Last week Father Michael approached the mission team during one of our daily family meetings and made a request of us:
He asked that, whenever we think of or see the people we are ministering to here, we might remember to pray immediately “Come Holy Spirit, fill their hearts with the Father’s love.”
Come Holy Spirit, fill their
hearts with the Father’s love.
It struck me as simple phrase at first. It conjured to mind some of my favorite paintings of the Trinity – of the Father embracing Christ. It made me think of St. Josemaría Escrivá and all that he had to say on divine filiation. It reminded me of my own father and how I’ve come to understand the meaning of a father’s love through his own tireless and devoted example. My understanding of the Father’s love is so deeply rooted in who I am that it is almost innate. I understood it in contexts that were spiritual, theological, and personal. Even in dark moments, I would never doubt the Father’s love for me.
But, as I strove to pray these words in my heart with every encounter, I grew to realize how radical and transformative such a love can be.
Everything I hold on to, everything I believe, is so rooted in my identity as a beloved daughter of the Father. The prayers I pray, the decisions I make, all of them are only possible because I believe in the deepest part of my heart that my Daddy is right beside me, ready to catch me if I stumble and fall.
One of my favorite saint stories is of (you guessed it) Josemaría Escrivá. One day he was riding on a streetcar and became overcome by the love of the Father. He started babbling out “Abba, Father! Abba, Father! Abba, Father!” This lasted for hours.
I love that image. The same spiritual master who dropped such eloquent and uplifting lines as “remember you are a trashcan” and “one must trample one’s self” was so overcome with the love of his Divine Daddy that he spent an afternoon babbling like a toddler about it. The love of the Father can melt the strongest of hearts.
But for many of the people we are working with, understanding God the Father’s love is not as easy as reaching into your past experience or connecting to the stories of the saints. Many of the children here don’t even know their fathers. In the parish where we live, there are only 2-3 “complete” families with a father, mother, and children.
In Russia, the understanding of God as Father is not domestic and safe. It is radical. It is difficult. It speaks into the grim reality that life on earth is only a foggy fun-house mirror image of life in heaven. It’s hard to understand God as Father because it’s hard to understand fatherhood as something that is good or even as something that is actually there.
When we pray that the Holy Spirit might come and fill these peoples’ hearts with the Father’s love, we are praying for something quite intense indeed. We aren’t just praying that they might see God as Father, we are praying that the Spirit might charge into their lives and completely change how they even consider fatherhood.
There is one boy named Maks who we have been working with for the past three summers. Throughout the time we have known him, Maks has gone through various struggles. Many of these are just the ordinary struggles of going through adolescence in a city like Magadan, but some of his sufferings go far deeper than that. At times it has been heartbreaking to suffer with Maks; at other times it has been an absolute joy to stand beside him as he grows closer to Christ. Ultimately, the experience with Maks has been one of awe. Watching Maks grow deeper through sufferings and through joy has been an experience of watching the Lord place Himself directly in a person’s life and refuse to step aside.
I have learned so much about the love of the Father simply by watching how God has followed after Maks with so much love. Have you ever seen a baby taking his first steps? The parents don’t sit in the other room watching, hoping that the baby is going to be good enough at walking to not fall on his face. They get right up in front of the baby with their arms outstretched. They are ready to let him walk right into their arms and – if he falls – they are ready to catch him.
This is how God has handled Maks, with so much love and closeness. His love has been a fatherly one. He has eagerly stood with his arms outstretched and his voice urging his little boy on.
The other day Maks was praying in the chapel and came out exclaiming “God loves me!” It was a moment of understanding for him. He realized that he was deeply deeply loved by a God who saw him not as a subject but as a son.
Maks is planning on entering into full communion with the Catholic Church this year. We are so blessed to be here with him as he takes this step, but ultimately we must joyfully admit that he is not making this choice simply because of his encounters with us in the last few weeks.
