corporate but are more in the creative sector.
Wonderful. Wow. That sounds exciting. And for anyone who's listening, I will definitely put the name of your book and your blog and where we can follow you in the episode notes, so you can find out more information about Jack there. So I'm so excited to get into your life. You obviously, like you said, have become a public figure because of the extraordinary life that you've lived. Let's take it back to set the context for this extraordinary by talking about where you grew up, your understanding of God, your family, your culture. What was that world like?
Well, it started very ordinary, to put it mildly. I was born in 1949 in the easternmost part of what was, at the time, the Soviet-occupied zone of Germany. That place became eventually the German Democratic Republic, a strong ally and pretty much dominated ally to the Soviet Union and very much dominated by Soviet influence. I was born into a small village. My parents were both teachers. And my first home was on the third floor of an elementary school building. That was pretty good because this was—World War II, particularly in the east, did a lot of damage to the country. Massive destruction—apartment buildings, cities, factories. I mean it was a wasteland, and probably the best thing was to be able to grow up in the country because we had the ability to scrounge up some food here and there that was outside of the assigned ration. The assigned ration for an adult for about ten years, still ten years after the end of the war, was about 1500 calories. That's below a subsistence level. But it was like a place where you cannot imagine to get out of there and go out in the world and make a way and have an interesting life.
What did it for me was God gave me a pretty decent intellect, so I did well in elementary and middle school, which allowed me to go on to gymnasium, which then allowed me to go on, and I aced high school, and then that got me into a good university. I studied chemistry, and I pretty much aced that as well. I'm going to stop right there and talk about God.
Okay. Before we go there, let's . . . So you grew up in, like you said, a Soviet-occupied section of Germany. It was communistic. So I presume, with that, then there was little to know reference of God.
So what did that look like? What was the belief? Or what was the religion, I guess you could say, in a secularized sense. What did that look like?
It's very interesting. My mother came from what I truly believe a Christian household, but my mother actually, for a little while, sang in a church choir, and she would talk about it, but then she had to stop because my father was a party member and he wanted to have a career, and it was suggested that she separate from the church. God was never mentioned in our house. I never saw a Bible. There was the ability to get religious education on a voluntary basis for a little while in elementary school, but my father did not allow me to attend. So fundamentally I grew up without God in my life.
What we were fed from kindergarten on was Communist ideology, Marxism, Leninism. As it is fit to teach your children at a young age and then as they grow older and so forth, and it became so dominant—to me, Marxism Leninism was the only valid approach to life and interpretation of what life was all about, and there was no doubt. In school, we didn't even have an academic subject that you could call religions of the world. No. We had Scientific Marxism and Leninism as a subject to study. So that does become a religion because this belief does not hold up to intellectual critique, but we didn't even think about critiquing it. It was all we ever heard. So yeah, there was no God in my life. And one other thing: We did celebrate some Christian holidays. We had Christmas, and it was a pagan holiday. For us, the main figure at Christmas was Santa Claus. I had no idea that most of the world was celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. We had Easter, and there was no cross in Easter. It was just about the Easter Bunny, and really, the worst corruption of a holiday that I can think of was the Day of Ascenscion. In Germany, it's called Himmelfahrt, and I remember this was a day when young men, my father being one of them, would go out on a hike, either with bicycles or just on foot, with enough beer in tow to come back drunk. That was the Day of Ascension.
Kind of an interesting interpretation there, yes.
Indeed. One other thing: The first time I opened a Bible, I was about maybe 12 years old. I found one in the home of my other set of grandparents, and curious as I was, I started reading it, from page one, and as I'm progressing, I hit this section where you have about a page and a half of genealogy and who begat whom, and that brought me to pieces, and I thought, "Well, that's not the kind of book I want to read." Of course, if you want to introduce somebody to faith, you start with the gospel, not with a few pages into Genesis.
So it just was not anything interesting. You put it away when you were 12. You went on with this godless kind of mindset into university. You were obviously very bright. You said you studied chemistry. And then you got out of university, and I presume the same kind of, in a sense, Communistic dogma was prevalent there at university?
