This summer I was broken and opened up so elegantly to God’s love for me-- one way, namely, through silence!
The team went on a 4-day silent retreat in early July in the mountains of Healy, Alaska, where we read a different gospel each day and simply walked with our Lord through His life. Father Michael so wisely instructed us that God’s language is silence- in the silence is where He most clearly speaks.
I really experienced God speaking to me through silence, but not only in reading through the mysteries of Christ’s life on this retreat. I experienced this on countless nights and mornings of adoration we had both as a team and in community with different parishes (With the Body of Christ is powerful silence!). God showed me himself through my silence in listening to my teammates and the many beautiful souls we encountered in our travels throughout Alaska. I heard the Lord through silence in nature-- His incredible sculpting, with every unique detail so ominously surrounding me at every corner.
A particular time I experienced God speaking to me through the silence happened on the Fourth of July.
The Fourth of July was a full day. We watched a dear friend of ours run a race up and down a mountain. We spent time in Mass, walking around town, at the parish barbecue, and calling our families. Finally, in the evening, we had a team bonfire celebrating our freedom where we shared testimonies, prayed, bonded, and praised together!
At the very end of our eventful night Father Michael had us all stop and just look at the breathtaking beauty around us (mountains, ocean, beach, sand, and clear evening sky). He had us just be silent and listen. He told us to praise God in our hearts for the beauty around us and simply to let God speak.
A couple of things struck me in these short moments of prayer. This first being how small I am in comparison to my vast Creator. The second, which really touched my heart, was how detailed He is.
“Our God is a detailed God!” I thought, “He carved every minuscule feature of these vast mountains before me. How much more does he have every detail of my life in mind? EVERY DETAIL! Why should I EVER worry?!”This simple truth strikes me deeply even now. It serves as a reminder to me looking back to these moments standing before His glory, as well as an encouragement looking forward to my senior year and beyond, that faith is not necessarily seeing with one’s eyes, but believing He holds it all with utmost delicacy in His hands! I am reminded through this experience to strive often to take similar steps back, ponder the beauty of the moment, and just let Him speak in the silence of my heart, for that’s where He is truly present! All He asks me to do is listen.
I read the following in the book Poustinia today that reminded me of this power of silence:
“True silence is a key to the immense and flaming heart of God…This silence is not the exclusive prerogative of monasteries or convents. This simple, prayerful silence can and should be everybody’s silence. It belongs to every Christian who loves God, to every Jew who has heard in his heart the echoes of God’s voice in his prophets, to everyone whose soul has risen in search of truth, in search of God. For where noise is — inward noise and confusion — there God is not! Deserts, silence, solitudes are not necessarily places but states of mind and heart.”
“True silence is a key to the immense and flaming heart of God”… Amen! Thank you God for speaking in silence!
-Maggie Giroux and the Magadan Mission Team
This is a question I have faced many times this summer.
He always answers, “Yes, I love you, my beloved daughter.”
Over and over I forget this and have to ask Him again, “Ok, but do You actually love me?”
I have found myself thinking about this question a lot because every week on this mission I have taught little kids: God is Our Father in heaven, He is a good Father, and God the Father loves us. There are still wounds in my heart though that cause me to doubt and forget this basic fact of my existence. I know - at least in my head - that the Father loves me. To help explain this to my young students, I often ask the kids what they like about their dads. One of the classic answers is, “He gives me presents!” This reminded me of something Christ said in the Gospel of Matthew:
Or what man of you, if his sons asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! - Matthew 7:9-11
Throughout this entire mission we have been absolutely showered with blessings from God the Father. He has truly taken care of us through families providing dinner for us, parishioners giving us places to stay, and even fun gifts like a day-long tour of the Kenai Fjords!
Another blessing happened last Friday when our team had the pleasure of taking a tour of Denali National Park. Although we would certainly see some beautiful mountains, we weren’t sure if we would see the mountain, the tallest mountain in North America — Denali itself (formerly known as Mount McKinley).
As we talked about the wildlife and other sights we wanted to see, one of my teammates, Joe, said he was sure that we would see everything we wanted. I was kind of surprised at his confidence and asked him why he was so sure of something that seemed to be random, something that could only happen by chance. He said something to the effect of, “The Lord has blessed us so much this summer. He’s not going to stop now.”
I felt the exact opposite. We had been so blessed already. I thought asking for more would be asking for too much. The Lord completely took care of us when we ended up going to Alaska instead of Russia. The money we needed miraculously showed up. Our plans for the summer were able to be formed quite easily. We would still be spending the summer with Fr. Michael (another father who loves us dearly) serving the Lord and doing our best to follow His will.
I kind of just shrugged it off and got ready for the day, not expecting anything especially amazing to happen. When we got onto the tour bus, the driver started talking about how rare it is to see certain wildlife and only 30% of visitors actually see Denali. The mountain is so big that it has its own weather. Typically, there are clouds surrounding it that obstruct the view. At this point, I was thinking to myself, “See, we’ve asked for too much from Him. We should just be content with what we have.”
