Originally Published by Engage Magazine (original article here) on Sept. 19, 2014
It became a downward spiral that ruined his marriage, before Christ helped him pick up the pieces and start over. Today, Kovalev is a missionary who has been sent by the South Russia District to plant churches in Surovikino, two hours outside of Volgograd.
“One day when I was drunk I started to feel a strong fear,” he said. “I realized that I'm addicted to beer and couldn't live without it. From that day those fears started to live in me and I had to deal with it every day.
He goes on to tell what happened next.
"I visited an Orthodox Cathedral and asked a priest to pray for me. Then I left, got my car, opened a beer can and drove to home.
"On 17 February in 2009 I was home alone, and I was drunk. I held a beer can in my hands. And I heard a voice, which said: 'Follow me.' It wasn't a human voice. How did I [know] it wasn't a human voice? Because nobody talked with me like that – there was love, absolute power and no constraint in all these words. I wasn't frightened. I just answered: 'I will finish my beer and then will go' like that person was right near to me and I didn't want to look at him. I continued to drink and after some time I heard again: 'Follow me.' I thought: 'It is delirium. What should I do?'
"But the voice told me for the third time: 'Follow me.' I wanted to go outside but fell on the floor. After one minute I realized myself sitting on the couch in sober mind. I took my beer can but couldn't swallow beer. I want to make a point on this: I could take beer in my mouth but I couldn't swallow it. It was a miracle for me.
Transformed in Christ
"One day then I thought about 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 and God opened my heart to understand how He is merciful to me and what I became a spiritual person. And I wrote in my Bible (near verse 14): 'I thank you, God! Why you're so merciful to me? I love to read your Word and I thankful to you what I can understand it. I love you, Lord!' And I felt great God's grace – to forgive others."
Because of his alcoholism, Kovalev and his wife and daughter had been living apart. Now he’d found Christ and become sober, but she was not willing to reconcile. They divorced. The pastor of the Nazarene church allowed Kovalev to live in the church building for a month, where he joined all the church’s weekly activities with enthusiasm.
Over time, he began morning prayer meetings with two women from the church. Eventually, he earned a district preacher’s license and became an integral part of church life.
An Unintentional Missionary
“At this specific moment, I didn’t know that they had a conversation,” Kovalev said. “This is God. I can’t explain it in another way.”
When Kovalev went to Surovikino, a town of about 26,000 people, he didn’t think of himself as a missionary at first. To him, missionaries were people who went to faraway places like Africa or America, but not a small city two hours away from home. He thought he was just serving God by ministering to another community.
He began by putting Christian tracts into mailboxes and walking the streets. One day during a walk, an elderly woman named Zoya invited him into her home for a glass of milk. This turned into regular meetings for about a year. God also brought 10 to 15 Roma people into his sphere of influence.
God provided a house for Kovalev to rent from a woman whose husband was also a policeman.
Challenges in the Work
"Zoya has a great grandson. He has a special tube in his gullet for many years. One day it broke. There was blood inside and they brought him to the hospital in Volgograd. The church in Volgograd and I prayed for him. After the surgery he become blind, but now he can see. Zoya is telling everyone that this was made by God.
"My current boss (I work here as a postman) and many people are asking me to pray for them and God is changing situations in their lives. God is not leaving us alone. He also reminds me how He made a miracle when I was freed from beer addiction and adultery. Praise God!"
Kovalev said one of the greatest challenges to his work in Surovikino is loneliness.
"It is exhausting to tell people about God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, God's love again, again and again. People are arguing and this is exhausting me too. Sometimes I just want to sit among people who understand me. This is a main challenge for me here – every morning I go to the battle. And this is my prayer, tears, knees, private prayer room... God is teaching me to live in reality."
Members of his home church in Volgograd are visiting him on regular basis and continually pray for him to remind him he is not alone, that he has been sent by his church.