Maks is making this choice because four years ago, three college girls and one missionary priest made the crazy decision to trust each other and start a mission – sight unseen. Maks is making this choice because a missionary who was afraid she wouldn’t connect with anybody made a profound connection with him. Maks is making this choice because for the past two years, two different guys have spent their summer afternoons sitting with him and an open catechism. Maks is making this choice because hundreds of people have given of their hearts, their resources, and their prayers. Maks is making this choice because every day a Mass has been said for him personally and every day a family prays for him by name. Maks is making this choice because somewhere along the line he realized that God is a Father who loves him more than anything, and he had the ability to respond to that love.
Please continue to pray for Maks as he grows deeper in faith. Please continue to pray that the Holy Spirit might fill the hearts of all we encounter here with the Father’s love. In all the labor we do here, we must admit that the most efficacious work is that of your prayers.
With this in mind, I want to let you all know of a new opportunity to help this mission! We are trying to get individual prayers for all the people we are working with here in Magadan. We will be beginning a spiritual adoption program and are ready to start now! If you feel called to spiritually adopt a person, please fill out one of our contact forms. In the comment section, please note that you would like to spiritually adopt someone. We will respond within a few days with the name of a person, a bit about them, and hopefully even a picture. It is very important that we get people to pray for those we are ministering to by name, since your prayers bear so much fruit. Thank you all for the ways in which you carry these people who have become so dear to us in your own hearts. We are all on mission together.
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team
Back in January, my co-lead and I went to see the movie Silence. We were both back in town for school a whole week early and looking forward to an entire semester of mission prep, so it seemed like a good idea to kick it off with a three-hour-long flick dedicated to the sufferings of the Jesuit missionaries and their converts in Japan.
I’m not going to detail my thoughts about the movie here (although there are many of them), but I do want to mention one character.
In the movie, the Jesuit missionaries come across a native named Kichijiro who reveals from the outset that he is an apostate (someone who renounced their faith, in this case under torture and threat of death). Kichijiro begs for the sacrament of confession from the priests and one of them, Fr. Rodrigues, grants it. All is well until twenty minutes later in the movie, when Kichijiro betrays the priests.
But Kichijiro humbly returns and begs for confession again. Again Fr. Rodrigues grants it.
But Kichijiro betrays Fr. Rodrigues again.
And returns again.
And is granted confession again.
And so on.
Kichijiro’s maddening cycle of sin and repentance eventually lends itself to Fr. Rodrigues’ own prideful downfall. He becomes unwilling to see Kichijiro as human and eventually he gives up his Christ-like ability to forgive. By the end of the movie he has even given up his faith.
Although I could write a movie review/commentary and say something objectively about how Fr. Rodrigues is the movie’s true antagonist, because his pride and unwillingness to forgive degrades the movie plot from triumph to tragedy, at the end of the day I would have to admit – embarrassingly, horribly – I absolutely identify with him. While watching the movie, I didn’t want to forgive Kichijiro either. I thought he was pathetic. I was appalled by his weakness. The sense of “charity” I was so proud of cultivating froze at the thought of continually forgiving someone so wretched.
This kind of thinking got me in trouble this past week on mission when one of our long-term friends – a teenage boy named Vitaly – stole from us.
Now, I might have been fine if a stranger had stolen from us. I might have even been fine if one of the new kids who I don’t know so well had done it, but Vitaly is a boy who has entered into our lives for the past two years of mission. He cooks with us, eats with us, works with us, prays with us, and does basically anything and everything else we do. It hurt my pride that someone we had so deliberately chosen to let into our lives had taken advantage of our generosity and trust.
Now, we weren’t completely blindsided. We’ve known Vitaly is a thief. In fact, he has stolen from the parish before. But this did nothing to alleviate my aggravation. If anything, I was annoyed at the sheer predictability of this situation. Vitaly would steal. Vitaly would come back and ask for forgiveness. Vitaly would receive forgiveness. Vitaly would steal. And so on…
Although losing money is never fun, in the end, the only thing that seemed permanently hurt was my pride. I was offended.
