The theme of our fifth and sixth weeks was as Fr. Micheal put it, intentional community. It is beautiful to see how much joy there is in the communities we've built here. At both the kid's and adult's English club, there is a real sense of family and no one wants to leave at the end of our time together. This joy is so clearly from the Lord and the relationships He is building, especially considering He is blessing us from the tabernacle in the room right next door. Our hope with all of this is that those who are falling in love with our community will fall in love with the Lord as well, since He truly is at the heart of it all.
With this blessing of community, we are able to go deeper with the people who come and ask questions that really get to the heart of who they are and hopefully lead to Who their heart is truly longing for. We see their love for us ultimately as a love for the Lord who they have encountered through us, His hands and feet on this mission. We said goodbye to two of our friends the last two weeks, both of whom are named Nastia. It is amazing how much the Lord has blessed our friendships and how quickly. He has made deep bonds between us and our friends here. After only knowing them for a mere month it was hard to say goodbye and tears were shed at their leaving.
We also have built up our own little mission community these last couple weeks. We went on two different fishing trips with Fr. Michael- first just the boys, then the girls. It was refreshing to just spend time together and to be in each other's company. The grand total of the trips was 157 fish. These are then given to the babushka's of the parish others in need of food. Through this experience we also learned the art of gutting fish (and a little about the art of playing catch with fish. This is truly an art because fish are slippery). Other than cleaning the fish, we also had some good team bonding when we had a team hike. We hiked over huge rocks on the beach and then trekked up the mountain where we celebrated Mass that day. It was a beautiful day to spend in the Lord's creation and to have quality time as a team.
This week we enjoyed an Anniversary dinner celebrating the marriage of Olga and Misha, the “mom and dad” of the parish. Misha treated us to some delicious pizza, compot (a Russian fruit drink), pineapple, chocolates, and New York Cheesecake. It was quite the feast. The real treat, however, has been to see the marriage of this beautiful couple. They are an example of faithfulness, of true love that makes sacrifices, and of joy. At dinner Misha shared with us that, “marriage is simple, all you have to do is love each other”, and secondly, “a man becomes a man when he finds his wife”. Olga and Misha are an example of leading your spouse to heaven. They, along with the sisters and Fr. Micheal have been incredible witnesses of faithfulness to our little community here.
And so once again we ask for your prayers for our team and for all those who we serve. We ask that you especially pray that our community here may lead others into communion with Christ. God Bless you.
Your Russia Mission Team, 2015
The Lord continues to guide us along this mission and bless us beyond all expectations through the people we encounter who, whether they share our faith or not, have been the faces of Christ to us. At the beginning of our third week Theresa, Katalyn, and Hannah went with Fr. Michael and Sr. Katia to visit Babushka Evegenia and to bring her the Eucharist. Evegenia is a 92-year-old, four and a half foot tall grandma that survived the gulags as a young woman. She has lost most of her eyesight, can barely hear, and is an absolute fireball. There is no doubt who is in charge of the kitchen and who gives the orders. She is an incredible servant, and although she struggled to stand herself, she refused to sit down and gave everyone else a chair. At one point she was telling us about her life and began to cry. A split second later she turns to us and says, “Girls, why aren't you eating our cookies? Why aren't you drinking your tea? Girls, please eat!”. This would occur every five minutes or so and we would obediently fill our faces with the cookies and chocolate placed before us. It was a visit filled with almost non-stop laughter. This woman was such an example of selflessness, servitude, and of bearing suffering for Christ with joy. It was an incredible blessing to be in her presence and meet such a holy woman.
These past third and fourth weeks have also shown us the Lord's cleverness in bringing people together and building loving friendships. One night while walking to our friend Nastia's apartment, we were followed by a group of teenage boys because they heard us speaking english. This is not out of the ordinary, so we did not think too much of it. However, an hour or so later these same boys knocked on Nastia's door and inquired about “the Americans”. We then invited them to our English club not knowing if we would see them again. Incredibly, they have not only come to our English club but have come to Mass multiple times and to a night of Taize prayer. They have particularly become fond of “the Joes” and look to them as role models. It is beautiful to see these young Russian men look up to and learn authentic manhood from Joe Hahn and Joe Rooney.
Whether it is with the kids, our young adult friends, or these teenage boys, we simply spend quality time together and have wholesome fun. We play cards, teach each other dances, go bowling, talk with each other and share our lives. One Friday night we had a “game night” where we cooked American food (burgers, pizza, mac & cheese, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies), and played foosball, ping-pong, and cards among other games. Again, it was simply good to be in each other's presence and to share our time, our lives and our hearts with each other. The people that we have met here are truly one-of-a-kind and some of the most loving, selfless people we've met. For Joe Hahn's birthday, our young adult friends put together a party for him after only knowing him for two weeks. Paired with the fact that in Russia it is the birthday person's job to put together their own party, it was a great act of love from our friends. We have found the brothers and sisters we had longed to serve through these beautiful friendships.
As we continue our mission, please keep us and the souls of those we meet in your prayers. Pray for our own boldness in proclaiming Christ and for others' openness in receiving Christ. God Bless you.
Your Russian Mission Team, 2015