It’s kind of funny, but we’ve been saying goodbye all summer. From the second week of mission, we were already saying goodbye to people we had met and become friends with because they were leaving for vacation. (Many Russians leave for vacation for a month or two at a time during the summer.) Throughout the summer, kids were leaving with their families, and young adults were traveling to different places.
Yet, every time, it is still difficult not knowing when I’ll see them again and realizing that I very well might not see them again -at least on this Earth. But even more difficult are the goodbyes that never happened.
There were other goodbyes that were left unsaid, but I’ll tell you about one more. Max and Sonya. But first the backstory.
I remember meeting Max for the first time this summer: fair, blond hair blowing in the Russian wind and a pair of stylish sunglasses that made him look like he had stepped out of a fashion magazine. That was two months ago.
Max with blond hair: Max in his element
At the start of the summer, Max began to hang around us - staying after kid’s club and joining us for our daily (read: most days) evening holy hour. A fellow missionary, Joe Young, began to catechize Max and help prepare him to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church. The summer went into full swing and Max faded into the norm of my everyday life in Magadan. I barely noticed that he had stopped coming to our nightly holy hours.
July rolled around and I was asked to help catechize Yana (a friend of Max who is preparing to be baptized this winter). This opened the window for my friendship with Max. Joe and I would sometimes do Catechesis together with Max and Yana and just spend time together afterwards, sharing life. I don’t remember exactly when but sometime early July Max had asked if another friend could come and hangout with us after Catechesis. Of course, we gladly said yes. And that’s how we met Sonya, a confident, hardworking, and (as we would find out later) compassionate young woman.
The following few weeks through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Joe and I became very intentional about spending time with Max, Sonya, and Yana and praying for them. We went on walks with them to the open fields and to the sea and made chocolate chip pancakes (their favorite American dish!). And I tried skateboarding for the first time ever with them. What was most memorable was how much they opened up their hearts to us. They were very real about the questions on their hearts about love, life, and suffering. We were able to get a glimpse into their wounded hearts that were yet still so open to loving us.
This past Sunday night, Max and Sonya came by to hang out. Sonya had just come from a long day at work (waitressing at a restaurant in town). We once again made pancakes. Max got really good at flipping them. Joe was ready at hand with a plate to catch them. And Sonya and I somehow managed to make a black currant syrup without looking up a recipe. All while we were jamming out to Adele. Afterwards we played Jenga and Uno: four friends just wasting time together.
As we said goodbye, Sonya teared up. Joe and I blessed them both on the forehead and wished them goodnight. They had planned to meet us at the airport on Tuesday to send us off. Tuesday morning came and I got text from Max saying he wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t meet us. Sonya wouldn’t make it either.
As we were waiting at the airport, Joe and I couldn’t help but hope that they were joking, and any minute now they would come running through the sliding doors and we could hug them goodbye. The moment didn’t come. The plane took off, and I cried. I don’t know when or if I’ll see them again.
It’s a sad story for sure but also beautiful. It’s beautiful that we had developed such a friendship that it was difficult to say goodbye. They shared their hearts with us and we with them. And even though it hurts now to have to say goodbye, I don’t regret it. Any of it. It was better to have met them, love them, and now miss them. And here’s another blessing, no matter how far apart we are: we will always be connected by prayer. Wherever I am, I can pray for them: for their hearts, their struggles, their lives. And wherever you are, you can offer up a prayer for them too. Distance cannot stop us from surrounding them with our prayers even when we cannot be face to face with them. What a good Father in heaven we have! I hope and pray that one day I’ll get to see them again; if not here on Earth, then in heaven where we’ll never have to say goodbye.
Lisa and the Russia Mission Team