Yeah, no, absolutely. I joined the Communist Party in my first year as a student, and we continued to study. That was part of our curriculum, Marxist philosophy, economic theory, and so forth. And to me, when I thought about churchgoing Christians, I thought they were all the stupid people and the weak people who needed religion as a crutch, and there was a level of disdain that we were above all of that, us the elite, because clearly I was on a path to joining the ruling elite in East Germany. That's not an exaggeration.
Wow. So you had your path set out before you. You were very bright, obviously very ambitious, and you were noticed in some way, I'm sure, as someone who stood out among your peers as being perhaps special in some way. Why don't you walk us through the next part of your journey?
Yeah. I was particularly because I received a scholarship that was a national scholarship that was handed out to very few students. The chance of getting that was one in 3,000. And, as you may imagine, in Communist countries, the secret service, the internal police, kept records on everybody. There was a file for every single individual, with minor exceptions. But anyway, the East German intelligence service, which was called the Stasi, as well as the KGB, the Soviet intelligence service, would periodically look into these records to find people that they might want to recruit. And so, that way, the KGB found me. And introduced themselves, and it became a rather lengthy process of recruitment. I had an informal relationship with a KGB agent while I was still at university, and actually for one of those years—the informal relationship was almost two years—for one of those years, I already was employed by the university as an assistant professor. Anyway, that informal relationship was a mutual feeling out because what I guessed but didn't know for sure is that they were looking at me for one of the most difficult jobs in terms of espionage, and that is becoming an illegal. In other words, get to a target country and live as an illegal with an assumed identity, rather than going someplace as a diplomat or a student but still under your own name, and so I actually signed up. I was 24 years old when I left university and joined the KGB full time.
I can't imagine what that might have been like. Were you daunted by what was put before you and the responsibility upon you? Or did it seem exciting?
There was a mix of emotions. The decision wasn't super easy because, as you can imagine, becoming an illegal undercover agent would require you to become somebody else, deny everything that happened to you in your life up to that point, and separate from everybody you knew, including your own culture, but from everybody you knew. That includes parents, siblings, friends, and for me, probably the worst part was that I had to leave my beloved basketball team. I was a basketball maniac in those days. And I had a career. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that I was going to wind up a tenured professor at that university, and that was my dream job, but then there was the flattery that went with the fact that you were recruited by the most powerful organization on the planet to do some really, really special work in service of the only cause that I knew was worth sacrificing for. You add to this the sense of adventure, the ability to travel, and the allure of sort of living outside of legality. Because I knew that as a secret agent you would live pretty much very often outside of the law. So that eventually won in terms of that tug of war, whether I should stay or I should go.
And so I signed up and got two years' worth of training in Berlin and another two years' worth of training in Moscow. I studied English. Initially, I was directed towards West Germany but because of my talent to acquire another language, I became a dream candidate because I got to a point where I was able to imitate the American idiom of English well enough to pretend to have been born in the United States, with the explanation of the residual German accent that my mother was German and I grew up bilingual, and that worked really well.
So in 1978 I showed up in the United States, entered the United States with a false passport which I destroyed on my second day, and pulled out of a secret compartment a certified copy of a birth certificate with the name of Jack Barsky, so Jack Barsky had arrived in the United States. The real, the original Jack Barsky had passed away at the age of eleven. The KGB stole that identity and managed to acquire a genuine copy of a birth certificate, and that was not unusual. The KGB has done this many, many times, and in those days, it was okay to operate. If you had enough cash, you didn't need ID. You could get on a plane without showing ID, and so I wound up in New York City and slowly, methodically, carefully acquired two key documents that would allow me to operate as a regular member of American society, and that was a driver's licence and Social Security card. And that took me about a year. And my first job, by the way—I had to find something where they wouldn't do a lot of background checks and you wouldn't need a resume, so I decided to try my luck as a bike messenger in Manhattan. And that worked out pretty well. I worked for 2-1/2 years as a bike messenger and became a real street urchin. I got to know the city very well, and in New York, it's catch as catch can and it's survival of the fittest, so as a bicycle rider, you're the most vulnerable in traffic, and sometimes the worst offenders were the pedestrians, who would totally ignore you, and I held my own. Let's put it this way. And I became a real New Yorker, you know, quite aggressive. And then we decided, the KGB decided to send me to university again, to college, and I studied information technology.
