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Beyond the Rapids: One Family's Triumph over Religious Persecution in Communist Ukraine Review by Brandi Tesreau

Evelyn Puerto

"When I think of life during the time of persecution compared to life with freedom, I can say that freedom is good for the body but bad for the soul; persecution is bad for the body and good for the soul." --Igor Yaremchuk

Those are difficult words to digest. Freedom is all I've ever known, and I easily forget that it's a privilege. It's hard for me to imagine Christians past and present suffering just for their beliefs. Beyond the Rapids sheds light on one family's trials and triumphs in the midst of harsh religious persecution.

Evelyn Puerto records the true story of the Brynza family's faith and perseverance despite persecution while living under communist rule during the early twentieth century to shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Though spanning three generations, the book's main focus is on Ukrainian pastor Alexei Brynza and his wife, Valentina, as they reared their four children in an environment opposed to the Christian faith.

The story is told from the perspective of the Brynza's four children, beginning with their only daughter, Lena. In Part I, "In the Rapids," Lena remembers what life was like growing up as an oppressed believer. She lived during a time when children were forbidden to go to church and teachers were allowed to pick on the Christian students in school. Her family was always poor, as her father would often be fired from his jobs because of his faith. Lena recounts fascinating stories from her grandparents, who endured religious persecution as well.

Lena's older brothers, Yakov and Viktor, take turns telling their sides of the story in Part II, "Seeking and Finding ." Yakov remembers the difficulty of choosing Christ over success. He also tells of his struggle with anger and frustration even after becoming a Christian. Viktor wanted to cling to worldly pleasures, such as drinking, smoking, and fighting, and still be a Christian, but he shares how miserable he was leading a double life. Eventually, he was saved while in the army, and he even resisted many threats from commanders to refrain from meeting with other believers.

Also in Part II, Igor Yaremchuk--the man Lena eventually marries--shares what his life was like growing up in an unbelieving home and how God used various situations and even atheist propaganda to draw him to Himself.

In Part III, "Biting my Elbows," we hear from Lena again. She shares her struggles of entering the work force, remaining true to her faith, and falling in love with an unbeliever. She recalls meeting Igor for the very first time and reveals the details of their very strange courtship. In this section, Lena and Igor take turns telling of their unique relationship, their marriage, and their eventual life in America.

Veniamin, the youngest child, recounts his life's journey as a Brynza in Part IV, "Coming Home." Shame and humiliation turned to anger and rebellion early on. Veniamin was an ill-behaved child in school, causing much grief to his parents. Later he became involved in crime, joined the Red Army, and married an unbeliever. Veniamin's wife briefly shares about her relationship to Veniamin, about being a part of his family, and coming to accept Christ as her Savior.

I loved this book! I am grateful for this family's willingness to share and for Evelyn Puerto's dedication to complete the book and present it in a way that was interesting to read. It was as if these individuals had been invited over to my home to give their personal testimonies. I hung on every word. I was reminded often of the amazing grace and love of our God. Highlights for me were learning of the "mysterious miracle bush," Igor's incredible salvation experience, and Igor and Lena's highly unusual courtship!

What a coincidence that my two oldest children were in the midst of studying about the Cold War as I was reviewing Beyond the Rapids! I wish they were old enough to read this book now, but I think I will wait until they are a little older. I would recommend this book for high school aged children and up.

You can visit to find out more about the author and the Brynza family. Links are also provided for book purchase. Both links list the book for under $15.00, and half of the proceeds are donated to the Irpin Biblical Seminary. When you are finished reading Beyond the Rapids, you can keep up with the blog on the site, too!

I give Beyond the Rapids five stars! It's incredibly inspirational, and I think every Christian should have a copy. It has certainly impacted my life and strengthened my faith. May we all have the courage to persevere like the Brynzas and live in a manner worthy of the gospel, no matter what happens.

Product review by Brandi Tesreau, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May 2011