I was offended that Vitaly took advantage of our willingness to forgive. My heart is so small and my willingness to forgive so puny that I was instantly defensive upon seeing it tested. I didn’t have that magnanimous heart that Jesus had and I didn’t like the way that the test of Vitaly’s betrayal revealed it to me.
But, as I sat in my offendedness and nursed my miffed little feelings, I started to realize just how stupid I was being.
St. Josemaría Escrivá tells us to “Force yourself, if necessary, always to forgive those who offend you, from the very first moment. For the greatest injury or offence that you can suffer from them is as nothing compared with what God has pardoned you” (The Way, 452).
The other day I was praying with the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. I was just rounding the second decade when I had a shocking (to me) realization: Jesus intimately knew the hearts of his tormenters. The soldiers and civilians who dragged him along weren’t extras in a Passion play. Jesus didn’t receive cruel blows of the whip from nameless and soulless “bad guys.” He was tortured and killed by those whose hearts he knew and loved just as much as He knows and loves mine.
From the moment these people existed, Jesus knew they would betray and kill Him. From the moment these people existed, Jesus loved them. Despite all that would happen, his deepest desire was to forgive them and see them in heaven.
If a love like that is the example I’m trying to follow, then I have a long way to go.
It’s dawning on me a little more every day that I am here to love everyone I encounter with a love like Christ’s.
Sometimes that love is easy because loving like Christ can look a lot like hanging out and having dinner with interesting people or playing with a bunch of adorable kids. Sometimes that love is easy because people notice you and affirm you and marvel at how great and holy you are. Sometimes that love is easy because everyone (including yourself) is there to tell you that you’re doing an amazing job, that you’re just like Christ.
And sometimes that love is hard because sometimes people are hard to love. Sometimes they’re messy and sometimes they sin and sometimes they let you down and all the time you’re still called to love them, because ultimately we’re not called to love until we feel good. We’re called to love until it hurts.
With this outlook, I can rejoice in these small betrayals and difficulties because it allows me even greater chance to love like Christ loves. I pray that as mission continues, we as a team can grow deeper in this radical love. I hope that Vitaly comes back and that I can welcome him with all the joy of the Father. I hope that everyone who meets me may not see me, but Jesus. May we as missionaries live out each day here in Magadan with ever-greater love!
“No matter how much you may love, you will never love enough. The human heart is endowed with an enormous coefficient of expansion. When it loves, it opens out in a crescendo of affection that overcomes all barriers. If you love Our Lord, there will not be a single creature that does not find a place in your heart.” – St. Josemaría Escrivá
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team
We were asked to write a blog on Fatima and a few of us volunteered to write on our experiences. I volunteered because as the title suggests, Fatima for me was like a personal gift from Our Lady. I would like to begin by thanking my fellow team members for the opportunity and their love throughout the whole experience - especially Heather Perry who made it all possible for us!
Throughout this recent Spring semester, the Russian Mission Team would spend our Sundays by praying together and eating together. And in that time, one of the discussions that we would have that was intended to aid our community life was on the topic of our “Love Languages” - how each of us receives love. For me it was “gift” and “quality time.”
“Gift” for doesn’t mean you thought about me and gave me something (as snobby as that sounds). “Gift” entails the thought, the awareness, and the right gift. As terrible as that sounds, it is the reason why Fatima was so special to me. It was the perfect gift for me. Our Lady has constantly been thinking about me and what’s best for me, she is aware of my needs and how I can grow (like the perfect Mother that She is) and through all that she gave me the perfect gift (even if I did not think so at the beginning).