From the moment I entered the US till the moment I quote-unquote quit, and I did quit service for the KGB, was about 10 years. I quit in 1988, and now, of course, the question is, "How did you get away with quitting?"
Exactly. How could you leave such a strong, strong, powerful-
Yeah. I have a really good story, and I think it must have been, in some way, the Holy Spirit, because I quit for a very good reason. Not because I liked life in the United States that well. I liked the material comfort and all that. I was not yet materially so comfortable, as a matter of fact. This is what happened: In '88, the KGB wanted me to return back home because they were concerned. There was some indication that the FBI was investigating me. And so, for me, from a selfish perspective, it would have been, "Yeah! I finally get to go home." I had a lot of dollar savings on account which, in East Germany, was worth a fortune, and the Russians also promised to let me have a house. I mean I would have returned a hero, well respected. I had received the second-highest decoration of the Soviet Union the year before, but there's one thing that kept me here, and this is when I think—when God really started tugging at my heart and sort of softening the hard-core egomanical individual that I was. I had, at the time, an 18-month-old child, a daughter, and I had fallen in love with that girl. And that was totally unexpected. When I tell people, I call this an unexpected assault of unconditional love. I don't know where that came from, and I can only think that God started moving in my life.
I had no idea that He was doing that, but it was a really tough decision because, by defying the KGB, I risked a lot, possibly life. And there was also the chance that the FBI actually was on my tail. But love won, and I told the KGB that I had contracted HIV/AIDS, which in those days was clearly a death sentence. There was no cure. And they bought this, and as a matter of fact, they informed my family that I had died from AIDS. And there's an entry in the Social Security register in East Germany that says—Albrecht Dittrich was my birth name in Germany—died in 1988. So that the end of that, and I became . . . . I disappeared into the crowd. I became a regular middle-class American citizen. Pretty soon, I forgot that I ever spied for the KGB. I had a good career in corporate America. The mother of this young child, who I had married . . . . This is an interesting wrinkle here. I met her. She was originally from South America, from Guyana, and she confided me that she was in the country illegally, so I married her to allow her to get a green card, which is really odd because here's the illegal spy making another illegal legal.
Yes! That's ironic.
But, you know, the decision was made. I'm staying with our daughter. I had moved in with the wife that I married, and when the coast was clear and I was pretty safe that the KGB wasn't chasing after me, one day I went to my wife, and I said, "Hey, why don't we buy a house?" And that was pretty much the turning point. We bought a house. We had another child. House in the suburbs. Moved to another house. And everything was fine until, nine years after I quit, the FBI introduced themselves.
And that was a good thing. The story of my life has a lot of dots that you would not expect to be connected. The probability of things happening that way is very, very low, and when I put this all together—there are many, many other situations that I'm going to mention here, but here's one: In 1992, a Russian national defected to the West, and he was a retired archivist at the KGB who, at one point, was really ticked off at the KGB and the Russian system, and he started copying files by hand. Smuggling out files. And he had three suitcases full of typed up notes that he took with him that were . . . . No, he didn't take them with him. The British intelligence actually extracted this from his dacha. And amongst those copious notes was my name. Not much else. But Jack Barskys, there aren't too many, so when the FBI got that name, they said, "We're going to find him," and they found me. They found the one Jack Barsky that acquired a Social Security card at the ripe old age of 35. And that's what led them to me.
And so they introduced themselves. Their idea was that they wanted me to cooperate. Now, there were some folks within the FBI who just wanted to put me in jail, but here's another lucky circumstance, so to speak: The fellow who was the lead investigator had studied me very carefully, and he insisted that I would cooperate, and so they took that risk, and he turned out to be right. And he is now a good friend of mine. As a matter of fact, he is godfather to my daughter Trinity, so you see all these connections? It's phenomenal.
