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