Firstly it was the perfect gift for me because despite how little I love Our Lady compared to many great Saints like St. John Paul the Great, St. Louis-Marie Grignion De Montfort, or St. Alphonsus Ligouri, I still love her and it was such a gift to be there in the Centennial Anniversary of the Apparitions (after the crowds had disappeared from the Canonization and the Anniversary of the 1st Apparition on May 13th, 1917). What made it even more special was that we were going to start off our cooperation with Our Lady’s Mission to convert Russia at the place she called for Russia’s Conversion. I say “Our Lady’s Mission” with great affection as we had to learn the hard way that we were not in charge (as you can see Joe and Kaitlin emphasized). We came to understood that in being called to Our Lady’s Mission for the conversion of Russia, we were (1) called to a family life (just as you don’t pick your family, we did not pick each other) in which others will know that we are Christians by our love and (2) that from the moment that God had ordained and made known that in the end the Immaculate Heart of Mary would triumph and that Russia will be converted, Our Lady had pondered in Her Immaculate Heart all those that she would call to aid in the Father’s mission that He presented to our Blessed Mother. What a tremendous privilege! Who are we but poor sinners, of whom I am the first? In the overwhelming gift we felt of being able to be there, I was reminded of a lessons from Scripture ingrained into me at the Jesuit high school: “Men for Others” and “To Whom Much is Given, Much is Expected.” We are called to make a great gift of ourselves to God, Our Lady, to each other, and to those here in Magadan in a great way, but only because we possess something (or rather Someone) great – not because we are so great, but because we, by His grace, were open to the great gift of Himself that He wished to give us through Blessed Mary.
The second reason as to why it was the perfect gift was because of something special we did when the Russia Mission Family team was formed. We all chose a patron saint(s). Earlier in the year in preparation for the Centennial Year I remember watching these videos by Sr. Angela de Fatima (on Youtube – 6 parts) that inspired me to read a book called: Fatima in Lucia’s Own Words. A book that changed my life and I highly recommend! Having finished that book prior to picking our patrons, I knew I had to choose (at that time) Bl. Jacinta and Francisco Marto. After every weekly family meeting in the school year (and now daily) we would go around the room asking each patron to pray for us along with Our Lady of Fatima. Could you imagine the joy I felt after having prayed for so long “Bl. Jancinta and Francisco” and hearing the response “pray for us” and when we arrived I could finally say “Sts. Jacinta and Francisco.” These companions of mine that I have gotten to know as I grow in holiness by God’s grace through the hands of Blessed Mary and their example transformed how I lived and made the gift of Fatima all the more special!
They taught me the call of Our Lady to make of everything we do a sacrifice and a very practical means of uniting my sufferings to Christ on the cross and to participate in His salvific work of the world. Through them I learned that everything I do is not meaningless. Even though I did not go around thinking that, the purity of my intention with which I did things, it might as well should have been meaningless. They reminded me that Christ redeemed all things, not just somethings and that nothing should be wasted, especially our sufferings! For me, I am more inclined to offer us big sufferings but when it came to the little things, I would always forget. And the great sufferings I would forget sometimes too, but Scripture reminds me that faithfulness in little things will yield faithfulness in the big things. Through the three children, I was reminded that it is in the little things (or what seems little) done with great love Jesus and Mary that brings about our sanctification. Even the effort I am putting into writing this blog, the sacrifice of time due to the business of life here, I have offered, hopefully, out of love. The whole of the message of Fatima and the lives of the children reminded me that I constantly have an opportunity to help the souls in purgatory, my family, my friends, those intentions I have been given, and for poor sinners here on earth (of whom I should never forget that I am the first). Simple things: picking on trash I see on the floor, cooking dinner, stubbing my toe, when a noise wakes me up as I try to sleep, I am cold . . . anything that goes against my own self-love and will, by God’s grace, I pray: “My Beloved Jesus, this is for love of you, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate of Mary, (and sometimes as St. Jacinta loved to do- ‘for the Holy Father’).” This is my constant prayer and if I’m honest I still forget sometimes. Despite my forgetfulness, my teammates and I try to remind each other as the children reminded each other by asking “Don’t you want to offer it for poor sinners?” or by reminding each other to “don’t waste it”. And one of the ways in which I am reminded to do this is through understanding what I am doing because I once heard a very holy priest say that when you offer up your suffering, you are not necessarily offering “suffering” per se. Suffering is something evil. One does not offer evil things to God just as you would not give your child a glass of poison when he asked for water. So when we say “offer it up” what we are offering to God is something holy and good: our willingness to go through this suffering in union with Christ for certain intentions. The most powerful I believe is when we offer up our Holy Communion daily and not only just the first! We should only offer the best to God and that is why the Cross is so necessary. As Fr. Michael reminds us that though suffering is an evil, when we unite with Christ on the Cross through the hands of Our Lady, He takes that evil unto Himself and transforms it into something that contributes the salvation of souls and the glory of God.