It is. It is.
But at this point I still don't have God in my life. At least I'm not aware that He is doing stuff behind the scenes to eventually . . . to set me up. Because I'd compare the situation like when a fisherman goes out and throws out the bait and is very careful, and he's looking for a nibble and maybe a bite, and then he reels in the catch very slowly until they finally land the catch, and I think I was nibbling. I just didn't know yet.
You just didn't know. The Lord was working behind the scenes, but you were being drawn, I guess like you say . . . . The first hint of that was that unexpected unconditional love that you had for your daughter. And you were wondering where that came from. But then obviously your steps are being ordered. You left the KGB. You connected with the FBI. You cooperated with them I guess, since you were essentially dead to the KGB at that point. You know, I'm curious. The life of an undercover agent, KGB. I mean, we've all seen the movies and the films and the excitement and the thrill that's associated with that. In your life, with all of those kind of trappings of excitement and adventure, were you feeling fulfilled as a person? I mean, I know you were very bright, and you were very driven and passionate about your mission. How were you feeling just personally during that time? Was it fulfilling for you?
Okay. First of all, the excitement was only in spurts. The life of an agent can be rather boring. There's a lot of waiting. But to answer the question as to whether I was fulfilled or not, emotionally I was not, but I did not allow myself to probe too much into it. So I lived a rather shallow life in that respect. I had no deep relationships at all. The woman I was married to . . . . It was a marriage of convenience. She was very pretty, the mother of Chelsea, the 18-month-old I was talking about. Very pretty. And I did everything to make a good life for us, but I didn't have any close friends. You can't while you're undercover. While you're living a life in secrecy. Neither male friends nor did the female relationship yield anything. I never got depressed, so I was just emotionally so hardened, based on my upbringing and some things that happened during my childhood and as an adolescent, that I was able to just exist that way. Fulfillment you can't know . . . . You're absolutely right. That hole that people are talking about was in me that was not . . . it wasn't filled. But I didn't realize that I had it until there was a crisis, a real bad crisis in my life.
Up until that point, everything worked. I quit the KGB, and I was caught by the FBI, and they said, "Okay, you can stay here." Good. Fine. I was untouchable in that respect, but at one point, my marriage started falling apart, and my kids were old enough to move out, and that was exactly the very time when Shawna, the administrative assistant, entered my life. I was in a deep emotional crisis where I became aware of that hole, and it was painful. It was really painful. And the lengthy divorce proceedings were . . . . That was the first time that I actually cried in solitude, by myself, secretly.
So wow. It's not surprising, I guess, having grown up in Germany and having build almost an armor, this fortitude that you have not only externally in terms of your tough persona but internally in your emotional sense of self, to be so guarded but yet you were vulnerable to your daughter's love, and then you were vulnerable again in a broken marriage. And that's only human, right? It's just human.
You said the key word. Armor. And the first time that armor was pierced was by an 18-month-old girl.
So then what happened next? What the next turn in your journey?
When I was done with the debriefing by the FBI, which took several weeks, and I passed a lie detector test, I was told that I would be allowed to stay in the country. I would even be allowed to keep the stolen name. So if I had to change that name, it would have been very disruptive to my life and my family, because we were so much integrated into US society, so it sort of became normal life. I focused on the career. I climbed the corporate ladder. And then I got my dream job at the same time—which is like the timing was incredible—the same time my daughter Chelsea, the one for whom I stayed behind, was highly recruited and eventually was hired to play division one basketball at a college out of Pennsylvania, so at the very same time I got this job offer for the Chief Information Officer at a sizable company, and the job was phenomenal. I could use all the talents and everything that I had accumulated up to that point. And here comes the next connection. And that's another—it works better if my wife talks about it because this is the way she saw it, but I'm going to tell you what she would contribute to this.
