“For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” (Eph 6:12-13). The past two weeks have been the most blessed, challenging, and humbling weeks of mission so far. We are not only walking in the footsteps of saints, but we are meeting them face-to-face. We are inspired by their lives, and their example of holy strength. It is no coincidence that these beloved servants of the Lord came into our lives these past two weeks as we have been faced with greater spiritual warfare ourselves. We have been called to greater heights and even more out of our comfort zones. We have had to be honest with ourselves and each other, and through all of this, we have realized our need to rely on the Lord alone and the strength He provides.
In the last two weeks we were honored to meet two women that had suffered in the gulags. As we visited each of them, father translated for us so that we could hear each of their stories. We first met Babushka Yada, who was sentenced to twenty-five years in the camps simply because she was Catholic. After seven years she received a letter saying she was found innocent and was freed from the camps. “Where are those years they took from me?” she asked. Yada still tears up talking about the camps. Her eyes that can barely see now, have seen more struggles than most of us will ever face in our own lives. Yet she still has a sense of humor and is one of the most beautiful women you could ever meet. She told us, “I am an old lady, I look like a monkey.” Despite the struggle her life has been, she continually made us laugh and brought us so much joy with comments such as this.
The next woman we met was named Olga, and she spent seventeen years in the gulags. Her strength is the first thing you notice about her. Now, she is about five feet tall, but there is so much strength in such a small woman. She has the heart of a servant and is lovingly stubborn as she always puts herself last and insists on serving you in everyway possible. She is truly a living saint. During our visit with her she told us, “I am a sinner. The Lord has allowed me to suffer so much to atone for my sins. In purgatory there will be more suffering. I am aiming for Heaven.” Olga is ready to go home to our Lord and often asks Fr. Michael, “why am I still here? I am ready to go home.” Fr. Michael always replies, “to pray for people like me”. This holds so much truth. The prayers of this woman have no doubt brought about the conversion of many souls. We are incredibly honored to have met her and to be in her prayers. If you have ever wondered what a prayer warrior was like, Olga would be the epitome.
One living saint that we had to say goodbye to last week was Sr. Barbara, who will be returning to Magadan after we have left for the summer. During our last brunch with her and the other sisters, we asked Sr. Barbara for words of wisdom. We constantly feel like little sponges here, trying to soak up all the goodness surrounding us, and all the wisdom from those we have met. Sr. Barbara simply answered us with a prayer that she says every morning: “Lord, I need you more today than I did yesterday.” This simple prayer is the perfect example of the beautiful woman that Sr. Barbara is and the best departing gift she could have given us.
When surrounded by such examples of holiness and witnesses of faith, it is hard not to be inspired and challenged. As the three of us journeyed further into our time here in Magadan, we definitely needed a wake-up call to re-center ourselves on why we were called here. As a good father, Fr. Michael challenged us by speaking on the difference between being on mission and being in mission. It is the difference between doing the Lord’s will and doing our own will. It is the difference between surviving and striving. It is the difference between selfish love for the Lord, and purified love for the Lord. Three keys that Fr. Michael gave us were prayer, physical labor, and joy. He told us that prayer cannot be compromised and must be where we draw all of our strength. When we have this life of prayer, every action becomes a prayer and we are able to give the Lord not just the good, but the best of ourselves. Fr. then told us that “you are not truly on mission until you get your hands dirty and get the dirt of Magadan under your nails”. Because we are embodied souls, our actions have a huge impact on our spiritual life. The place you serve becomes a part of you when you put you blood, sweat, and tears into it. Finally, Fr. told us to find joy in creative ways. Whether it is playing an instrument or playing on a playground, creative joy is life-giving and fosters authentic joy, allowing that joy to become a gift to those we encounter.
With this challenge from Fr. Michael and the examples of the people we have met here, we were each very humbled this week. The Lord not only spoke to us through them, but in each of our own prayer lives the Lord humbled and challenged us. We were called to new heights in honesty with each other and had to face our own faults. We realized that our fight is not against flesh but the powers and principalities of evil. The same evil that Olga and Yana fought in the camps. The same evil Fr. Michael fought to build this Church in Magadan. The same evil that each of us must resist every day with the strength of our Lord. We have been amazed at the strength and the healing power that honesty has been for our little group of three. The devil will always try to hide himself and he hates nothing more than when his darkness is brought to light. In realizing our enemy, we see that we are all fighting the same battle and are able to strengthen and fight for each other.
We are here to fight for our family in Magadan, our families at home, our family of supporters, and to ultimately fight for our Lord and King, who humbly receives our efforts. Please keep us in your prayers, that we may find our strength in the Lord and continue to fight our battles here, always growing in humility. Be assured of our prayer and that we are fighting for you everyday.
Love, your sisters in Christ,
Katia, Teresa, and Anya