From that point, I would like to briefly share 3 brief moments I loved in Fatima! The first is the kneel walk that we did one evening as a sacrifice for different intentions. I did it as a sacrifice with the intentions that Our Lady asked for and as we were crawling I prayed for each intention that I wrote down that I was asked to pray for that I pray for daily and for the people we would encounter here in Magadan. It looks small in the picture, but trust us, that we felt it the next day when we knelt down for Holy Mass. It was beautiful to love the people that have and will love us in a special way as love requires sacrifice. We also enjoyed praying the Rosary as we crawled and being a witness of young Catholics humbled and blessed to be children of the heavenly Father. After that we went to get Gelato as a reward to let our knees heal only to come back to see that there was a candle light procession happening with Latin hymns being sung. We sprung into action but we caught the tail end of it after buying our candles. My favorite part comes with what we decided to do next. We decided to walk home (20-25 minute walk) with our candles singing hymns of prayer in honor of Our Blessed Lord and Our Lady all the way home. It was really beautiful. The last memory I wish to share was the special day in which we decided to walk to the Stations of the Cross outside the sanctuary and to see the homes of Lucia, St. Jacinta, and St. Francisco. This was the most moving experience at Fatima for me. After a long walk, we asked for help and arrived at the spot that commemorated the Apparition that occurred on August 15, 1917. Our Lady asked for the children to see her the 13th of each month from May to October, but they were kidnapped and threatened on the 13th of August so she appeared to them near their home on the 15th. As much as I tried to love the Sanctuary and the Chapel of the Apparitions, the modern art that was there was just too much for me. The huge bronze “crucifix” and the monstrance that is used in the chapel and even the art of the picture made it very hard for me to elevate my heart and mind. But at this spot, when we arrived, I took off my hat and all of us knelt down to pray in the silence of the spot surrounded by nature. I finally felt blessed to really be in the same spot that Our Blessed Mother once appeared and tears rolled down my face. We also went to the spot of the appearance of the Angel of Fatima and we prayed Lauds, read sections from the aforementioned book about the Angel, we prayed the prayers the Angel taught the three children, and then we sung the Divine Praise that begins “May the Heart of Jesus…” And then we visited the children’s house where we were enrolled in the school of suffering and we learned to receive many graces from Our Lady. It truly was a gift! I hope you enjoy the pictures!
Years ago, I remember reading a quote from someone, I think it was G.K. Chesterton. The gist of it was that the best proof for guardian angels is the fact that any children ever live long enough to become adults. I know I laughed at the time while reading that, but during our trip from Ohio, US to Magadan, RU, I had reason to agree wholeheartedly. I think it applies to the continuation of life for adults too, though. This was especially seen during the stretch from Vienna, Austria to when we arrived in the Magadan airport and were finally met by the hearty welcome of the Alaskan priest who would be our host for the next two months.
When we were leaving our time of retreat and intense preparation in Austria, we learned that the Russian translator who we were supposed to meet in the Moscow Airport after our flight from Vienna to Moscow would not be able to meet us. So plans had changed. Okay, God. That’s cool. How bad could it be? Fr. Michael had emailed us that he was trying to find someone else to meet us, but to start praying for an angel. As an American, I’m sure he was remembering the difficulties of navigating the Russian airports before he was fluent in Russian. Luckily for us, most of us had never had to do that, and in our blissful ignorance told ourselves that it would be fine. Many of us had flown all over Europe by ourselves. Looking back though, the Moscow airport had definite potential to be pretty bad without a translator.