So I was an executive, and I lost my administrative assistant, and I needed a new one. So HR sent me the resumes for three candidates, and I phone screened them, and so one of them really did something very odd. This was in Princeton, New Jersey, and while we were talking on the phone—and I still remember where I was. I was driving on the highway, going west towards my home—and she volunteered . . . . She says, "Oh, by the way, I'm attending a Bible college." And it was quite aggressive, and she said, "You know, if that doesn't work for you, we might as well just stop talking right now and not waste our time." Now, I don't know. I had a real good feel about the conversation up to that point, and I had lost my anti-Christian bias because I had hired a bunch of people who were open Christians, and I found out that they were actually pretty smart, not the dumb ones that I thought they might be, and also the most reliable workers. So I had no reason to disqualify the lady, and we brought her in for an interview, and it was just an incredible experience.
First of all, she passed the interview. She interviewed with human resources and with a colleague of mine, and I was the last one to talk to her. She was sitting in a small conference room. I opened the door, and I looked at her face, and it hit me. There was something in that face—and she still has it—that's shining. It's an aura that is very, very rare. And in a sense, for me, it was love at first sight. I didn't know what I was falling in love with. She was quote-unquote not my type, and I had no business—you know, I'm 20 years older than she is, and I was going to hire somebody, but she was just so attractive. Not in a sexual sort of way. But the aura around her. And so we hired her.
And this is her part of the story. She, at the time, was looking for a job. She was in a personal crisis. The man she was married to turned out to be a con man who had stolen a lot of money from her. So she picked herself up and says—you know, for a while she was out of work. "I've got to go find another job." She got, at the same time, three job offers from three companies, and I'm not surprised why. And then she prayed to God and asked for guidance, which one to take, and she determined that it would have to be a company that would give her a sign-on bonus. Now at her level, sign-on bonuses are not normal. Administrative assistants typically don't get sign-on bonuses, but we had a bit of a mismatch. HR maxed me out as far as how much I could offer, and I said, "Well, how about if we close the gap between the offer and what she would like to make and give her a sign-on bonus?" So she got a sign-on bonus.
And she will also tell people that God told her that there was a task for her at that place. She didn't know what it was and who it was all about. She, for a while, thought it was a young lady who was misbehaving in some ways, that she had to just help her to straighten out her ways. So we started working together. Now the seating arrangements in that company were all open floor. I didn't have an office, so my assistant was just diagonally opposite from me, and we were pretty much in each other's space. Whatever she said out loud, I would hear, and vice versa. So we got to know each other pretty well. And one time I asked her. I said, "You know, you have this glow on your face and this aura. Where does it come from?" And she blurted out, and this is absolutely true, she blurted out, "It must be Jesus!" So it was my time to roll my eyes, not physically but sort of-
In your mind. Yes.
In my mind. Because I could not understand how somebody would have that much of an impact, somebody who I at the time knew she doesn't talk to and who most likely does not exist, so that's where I was at the time. I was an agnostic, and I denied the existence of God or even Christ and never mind Christ as God. But this is when the Lord started reeling me in very, very carefully.
So you were going through a difficult time but you met someone who came into your life who had a glow about them, Shawna obviously. And she attributed it to Jesus, of all people. So I'm sure that took you aback. So how did your story then progress?
Well, as I indicated, it looks like God was starting to reel me in very carefully. I had an established pattern to help people in my organization to achieve as much as they can achieve based on their potential, and so I would sit down with—and I had, at one point, 200 people in my organization—and I actually sat down with each one of them, one on one, to try to figure out, who are you? And where can you go? Where do you want to go? And I did the same thing with my new administrative assistant, and I remember that she was going part time to a Bible college, and I said, "Why don't you give me an essay that you wrote? I want to know how well you write." So she gave me an essay about the book of Ruth. That was an interesting pick. Because the book of Ruth—when you talk about this, you can take it as straight literature. That would be the farthest away from somebody saying she's trying to evangelize me. I read it as a story.
