Sasha Strachova

By Marvin K. Gardner

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    A young Russian woman discovers—and embraces—a new life.

    When Sasha Strachova was 13 years old, she began to feel a yearning to know God. For months, she prayed, “Heavenly Father, I want to know thee more.”

    The Lord answered her prayer. One day, two missionaries were invited to speak to the students in her school class in St. Petersburg, Russia. Something they said caught her by surprise and riveted her attention: “Men are, that they might have joy” (2 Ne. 2:25). What an unusual concept that was! “But I believed it,” says Sasha. “I felt they knew how we could have joy in life.”

    Excitedly, she hurried home to share her discovery with her mother. But her mother, recently divorced and feeling burdened with life, dismissed her news and her excitement. Sasha begged for permission to attend Sunday meetings at the branch, even though it was far from where she and her mother lived. “Mama said, ‘Why do you have to travel so far?’ But I said, ‘Mama, I will go to this church.’”

    The next Sunday, Sasha traveled alone by bus and subway to reach the branch. “I felt love there,” she says. “I felt life in the people. I was just starting to know about God, and I wanted very much to feel what they were feeling.”

    Soon she was asking her mother if the missionaries could come to their apartment. “My mother said, ‘No, we don’t need missionaries.’ But I told her, ‘Mama, I will wash the floor every day. Please let them come.’” After a month of washing floors, Sasha convinced her mother to let the missionaries come. When they arrived, they were surprised to find the apartment crowded with 13-year-olds. Sasha had invited her entire school class! Three months later, she and two of her friends were baptized.

    “Oh, They Want to Know about God!”

    Sasha wanted her mother to enjoy the blessings of the gospel. “I fasted and prayed for her,” she says. “Every night I put notes on her bed. I wrote: ‘My dear mommy, God loves you so much. Please pray to him. He will certainly bless you today.’” Sasha has family home evening with her mother and still hopes she will eventually be baptized.

    One day when Sasha was 14, she saw a handbill from a Protestant church inviting people who wanted to know about God to attend a meeting. Sasha thought, “Oh, they wanted to know about God!” Figuring this would be a perfect opportunity to share the gospel with earnest seekers of the truth, she went to the meeting—all alone. During the service, she courageously stood before the room full of people and bore her testimony of the Savior and the Restoration. “I told them that I know with all my heart it is true,” she says, “and I invited them all to church.” Since that day in 1992, Sasha has helped bring several friends into the Church.

    Enticements of the World

    There was a time in Sasha’s life, however, when the enticements of the world almost overwhelmed her. She loves to dance and has trained from an early ageto become a professional dancer. Several months after her baptism, she became a member of a professional modern dance company in St. Petersburg. Most of the other dancers in the group were adults. None of them were members of the Church, and none lived Church standards.

    When Sasha was 15, the dance company started preparing for a performance tour to Switzerland. It was a chance of a lifetime. “Every day I danced for about eight hours,” she says. “I was preparing with all my heart for the trip.” After a few months of single-minded devotion to dancing, Sasha had drifted dangerously far from her mother, her schoolwork, and the Church.

    Fortunately, she still had an LDS friend—Anya. One day Anya’s mother, a member of the Church, said: “Sasha, stop! Do you think you can remain clean in that environment? Those people don’t keep the Word of Wisdom or the law of chastity. Do you think the Holy Ghost can remain with you?”

    “Those words went to my heart,” she says. “I suddenly realized I was surrounded by a spiritual darkness, and I was frightened. Anya and I fell to our knees and started praying. After our prayer, there seemed to be a light around us. I knew I must leave the dance group.”

    But how could she actually leave? How could she let down the other dancers? Sasha asked for a priesthood blessing. Then she took Anya with her to break the news to her dance director. “When we reached the hall, I saw my director sitting there smoking, and she told me to hurry and dress for the rehearsal,” she remembers. “I told her I would not work there any more—but she wouldn’t listen. ‘How dare you do this?’ she asked. ‘Why do you betray us?’ She caught hold of me and took me in to the rest of the group. I was trying to talk to her, but I felt I didn’t have any strength; I couldn’t say anything.”