At the time though, I remember walking onto the plane leaving Vienna with a bounce in my step, excited that our mission to Russia was actually about to enter the country that Our Lady had been calling us to for awhile now. I was fresh, I was excited, I was ready to love the whole world with the heart of Christ.
I just didn’t think I’d have an opportunity before I even sat down.
I was looking at the top of the seats, reading the numbers of the aisles, and I finally got to mine. My instant feeling was one of disappointment and slight bitterness to the innocent middle aged lady already in the row. She inhabited my prized seat -the window seat- and I was slightly jealous that she’d have the first view of Russia. So I sat down next to her and smiled so she wouldn’t imagine the ridiculous thought that I was envious of her seat.
That initial smile at a stranger turned into a three hour long conversation that lasted from Vienna to Moscow. My friend had difficulty with the landing transition and some fear of flying in general that she had expressed to me in the course of our conversation. When I could see that she was not quite enjoying the air rollercoasters as we were nearing the Moscow airport, I slipped my travel crucifix that I carry with me into her hands. She was overwhelmingly grateful when we landed, and wanted to meet the rest of the team and pray with us. She also wanted to show me her own crucifix that she had in her bag. I had gathered that she was Orthodox, and was excited to have her meet the team.
This lady who I hadn’t even wanted to be kind to turned out to be a lifesaver in the Moscow airport. We all met, had lunch together, prayed together, and explained what we had come to Russia for. She was very curious, and surprised at how young we all were to be traveling by ourselves. I think it was then that she decided to take us all under her wing. We explained that we were supposed to have met a translator here, but that it just hadn’t worked out. She then decided to take a later bus to complete her journey to her parents in the country outside of Moscow, a trip that would take her several more hours that day. Instead, she stayed to make sure that we got through the check-in and customs in the Moscow airport. I’m sure now that God sent her to us. From her help translating the Russian menu in the lunch cafeteria to her arguing with the luggage counter to make sure that our bags went to the right place and talking in Russian to the Customs, she was invaluable. Russians tend to respect one of their own a lot more than they will trust a foreigner.
This lady was truly our guardian angel during our trip across Russia, and I thank God that I had the opportunity to come face to face with the love of Our Lord in her. God’s love living in us necessitates action. She showed me that at the beginning of mission in a very real way that I hope I can imitate throughout these next few weeks.
May God hold you all close to His Sacred and Eucharistic Heart,
Melody and all the Russia Mission Team
When I was 5 years old I loved cats, dance class, reading, and Rescue Heroes. I played in the woods and searched for treasure. I knew I was strong and I didn’t need reasons.
When I was 12 years old I loved dogs, dance class, reading, and American Girl Dolls. I still played in the woods, but now I liked to build swords and sling shots and carve fighting staves with my Swiss Army Knife. I would play with the boys and never lost a battle or a game of Capture-the-Flag. I thought I was strong because I was smart, because I could hold a plank position for two minutes without a problem, and because I could keep up with the boys in games and sports.
Now I’m 21 years old. I love dogs AND cats. I haven’t danced in a few years but I’ve done plenty of reading during my time in college. I love coffee more than almost anything. I still spend as much time as possible in the woods, but now it’s mostly hiking. I sometimes feel like I’m strong because I don’t listen too much to my emotions, because I know how to win an argument, and because I spend some of my afternoons in Magadan boxing with a 350lb Russian ex-con.
These stages look different, but through them all there is a little girl searching for the answer to one particular question: What makes a strong woman?
And this question is hard. Because somewhere along the line that little girl who approached the world with confidence, knowing she was both strong and a princess, stopped believing that it was okay to be soft. I started believing my strength was compromised by my emotions. Softness was weakness. Tenderness was a hole in my armor. I saw emotions as something to be conquered within myself.
