When first arriving in Magadan our daily schedule consisted mostly of Vacation Bible School (VBS) with kids from within and without the parish. Our first week our Russian tripled because each of the kids would help us along in our Russian. However, since our knowledge of the language was still elementary our job was mostly to play with the kids. Each of the kids had their own stories and backgrounds, but they were all so loving and welcoming. They had a thirst for love and affection and the Lord was able to use us as His hands and feet in their lives. We also found that even if we were tired one day, the kids gave us an energy that allowed us to be present with them and give them the attention they deserved. Most of the games we played were volleyball, foosball, or in the case of Joe Rooney, chasing or being chased by the little ones.
This first week we also helped Fr. Michael to plant his potato garden. It was good for the soul to have some physical labor and to get our hands dirty. Something Fr. Michael has said is that “You don't really give yourself to a a place unless you get it's dirt under your nails.” After VBS, our first weekend was spent on retreat- a perfect beginning to mission. We were also blessed that the retreat was said in both Russian and English, and we were able to be on retreat with other young adults from the parish. Fr. Michael led the retreat with the words “Come follow me”. He gave talks focusing on discipleship and told us that discipleship means taking up your cross. “Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me'” (Mt 16:24). He then continued saying that carrying your cross does not just mean carrying the burdens of life (although that is an aspect). It more so means a death to self, a denial of self, and a putting to death of sin. He said many more beautiful and eloquent things, however we would not be able to fit all of them into one blog post. After the retreat we finished off the weekend with a movie night with Fr. Michael where we sat down for the culturally rich and intellectually stimulating “Lego Movie”. It was a great night for team bonding and unity.
We started off our second week with a day off. Monday we relaxed and were blessed to skype our families from Baskin Robbins to catch them up on our travels and mission. After a relaxing day we spent time with some Russian friends that night. Some were friends that Katalyn and Hannah met last year and some were new friends. We played some pool which none of us would consider our best game, but still enjoyed the night regardless. Later in the week we redeemed ourselves by playing Russian pool and surprisingly doing better than in “regular” pool. We also spent time just walking around the city with our friends and were grateful for the opportunity to get to know people our age and grow in friendship with them. The differences in our cultures gives us a chance to learn from them, especially though their joy, selflessness, love, and their sense of responsibility. We are truly blessed to spend time with them and look forward to getting to know them the rest of the summer.
Our second week also began our English club for both children and adults. Once again, the kids just want to spend time with us. Sometimes they don't want to learn English, but they always want to be around us. We were glad to see some new faces and are loving building more relationships with the kids that walk through our door. It is truly a gift to give them our time and to be the Lord's instruments in His children's lives. On Saturday we also had a picnic with some of the kids at Fr. Michael's dacha where we played volleyball, walked down to the shore, and cooked our lunch over a roaring fire.
A final heartening story from our week was an encounter with the generosity and selflessness of Russian people. First, it is important to know that people in Magadan regularly leave their babies outside in the stroller while parents run inside of a store and this is a normal thing. And so, we had walked by a stroller when the baby inside began to cry. Immediately a random grandmother went over and starts soothing the baby. Soon another young woman walked by and then went inside of the store to get the father. The selflessness that was not even a thought for these people struck us. It is beautiful how Russians watch out for each other and care for each other without expecting anything in return. We have already learned so much from the people here and know there is much more to learn throughout the summer. Please continue to keep us and those we meet in your prayers. Be assured that you are in our prayers as well.
Your Russia Mission Team, 2015