And she said that was Holy Spirit inspired. She said that was the only essay she got a B for, but she picked that instead of giving me one where she got an A to impress the boss. So I read it, and I tell her, "You write well. I guess I have to, in order to really get a good idea how good it is, I have to read the original," but she was prepared. She has a Bible in her desk. And she gave me that Bible, so this was the first time in my entire life that I opened the Bible, other than this failed attempt as a child, and read something in there on purpose. We're now looking at another turn of that reel to get that fish a little closer. I had this brainstorm. Holy Spirit inspired, I'm guessing. Because it just occurred to me that I had just read a book that is by far the most read book in the history of man with no close second, and I always was really proud of my wide and deep learning, education about the world, and here's this one book that I never read.
So I asked Shawna if I could keep the book, and she said, "No. I think I can do something better." She gave me a set of CDs, so I had a one-hour commute to work, so that gave me two hours listening to the Bible, from Genesis all the way to Revelation. And so now—it got quite interesting, particularly since I had an expert on the Bible right in my office. And when I had questions I would ask her. And we obviously didn't do this on the open floor. This was Princeton, New Jersey. So we, at one point, made arrangements on our respective calendars, to meet a half hour before the actual work day started to go over some of my questions. And we're now calling that, jokingly, undercover Bible study.
That makes sense.
Which it was.
It was sort of on company time in a very secular place in a very secular company, talking about the Bible. And here comes the next pull to get that fish really close to land, when Shawna told me, "You've got to listen to this radio program. I think you're going to like it." And I said, "What's the radio program?" "Let My People Think. There's this man who—I know you're going to love him." So I turned this on on a—I don't know. It was on my way to work one morning. It was a recording. And there's Ravi Zacharias. And one of his favorite subjects was morality. And morality was something I had been struggling with because I had considered myself, throughout my life, even as a boy starting out, to be a good person. I never really harmed somebody on purpose, and yet I had served, which I knew at that time very clearly I had done immoral things and I had served a significantly immoral cause, so that's why I really listened very closely, and so the case that Dr. Zacharias made there was that morality cannot come from the inside, which I have to agree with, because my morality—my internals were totally messed up. So there had to be somehow a moral law that is given from the outside. And the next step is—and this is Ravi's logic—and this is why I really love Ravi Zacharias' writing and his teachings. He said, "Where there is a law, there has to be a lawgiver."
At that point, I very quickly became a deist. I had to agree with them that there has to be a God in some way because that lawgiver couldn't have been another person because I already knew about all the evil that had happened in history and the evil caused by men. So now I was a deist. I wasn't a Christian yet. But, you know, Shawna took care of that. She constantly—on Monday, she would tell me what church was like and they have this great music and . . . and one day I said—and I said it. She didn't invite me. I said, "Why don't you take me one day?" Now you have to understand, for background, I had never set foot into a church other than Catholic, a church where there's a service going on, and the Catholic service that I attended with my ex-wife really did nothing for me. It was just too ritualistic, and I just sat there and let it pass. So here I am, for the first time, going into a church where there was some strong faith displayed. This is what I sort of determined based on what Shawna told me. And so, as a matter of fact, I was concerned. Literally I was afraid to go in there by myself. That was a Saturday afternoon service. We were supposed to meet in the parking lot, and Shawna was late. I waited and I waited, and when she finally showed up, I made her go in front of me because I was afraid that I would be intercepted at the door as the new guy and maybe just evangelized right then and there. Not even close.
That's not what happened?
Not at all. You know, I walk in there. The music was really good. It was modern Christian music. Very well played. And then in comes the pastor for his sermon, and would you believe this fellow had the same kind of glow on his face as I originally saw Shawna display? And of course, as it happens to a lot of believers and happened to me, that the sermon that he preached was meant for me.
Right. It's funny how that happens. Yeah.