Then, we saw 2 grizzly bears. And another one. And then another one! “This must just be luck,” I thought. When we came around the first possible bend to see Denali, I heard words I wasn’t expecting to hear: “Welcome to the 30% club!” Denali was out! Not only was it out then, but once we reached our destination only 30 miles from the base of the mountain, our view of it was still crystal clear. What a blessing! What a gift! What beauty, wonder, and majesty!
When we were on the bus going back to the park gates, I admitted to myself that Joe was right. The Father wants us to expect much and ask much of Him. He is delighted to give to us out of His abundance. He showers gifts on His children whom He loves. I was in awe at the gift the Lord had given us that day. When I was reflecting, I felt surrounded by the loving care and providence of our God who sent His Son to save us. In my heart that day, I answered my own question: “Father— you really love me.”
In the Heart of the Father,
Liz and the Magadan Mission Team
How can I pray for you? Such a simple phrase. Perhaps you’ve genuinely asked someone, or perhaps you’ve been asked that question yourself and scrambled for words because you didn’t know what to say.
At the end of a three day-long retreat for the teens in Kenai, I posed this question to the girls in my small group. There were six girls, and Katya, one of our Russian missionaries, was praying for them as well. I sensed the girls’ hesitation and could almost see their invisible guards rising. After all, they did not know each other well. How could they possibly share something so important to people they’ve only known for a few days? And even more so, what would the other girls think?
In a moment inspired by the Holy Spirit, I knew if I wanted the girls to open up and be real with one another, I had to be too. So I shared with them how I learned to be vulnerable.
For the longest time, I never shared what was going on in my heart to anyone. It was simply too personal. No one else needed to know. God knew, and that was enough. He knew my failures. He knew my struggles with certain sins. He knew my crosses. That was enough, I thought.
Through a certain friend in college the Lord showed me the beauty of vulnerability in holy friendship and the power of prayer. With my friend’s persistence and God’s grace, I was finally able to honestly answer her question: how can I pray for you?
Before I would always keep my answer on the surface level. For my grandma who’s ill. For world peace. For my studies. All important intentions, but also all safe answers that didn’t share too much about myself.
That day in college, it was different. That day, I shared with my friend what was on my heart – what I truly needed prayers for: my struggle with trusting in the Lord’s plan for me. Then, the moment of uncertainty: how would my friend respond? Would she laugh at my lack of faith? Would she think less of me? No. Her response was beautiful.
She looked at me with the most understanding eyes and prayed over me then and there – for my specific intention. It was powerful.
Sharing this with the girls, I encouraged them to be vulnerable with each other in this moment. We all need prayers, so why not take a chance and truly answer that question: how can we pray for you?
I was blown away. One by one, the girls asked for prayers. For a deeper relationship with Jesus. For grace to be able to do God’s will. For courage with the upcoming school year. For confidence in herself. One by one, we put a hand on the shoulder of our sister in Christ and lifted her to Jesus and Our Lady in prayer. Indeed, “Where two or three are gathered in Christ’s name, there He is in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).
The Holy Spirit was present. We all experienced the power of prayer that day. What a gift from God! Next time you are asked that question, maybe take a chance and respond with what your heart really needs. God will bless all that you give Him.
God bless you,
Lisa and the Magadan Mission Team
I encountered Christina last summer. She was fifteen years old, born and raised in Magadan, Russia. Christina was a parishioner at the Catholic Church in Magadan and attended Sunday Mass regularly. When I spent two months in Magadan last summer, my teammate Lisa and I were entrusted with the task of preparing Christina for her Confirmation, which she would receive later that year.
Lisa and I – more so Lisa – worked hard to prepare Christina for Confirmation. Lisa had one-on-one catechesis with her, teaching her about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Eucharist, etc. In and outside of class, Lisa taught Christina how to pray, especially how to pray with Scripture. Lisa walked with Christina for the two-months we were in Magadan. Then we left.
The next time I saw Christina was in Alaska. She is a part of our mission team this summer here in Anchorage, Alaska. We’ve been serving in Alaska now for a month. At the beginning of mission, Christina shared something that struck my heart.
We were at a small gathering of people from the parish in Kenai, Alaska. Fr. Michael (a missionary priest in Magadan), Katya (a missionary in Magadan), and Christina were asked to share about their experiences in Magadan. During the time of sharing, Christina opened up about how the mission team last year really impacted her. She said we taught her a lot about Jesus, and since then she has been going to daily Mass. When asked what she wants to do with her life, she said, “I want to do what God wants. If he wants me to be married, I’ll be married. If he wants me to be a nun, I’ll be a nun.”
Christina’s reply really struck me. “I want to do what God wants.” This didn’t sound like the Christina I had left in Magadan. The Christina I met last year was just beginning her walk with the Lord. Now she is saying that she wants to do whatever God wants. She has moved from a place of knowing Christ to loving him.