I was afraid of loving people, because loving them gave them something on me. They had the power to hurt me and I didn’t like it. I craved the power to be objective in my friendships and calculating in my relationships because I believed that the only way to be strong was to practice a Spartan emotional detachment from everyone. Strength seemed to lie in the ability to stand on my own, with no one beside me unless I wanted them there. A strong woman is strong on her own.
But this past week in Magadan, I have had to reevaluate what a strong woman looks like. As I’ve grown closer to the girls that we are working with, I’ve come face-to-face with a feminine strength that I wasn’t expecting to encounter.
All of these girls are strong in different ways, but for the sake of brevity I’ll only tell two of their stories here:
Yulya is about six or seven years old. She loves bunnies, castles, and coloring. Her father is in prison and her mother attacks her with a constant stream of verbal abuse. She now lives alone with her grandmother, who has worked so carefully to undo the damage of the first years of her life. When Father Michael met Yulya for the first time, she didn’t speak. She only growled. When I met Yulya a week ago, she would alternate between sitting alone in a quiet rage and shouting at me.
I’ve known Yulya for just under two weeks. Now every day she runs into the church and greets me with a hug and a smile. She likes me because I give her piggy-back rides and am good at losing in chess. I accompany her home to her grandmother’s after English class and she sits on my lap for the whole bus ride. After only a handful of days of knowing me, Yulya is willing to love me.
Yesterday, Yulya and I were hanging out after class. While the other kids played, she and I colored. She drew pictures of cats, bunnies…and her mother.
All of a sudden I realized that Yulya still loved her mom, a woman too violent and unpredictable for her to even live safely with, a woman who I hade previously chosen to hate without even having met her. Yulya doesn’t put limits on her love. She doesn’t calculate someone’s goodness before making the choice to love them. She doesn’t wait an objective amount of time before giving them her heart.
Nadia is about twelve years old. When I met Nadia last year she had recently become an aunt to baby Rustam, the son of Nadia’s sixteen-year-old sister. Last year Nadia reminded me a lot of myself. She was desperate to be seen as tough. She dressed in boxers and heavy work pants and could beat any kid in a fight. She was incredibly smart but spoke very little. She maintained a controlled and sly smile and never displayed her true emotions.
But this year I’ve noticed a change in Nadia. She doesn’t dress differently and she can still beat up anyone who looks at her sideways (both facts that do not at all detract from her femininity, but only add to her coolness), but she approaches both children and adults with a quiet compassion. She nurtures Rustam with astounding patience and is attentive to the needs of others around her as well. She is confident, but quietly so. She never asserts her own will over others, but she has a strong sense of justice and is careful to ensure that others are treated fairly. She loves to help out and has an amazing sense of humor. She loves those around her in an uncompromising way.
In these girls, I saw a femininity that wasn’t weak, but that didn’t have that quality I had so often mischaracterized as strength. These girls weren’t strong because they knew how to give love carefully and calculatingly, with their eyes on the goal of being seen as strong, removed, indifferent, confident, collected – these girls were strong because they were so stupidly generous with their love. They loved those who didn’t love them. They loved those who had mistreated them. They loved the children who played with them as well as the children who ignored them. They loved the missionaries they had spent so little time with. They loved absolutely everyone they encountered here. They poured love out in buckets. They scattered seeds all over the unreceptive ground like the sower in the parable (cf. LK 8:5f).
Even though these girls have been told they are unlovable so many times by those who should have loved them best, they are so free to give the love that has been so unfairly kept from them away.
Through the loving example of these girls, I am coming to understand that being a woman is not about wearing dresses or knowing how straighteners work or understanding the difference between baking soda and baking powder. I am coming to see that strength is not indifference or prudence or a calculating ability to refrain from loving.
I want to be a strong woman. I pray that I might become the sort of strong woman whose love has the endurance to be poured out to everyone I encounter. Because ultimately, love is not weakness; it is the quietest strength in the world.
Kaitlin and the Russia Mission Team