And God speaks to all of us and somehow it's just amazing how we can individualize the message, and this one was about God's love, and I didn't count how many times the pastor used the word love, but it was exactly what I needed to hear, because I was in this crisis, and I was actually hungry for love. Well, that's not unusual, but I was in a state where I couldn't deny it anymore. I had to admit it to myself, and that made it rather painful, and here I'm hearing the pastor talk about the love of Christ, the love of God, and I did something that was, at the time, for me, totally atypical. At the end of the service, I walked up to the pulpit and approached the pastor. I don't know what possessed me. And I told him, I said, "You have a phenomenal delivery." This is what I said, rather than, "I really like your message." You know, a passive-aggressive kind of approach. And obviously he knew I was a new guy, and we talked a little bit, and he found out that I'm not a Christian, and he called up his assistant pastor, and he asked me, "Is it okay if we lay hands on you?" And I said, "Okay." Now, gee, if somebody had told me before I entered the church that the pastor would want to lay hands on me, I would not have entered. But at that moment, at that point in time, it was logical. And I had no problem with it.
So, yeah, for those who are listening, when you say, "lay hands on you," what did you mean by that? To pray for you?
Yeah. They touched me on my back and bowed their heads and said a prayer over me.
And how did that make you feel?
Loved. By strangers who represented God. Now that didn't make me a Christian at that point. It doesn't work that way. But I went back to that church because I liked it, and the message was always good. The music was good. And it sort of became part of my life.
You had listened to the Bible all the way through. You were listening to Ravi Zacharias, so your head—it sounds like your head and your heart were both being drawn in some way towards God, in terms of both truth and love.
Correct, and the head actually was leading that move towards God. Because I'm wired to be a thinker, and Dr. Zacharias really—I listened to more of his talks. His logic could not be defeated by anything that I could come up with, but my heart hadn't really followed, and this just happened at an odd place, at a moment where I really . . . . You wouldn't expect it. I was playing golf with a friend of mine, and as he was looking for his ball and I was waiting, standing around, it was a nice bright summer day with some clouds up in the sky, and I was looking around and was looking at the sky, and it all of a sudden hit me, and I said to myself—and I may have said it out loud—"I know you're God. I believe you're God."
So that was my moment when I became internally a Christian, and within a couple of weeks, I actually went to the altar, and here's another interesting tidbit. That church didn't have an altar call. Never did. But one time at the end of service I had this pull, and I just had to go up there, and the pastor asked, "Can I help you?" And I said, "I would like to give my life to Jesus Christ," and the next 15 minutes are a blank in my memory. Shawna remembers because she was there. The pastor actually . . . . People were really moving out. The pastor actually went on the PA system and told the congregation a little bit about me. He knew about my background. And then there was applause, and everybody rejoiced, and I don't remember any of that. So I was, and still am, a Christian.
And I've got to just finish up with that church. Six months later, pastor asked me to testify on Easter. I testified three times, three services. He never asked me to tell him what I was going to say, and the interesting thing is also that this was a church—the three services were attended by about 1,000 people. And this was in the place where I lived, where I worked, and nothing ever left the church. In other words, the fact that here is an ex-Communist agent who became a Christian, it didn't go anywhere. It didn't make the media. It didn't get to my company. And I think God just put a mantle over this because I wasn't ready to be a public figure. I wasn't mature enough.
So you were protected in a way.
I believe so. It was just . . . . If you think about it, I didn't think about this whole thing, but after the fact, there are a thousand people that live in my neighborhood and some of whom could have been coworkers, and it just did not trickle out. It doesn't make any sense. There was not a single journalist in that audience or historian or teacher. Nobody even came up to me and . . . . I just disappeared back into the crowd.
Wow. Wow. So yes, the Lord knows what you need and what you could handle at the time, so there was a way of protecting you, I suppose. I do wonder . . . you spoke about the glow of Shawna when you met her and then you spoke of the same kind of glow of the pastor, that there seemed to be something about them, and I wonder, in your journey, at the end of the day, have you found that internal peace or found that glow that seems to be common among some Christians that you know?
