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Pioneer Russian Radio Programmer Elizabeth Lewshenia Dies at 96 Following Illness

January 30, 2015

Pioneer Russian Radio Programmer Elizabeth Lewshenia Dies at 96 Following Illness

January 30, 2015
(Jan. 30, 2015 - by Harold Goerzen)  For more than 50 years, especially in the decades following World War II, Russian believers across the former Soviet Union depended on Christian radio programs, aired via shortwave, as their main source of spiritual nurture. An estimated 20,000 “radio churches” were formed during the 44-year-long Cold War when Protestant churches and even Bibles were banned.

Among the key voices during this time were those of Constantine “Const” and Elizabeth (Zernov) Lewshenia, Russian radio programmers who served at Radio Station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador, under the umbrella of Slavic Gospel Association (SGA) during much of their 58-year missionary career.

“During the years of communist oppression, these gospel programs were the only spiritual sustenance and encouragement to our persecuted faithful brothers and sisters behind the Iron Curtain received,” said SGA President Bob Provost in a letter to ministry partners.

Elizabeth died at her home in Edelstein, Ill., Thursday, Jan. 29, at the age of 96 following an illness. Her husband passed away nearly 12 years earlier after 57 years or marriage.

Born Dec. 14, 1918, in Sooloiha, Tver, Russia, Elizabeth was the fifth of nine children—four brothers and four sisters—all who predeceased her.

Const, who joined SGA in 1941, began his missionary service by pastoring a Russian church in Pittsburgh, Pa. In October 1942 he left for Argentina to help establish the Slavic Bible Institute. On his way, he was asked to visit HCJB where he became the first Russian radio missionary and inaugurated daily Russian radio broadcasts.

In September 1943 Elizabeth took over the Russian Language Service at the station, freeing Const to go to Argentina to establish the Bible institute. While he and Elizabeth overlapped in Ecuador, they were engaged.

Two years later, Elizabeth was replaced by Alex Leonovich and joined Const at the Slavic Bible Institute in Rosario, Argentina, a school where some Reach Beyond staff members later studied.

She married Const on June 16, 1945, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they served as missionaries at the Bible institute. In 1949 they returned to Quito to resume their radio broadcasting ministry under the umbrella of SGA.

The Lewshenias’ voices were well known across the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and their programs were a lifeline for millions during decades of communism. The Russian broadcasts were aired by HCJB until the shortwave station was shut down in 2009.

Toward the end of their missionary careers, Elizabeth and Const were able to take 10 missionary journeys to Russia. “Many Christian believers instantly recognized their voices as soon as they spoke,” Provost explained. “Many came to them in tears, thanking them for the Bible teaching by radio…. It was a great blessing or them to personally meet many who had come to know the Lord as Savior while listening to their programs.”

The National Religious Broadcasting Association honored both Const and Elizabeth with the Golden Mike award in 1991 for 50 years of Christian broadcasting. In October 2000 the Lewshenias were recognized by the Association of Russian Christian Broadcasters at a conference in Moscow for Christian radio and television broadcasters.

After the latter presentation, a man came up to the Lewshenias and told about how he had first heard the gospel through their programs 30 years earlier. “He said he had always asked God to give him the opportunity to meet the one whom God had used to lead him to a personal relationship with Christ,” said former missionary Mark Irwin who then served at Reach Beyond’s office in Moscow, Russia. “It was a powerful and moving moment.”

“While our hearts are heavy with this great loss, we rejoice that Elizabeth is in glory,” concluded Provost. “What a legacy and example she left behind!”

Elizabeth is survived by a daughter, Ruth Holmes; a son, David, who is married to Pam Horn, daughter of Reach Beyond retirees Ralph and Gwen Horn; as well as eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Two funerals are planned for Elizabeth. The first is set for noon Saturday, Jan. 31, at St. Francis Anglican Church in Dunlap, Ill., preceded by visitation at 11 a.m. The second memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, at Wheaton Bible Church in West Chicago, Ill., preceded by visitation at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at the Wheaton Cemetery.

Memorial gifts may be made to Reach Beyond, SGA or St. Francis Anglican Church.

Sources: Reach Beyond, Hultgren Funeral Home