When first arriving in Magadan our daily schedule consisted mostly of Vacation Bible School (VBS) with kids from within and without the parish. Our first week our Russian tripled because each of the kids would help us along in our Russian. However, since our knowledge of the language was still elementary our job was mostly to play with the kids. Each of the kids had their own stories and backgrounds, but they were all so loving and welcoming. They had a thirst for love and affection and the Lord was able to use us as His hands and feet in their lives. We also found that even if we were tired one day, the kids gave us an energy that allowed us to be present with them and give them the attention they deserved. Most of the games we played were volleyball, foosball, or in the case of Joe Rooney, chasing or being chased by the little ones.
This first week we also helped Fr. Michael to plant his potato garden. It was good for the soul to have some physical labor and to get our hands dirty. Something Fr. Michael has said is that “You don't really give yourself to a a place unless you get it's dirt under your nails.” After VBS, our first weekend was spent on retreat- a perfect beginning to mission. We were also blessed that the retreat was said in both Russian and English, and we were able to be on retreat with other young adults from the parish. Fr. Michael led the retreat with the words “Come follow me”. He gave talks focusing on discipleship and told us that discipleship means taking up your cross. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me'” (Mt 16:24). He then continued saying that carrying your cross does not just mean carrying the burdens of life (although that is an aspect). It more so means a death to self, a denial of self, and a putting to death of sin. He said many more beautiful and eloquent things, however we would not be able to fit all of them into one blog post. After the retreat we finished off the weekend with a movie night with Fr. Michael where we sat down for the culturally rich and intellectually stimulating “Lego Movie”. It was a great night for team bonding and unity.
We started off our second week with a day off. Monday we relaxed and were blessed to skype our families from Baskin Robbins to catch them up on our travels and mission. After a relaxing day we spent time with some Russian friends that night. Some were friends that Katalyn and Hannah met last year and some were new friends. We played some pool which none of us would consider our best game, but still enjoyed the night regardless. Later in the week we redeemed ourselves by playing Russian pool and surprisingly doing better than in “regular” pool. We also spent time just walking around the city with our friends and were grateful for the opportunity to get to know people our age and grow in friendship with them. The differences in our cultures gives us a chance to learn from them, especially though their joy, selflessness, love, and their sense of responsibility. We are truly blessed to spend time with them and look forward to getting to know them the rest of the summer.
Our second week also began our English club for both children and adults. Once again, the kids just want to spend time with us. Sometimes they don't want to learn English, but they always want to be around us. We were glad to see some new faces and are loving building more relationships with the kids that walk through our door. It is truly a gift to give them our time and to be the Lord's instruments in His children's lives. On Saturday we also had a picnic with some of the kids at Fr. Michael's dacha where we played volleyball, walked down to the shore, and cooked our lunch over a roaring fire.
A final heartening story from our week was an encounter with the generosity and selflessness of Russian people. First, it is important to know that people in Magadan regularly leave their babies outside in the stroller while parents run inside of a store and this is a normal thing. And so, we had walked by a stroller when the baby inside began to cry. Immediately a random grandmother went over and starts soothing the baby. Soon another young woman walked by and then went inside of the store to get the father. The selflessness that was not even a thought for these people struck us. It is beautiful how Russians watch out for each other and care for each other without expecting anything in return. We have already learned so much from the people here and know there is much more to learn throughout the summer. Please continue to keep us and those we meet in your prayers. Be assured that you are in our prayers as well.
Your Russia Mission Team, 2015
Our week in St. Petersburg was a huge blessing for the team. We were able to experience the beauty and richness of the Orthodox church, the beauty of St. Petersburg itself, and the joy of spending time together as a team. Thanks to the talk given to us by Jennifer Healy in Austria about Eastern icons we were able to better appreciate the beauty of the churches we saw. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was a “crowd favorite”. It is a church whose art is completely made of beautifully crafted mosaics. Something we came to appreciate in the Orthodox Churches was the reverence for the mysteries of the faith and the reverence of their Divine Liturgy.