I only can tell you what my experience is when I speak with others who don't know me. More often than not, particularly here in the South—as I told you, I live in Georgia now. People guess that I'm a Christian. I don't think I have a glow. I can't see it in the mirror. But I think there is something about the certainty that comes from our faith that changes us and the presence of the Holy Spirit clearly is manifested in Shawna's face, who is, by the way, now my wife and the mother of my 9-year-old Trinity. I think that change is externalized to some extent. Have I found peace? You know, we struggle sometimes. We're going through hard times, but I have learned to trust that God knows what he's doing, and in the end, it's His plan, and His plan has been excellent for me, and so why should that change? So my favorite Bible verse is Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I'm God," because being still has not been part of my mental and emotional makeup, but I've learned to be patient, and I've learned to trust.
Wow. That's wonderful! Well, as we're kind of concluding here, before we do that, I would love to hear your thoughts and your wisdom. You have so beautifully pictured God as the great fisherman reeling you in through your journey and that you started at a very skeptical atheistic place, very skeptical of God, and I wondered if you could speak to someone who might be in that place right now, who for some reason is listening and is curious, what you might say to that curious skeptic if you had a moment.
Well, it depends upon where they are, and I think the appeal that I can make that is the most convincing would be to the skeptical intellectual who just hasn't gotten very deeply into the Bible or into our faith. Just do a little more research. Read some of the good writing that C.S. Lewis published, Ravi Zacharias, and others. Acquaint yourself with the thought behind our faith and understand that God has given us a brain, a heart, and a soul, and He wants all three, and the only thing I can say, what becoming a Christian has done to me, has given me a lot more peace than I had before. And that's good, because I actually—for the first time in my life, I actually like myself. And a lot of people don't. But if God loves you, why can't you like yourself? And it makes life so much easier, particularly to deal with circumstances that are not always favorable. That's pretty much what I can say here.
That's pretty powerful. Especially that last part you said about, that you like yourself for the first time. There's something very wonderful about not only liking yourself because then that reflects onto others in the way that, not only you treat yourself, but the way that you treat others, and there's such a . . . almost a domino effect with that, when you're grounded in the love of God. It's easier to give that love to others.
You're so right. You're so right. And it's hard to describe, but every day I walk around and I have no more fear of strangers. I love people. I love interacting with people. And I know that I am—because of the Holy Spirit, I do well with people. And I'm not a street evangelist, not by a long shot, but I think I evangelize by example, by being kind, by being helpful, and showing the example the way I live.
And I think that's probably a good word for the Christians who might be listening. If you were to speak with them, I think that that's very powerful as well, in terms of how you display Christianity as just by being grounded in the love of God and who you are and then giving that love away, it sounds like.
I must mention this one instance. Because you mentioned the word love again, so because it really hit me one time that—and it was spontaneous—that love is the one quality that makes us human, and that's the quality that we get from God, so here's this instance. I gave a presentation at Microsoft, and at the end, one of the members of the audience asked me, "So with all the stuff that you did and the crazy life that you lived, what is the one lesson that you could share with us?" And I didn't hesitate, and I said, "Oh. Three words. Love conquers all." It turns out the questioner was a Christian and is a good friend of mine now.
Oh. That really does sum it up, doesn't it? I mean love is that thing that sometimes seems so elusive. It's the thing that we all want and desire, and it's there waiting for you.
Well, thank you so very much, Jack, for coming on board and telling us your amazing journey from the other side of the world and the other side of your view of reality to one that is beautifully grounded in the love of God and the peace of God and the truth of God, that you demonstrate a life and a faith that's all encompassing—head, heart, and life. And that's an incredible story for us all to take inspiration from, really. So thank you so much for coming on today to tell your story.
You are very welcome.
Thanks for tuning into the Side B Podcast to hear Jack's story. You can find out more about Jack by visiting his website at jackbarsky.com. That's B-A-R-S-K-Y. Or for his full story, you can read his book, Deep Undercover, which you can find at Amazon and other great places. For questions and feedback about this episode, you can reach me by email at [email protected]. I hope you enjoyed it. Subscribe and share this podcast with your friends and network if you wouldn't mind. In the meantime, I'll be looking forward to seeing you next time, where will be listening to the other side.