    Fortunately, Anya was still at her side—saying nothing, but silently praying for her friend. “Suddenly I felt I had the power to talk to the group,” Sasha says. She explained why she was leaving. “It was difficult because they were my friends.”

    When the director realized Sasha was not going to change her mind, she called a substitute and told Sasha to teach her everything. “I started dancing,” says Sasha, “and I was crying because I knew I was doing those dances for the last time.”

    When she arrived home, she was exhausted. “But I knew I had won! I prayed that night and every night since then. I understood that for God we sometimes have to sacrifice our most beloved things. My new life really began from that moment.”

    Sasha was reconciled with her mother, finished high school, and found another way to share her talent for dancing. She has recently completed a degree in dance at a college of culture and arts in St. Petersburg. Most important, her heart is centered again on the Lord.

    “I Knew We Had to Be One Family”

    At age 16, Sasha was called to be first counselor in her branch’s Young Women presidency. Her friend Anya was president. The two of them were the only active young women in the branch. One day a leader told them, “You have many young women in your branch, but only the two of you come. God called you to work!”

    So Sasha and Anya went to work. Within a month, nearly 15 young women were active in the branch. A few months later, Sasha was called to be branch Young Women president. And at age 17, she became first counselor in the district Young Women presidency. “Like me, many of those girls were the only members of the Church in their families, and I knew we had to be one family with them. It was my desire that we should be real friends. Then we could all be faithful to the Lord.”

    The girls met often during the week for friendship, activities, and service. They took turns giving lessons. They attended branch seminary classes. They went on walks and enjoyed other activities together. “Most of those young women are still active in the Church,” says Sasha. “They have strong testimonies and are serving now in their own callings. We are still close friends.”

    “It Will Be So Easy”

    Sasha was called to serve as branch Relief Society president at age 18. “At first I thought, ‘I have a lot of energy. I can do everything by myself. It will be so easy.’ But then I realized there were more than 90 sisters in the branch—most of them much older than I—and I couldn’t do anything by myself!”

    She humbled herself and called upon the Lord for help. Her branch president encouraged her to unite the sisters in friendship. “We felt that visiting teaching was our most important work.”

    The Spirit of Christmas

    For decades, Christmas had not been celebrated in Russia. But after a great deal of prayer, Sasha felt the importance of emphasizing the holiday as a celebration of the Savior’s birth. “I wanted every sister to feel the spirit of Christmas,” she says. In Homemaking meetings, they learned how to make stuffed animals out of fabric. Then small groups of sisters visited everyone in the branch—more than 50 homes—sharing Christmas greetings and delivering the toys to the children.

    Sasha had been so busy with all the preparations and visits that she had never given any thought to receiving a visit herself. “But on December 23, the coldest night of the winter, my doorbell rang and four of my Relief Society sisters entered my apartment,” she remembers. “One of them hadn’t been active in the Church for a year and a half. They had already visited several sisters that evening, but they decided to come and visit me, too! It was so cold—they were frozen. But they lit candles and sang ‘Silent Night’ with me. They said a lot of kind words and gave me one of the Christmas cards we had made in Homemaking meeting! I felt so much love from them and from Heavenly Father.”

    Later, many of the women told Sasha how much they had enjoyed making and receiving their Christmas visits. “As they told me their experiences, they were full of feelings, full of light and fire. I could feel warmth from them, even though it was the coldest time of the winter!”

    Today, at age 20, Sasha serves as a counselor in the district Relief Society presidency. “I am learning something all the time,” she says, “and I am afraid to let go of the iron rod [see 1 Ne. 11:25]. I read the Book of Mormon every day; it is my support in life. The love of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is the greatest thing in all the world. Only they can give us eternal happiness. I can’t imagine my life without them!”

    Photography by Marvin K. Gardner and Richard M. Romney

    Sasha finds joy and purpose in St. Petersburg—a city rich with culture. Above, left: Triumphal Arch at Palace Square. Above, right: Church of the Resurrection.

    At a bridge over one of many canals in the city.

    Sasha and a friend, left, teach a workshop at a youth conference. As branch Relief Society president, right, Sasha loved to visit the sisters and their families.