The buildings themselves in St. Petersburg were almost as beautiful as the Churches. No building was just built to be built. They are works of art that you find yourself captivated by as you walk the streets of the city. We were able to visit one magnificent building called the “Winter's Palace”, originally built for Empress Elizabeth Although we agreed that Empress Elizabeth was spoiled in the creation of this palace, we could not help but to be grateful to reap the benefits of her luxury as we soaked up the art and architecture of this massive palace. For this tour we were lead by a new friend of ours, Daria, who led us through the palace and told us things like, “all of the stairs are shorter in the palace and the same size so that the royal ladies would not trip down the stairs.”
Later that same day Daria introduced us to possibly our favorite place in St. Petersburg, “Pushki”. Simply put, Pushki sells heaven on a plate. They are “Russian donuts” that are akin to funnel cakes, but better. We easily could eat five each... and we did. The next day we went to Petrov Gardens where we experienced a whole other kind of luxury. There was gold everywhere and fountains at every turn. One of our favorite fountains was a sculpture of Samson fighting a lion. Our two Joes considered reenacting the depiction but then decided otherwise. We spent a beautiful but windy day there, took a boat back to Petersburg, and proceeded to then each ate five more Pushki.
Throughout the week we were blessed to attend Mass at St. Catherine's Catholic Church in St. Petersburg where Father Christoph said all of the Masses we were at. Although Mass was said in Russian and we understood next to none of what was said, we all agreed that the Fr. Christoph's homilies were some of the most inspiring ones we had ever heard. His enthusiasm for our faith and his love for the Lord were evident and spoke volumes. The presence of youth of the parish also gave us a great amount of hope for our Church and for Russia. We are extremely grateful for the generation of our sponsor that paid for the expenses of our trip to St. Petersburg. Now as we head to Magadan and our mission truly begins, please pray for us and for the Lord's Will to be done this summer. Be assured of our prayers for you as well.
Your Russia Mission Team, 2015
After being separated for a whole two weeks, the team took flight from Pittsburgh, New York and Chicago and made it to our destination of Vienna this past Monday. We were picked up at the airport by a very generous professor, and headed to beautiful Gaming where we spent the week surrounded by majestic mountains and the beautiful Kartause community. It was the perfect place to be strengthened and filled up for our summer in Russia. We spent the week having daily holy hours as a team, taking Russian lessons from Arena, an LCI student, watching Fr. Robert Barron's talks on the New Evangelization, and were able to go to daily Mass thanks to the generosity of Jennifer Healy, who drove us each morning this week to a little town called Gresten where we enjoyed the Mass in German. We also spent some much needed time on the “fun court” playing soccer with the Kartause kids and have the bruises to prove it. All of these gifts we received this week were our “food for the journey” as we head into the Russia mission.
Many of the families invited us into their homes for meals throughout the week, which we happily accepted. Through the support of the LCI program we heard many talks throughout the week to prepare us for mission- a talk on mission by Meghan Schofield, a talk on teaching ESL (english as a second language) by Teresa Hess, and a talk on doing mission work in Russia as well as teaching children by Bobette Huzovich. We also had the blessing of observing Jennifer Healy teach English to her LCI students from this semester. Suffice to say, we feel much more prepared than we did last year going into the mission. As we look forward to Russia, we cannot wait to meet and serve the people of Magadan. We are on a mission for souls. Our goal is to help bring home our brothers and sisters to our heavenly Father, and spending the week in Gaming reminded us of that.
Whether it was greeting people in the grocery store, playing with the Kartause kids, soaking up the wisdom of their parents, seeing friendly faces at Mass, or spending time as a team, we encountered souls who inspired and loved us and who enkindled our hearts for mission. Someone who shared this missionary heart was little JoJo Huzovich who was crying after Mass because he said he wanted to go to Russia with us. Even this was a reminder of how much we should desire to go on this mission, of what a gift it is to serve the Lord and His Church in this way. It is humbling to say the least. As Meghan and Bobette put it in their talks this week, “Christ has gone before us to prepare the way. He has already started the work and we are participating in it.”
As we leave Gaming and those who have lovingly nick-named us “the Russians”, we head to our cultural excursion with Fr. Michael in St. Petersburg. Please continue to pray for us and this mission. Know that all of you who have supported us in your prayers, words, and donations are in our prayers.
The Russia Mission Team