This was really beautiful to see. Jesus truly touched Christina’s heart during last summer, and he continued to draw her deeper in her faith while we were gone.
Christina has reminded me what mission is. Often times, I’m tempted to believe that the fruit of mission is dependent on me. It is my words and actions that changes a person. Thus, when I stop ministering there shouldn’t be fruit. But this was not the case with Christina. Although she was touched during our mission, she continued to grow in her faith after we left. During the school year, she continued to encounter Christ in daily Mass, prayer, and other people, and he changed her. This is how mission works. We point people to Jesus, and he touches and transforms their heart. This is true for every time I share the gospel. I serve as Christ’s instrument, but every time it is he who touches and transforms people’s hearts. All I have to do is point them to him. He will do the rest.
It has been such a blessing serving with Christina here in Alaska. I am so excited to see how Christ continues to draw Christina to himself.
God bless you all,
Joe and the Magadan Mission Team
It was Fall Semester, 2017. Preparation for mission was going well. We had our team of six formed, and we had begun fundraising. We all were excited to spend the summer assisting Fr. Michael Shields, an missionary priest in Magadan, Russia. We would spend two months serving his parish and the community of Magadan.
On December 9th, 2017, my co-lead and I awoke to an unexpected email. Fr. Michael would not be in Russia during this summer. He was asked by his bishop to take a sabbatical year due to health reasons. This meant he would not be in Magadan during our mission trip. His absence posed some concerns for us missionaries. Fr. Michael is crucial to this mission. It is his missionary endeavors in Magadan that we assist. Not only that, he acts as a father for us missionaries through his spiritual guidance, support, and protection. He is deeply connected with the mission. However, the most significant concern that Father’s absence created was the missionaries' safety.
Fr. Michael's absence caused concern for our safety in Magadan. Serving in Russia for twenty-three years, Fr. Michael is very experienced in how to work with the Russian bureaucratic system as an American. No one else in Magadan would be able to do this for us, either because they do not speak English or they have not lived in Magadan longer than a year. Without him there the mission will not be as safe nor effective. The policy of Magadan Mission has always been that, if the situation in Russia ever became unsafe, we would not go. This would be the case without Fr. Michael’s presence.
Because of this, it was decided that the mission will not be in Magadan the summer of 2018.
This decision was devastating for the entire team. Many of us had already fallen in love with the people of Russia - two of us spent last summer in Magadan - and not going caused great heartache.
However, Fr. Michael had a proposal. He would be spending the summer in his home archdiocese in Anchorage, Alaska. After discerning what the Lord wanted of our team, Fr. Michael offered that we come join him for a summer of mission work in Anchorage.
At first this seemed like a complete reverse of our original plans. Instead of serving in Russia, we would serve in the States. However, after reflecting on our situation, we realized that serving in Anchorage would not be so far from our original plans to serve the Lord. It will still be at the heart of both what mission is in general and what Magadan Mission is all about. We realized this after a few reflections.
First, although the location is different, serving in Anchorage is still mission work. Hearts still need to know the love of Jesus in Anchorage just like they did in Magadan. In Anchorage as in Magadan, souls are hungry for the Lord Jesus. We can help fill this hunger through our missionary endeavors.
Second, there is a real need in Anchorage. There is a large population of young people in Alaska, many of whom have gone there to find themselves in the beauty of the Alaskan wilderness. By ministering to the youth in Anchorage, we will have an opportunity to witness to them the beauty of the Gospel and the adventure of a life with Christ.
Third, like in Magadan, we would still be assisting Fr. Michael. Helping Fr. Michael has always been at the heart of Magadan Mission. Since 2014, we have been helping Father in ministry to his parish and the Magadan community. Although this year we won't be serving his parish nor Magadan directly, we will still assist Fr. Michael as he serves his home diocese.
Finally, mission work with Fr. Michael in Anchorage will bring about a greater awareness of Fr. Michael's work in Magadan. From this awareness will flow a greater support for his mission, both through monetary donations and intercessory prayer. In addition to this, we hope to inspire future missionaries from Anchorage to help Fr. Michael in Magadan during future summers. Thus, although we will not be there, we will still be helping Magadan by increasing financial and spiritual support and inspiring missionaries for the future.
Because of these reasons, we have decided to spend the summer in Anchorage. Although this was a change in our original plans for this year’s mission, we are confident that this is the Lord's will for us, and he has confirmed it with his peace. We will spend the summer traveling with Fr. Michael throughout the diocese leading parish missions, Vacation Bible School, and youth nights in eight Catholic parishes. We will also assist at the Alaskan Catholic Youth Conference (ACYC). Our goal for this summer is set hearts on fire with love for Christ within the Anchorage Archdiocese, giving back to the diocese which has given so much to Fr. Michael and Magadan.
Throughout the years of this mission's existence, God has constantly reminded us that this is not our mission but his. He has a plan for it. All we have to do is follow him. May we respond to his call, always following Mary's exhortation to, "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5).
Joe Young and the Magadan Mission Team