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