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Book Review

Uncommon Providence: A daring escape from the Soviet Gulag - by Dueck, Harold

Xulon Press, 2008. 276pp.
Karen Busenitz, wife of TMS professor Dr. Irv Busenitz

Uncommon Providence is a firsthand account of a young German Mennonite minister and his wife who dared to stay in the Ukraine after World War I specifically for ministry purposes. When all doors closed, God providentially guided them in escaping Stalin’s ruthless persecution. It was a two year trek which took them from the Ukraine through Russia into China and then south over the Himalayas to India.

Their journey began after Jacob Dueck was granted an unusual leave from a forced labor camp. After much prayer and consideration, Jacob, Anna, five year old Helga and baby boy Yascha, walked over wet snow to the train station and headed east. But how could they travel? They didn’t have the necessary documents.

God's sovereign provision for the Dueck's escape began years before, when Jacob purchased a belt. At that time, in order for merchants to get rid of unwanted merchandise, customers were forced to buy unwanted goods in order to purchase the goods they actually wanted. Along with the belt, Jacob reluctantly bought some binders which were embossed with gold lettering¯lettering that just happened to be the initials of the Communist Party!

When preparing to board the train, an official stopped them and demanded to see their travel papers. However, upon seeing the folder with the gold letters of the Communist Party, the official immediately gestured for the family to pass. He didn’t even look inside the folder!

In His providence, the Duecks made it to the border zone between Russia and China. Jacob and Anna had passed the check point under cover of darkness, in windy, cold conditions. When Jacob was asked, “Have you documents?” he replied spontaneously, “Who in the world would travel in the Soviet Union without documents?” The officer answered, “All right, move on,” and quickly retreated out of the inclement conditions. Again the hand of the Almighty was with them; they had crossed without the necessary documents.

After more than a year in China, the Duecks made their way south, hoping to enter India. However, they would need to travel the last 250 miles through the Himalayas. After receiving the necessary documents for further travel, they were ready to go. By this time Anna was eight months pregnant, and Jacob thought they should wait until after the baby came before making such a strenuous trek. Anna insisted she was able to make the journey, and they proceeded.

On July 18, 1933, two years after their initial escape from the prison camp, the Duecks arrived at the mission station in India. Two weeks later, Anna gave birth to Helen. Reflecting on their amazing journey, Jacob wrote, “The Lord of hosts had brought us about 1,600 miles over mountains and deserts, crossing two glaciers and climbing three of the highest passes in the world of 14,000 to 15,000 feet above sea level” (264).

Jacob and Anna spent the next 30 years joyfully serving the Lord among the Telegu speaking people in South India. Uncommon Providence was written “that God be acknowledged and His glory lifted” (ix). It is written of people who walked by faith through uncommon circumstances, but always in the hand of a loving Sovereign God.

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