Today was my first Mass as a commissioned Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in the Diocese of Steubenville. My heart was truly humbled as I distributed the precious Eucharist for the first time.
Here’s the archive of my interview on EWTN’s “The Journey Home” with Marcus Grodi that aired tonight. I explained how I got to Russia, met my wife, became an ordained Vineyard pastor and church planter, joined staff at the International House of Prayer Official Page, then finally returned to the Church of my childhood by reading the lives of Catholic saints and mystics mixed with fasting.
Over the course of the years, my beautiful wife and I have covered a lot of territory and I’m blessed to have been all over the world together with her. We’ve lived in three continents (Europe / Asia / North America), five countries (Russia / Poland / Saudi Arabia / Qatar / USA), seven cities, and 15 apartments/houses
I began praying for Iwona when I was seven. Even though I didn’t know her name, God knew who she was and where she was located. I would pray that wherever she was on earth that God would encounter her, protect her, and that our paths would cross in His timing. I prayed this way for fourteen years until I was twenty one.
In September 1991, during a 40-day fast in Russia, God asked me about the list I had pertaining to my requirements of a ‘perfect’ wife.
He said, “Do you want what you think is best or what I think is best?”
I said, “Of course–whatever You think is best!”
He told me to throw away my wishlist. I said okay but I’m not budging on three points:
- She has to be as strong as me spiritually, or stronger.
- She has to prophesy over me.
- She has to be a virgin, because I was one.
One month later, Iwona arrived into Moscow to join our ministry staff. At that time, she spoke four languages. English was not one of them.
On December 13, 1991, I was invited to her 26th birthday party and went because there would be food. It was the month the Soviet Union collapsed and food was scarce in stores. I observed at the party that Iwona wasn’t eating, so I asked her roommate, Ania, if I should make her a plate. She said no because Iwona is fasting on only water and tea. I asked her how long is she fasting for. She said, “Eighteen days”. I thought 18 days was an odd number and then asked, “Why eighteen days?” She said there were 18 staff members on our missions team and that she was praying and fasting for a different staff member each day. I was intrigued! I’d never witnessed church leaders to that for their staff / team. I asked if she had prayed for me yet. She said my day was in three days, so I asked her to tell me if God would give her anything for me. She kindly agreed. She then picked up a guitar and started singing for everyone; I was astonished what I heard and witnessed.
Three days later, there was a knock at my door. Ania handed me a three-page letter that she translated for me from Iwona. I closed my door, read it, and then cried for two hours. It melted my heart. It was like a love letter from God. Like a postscript to what God told me during my 40-day fast. I then asked God, “Who’s this Polish Catholic girl?”
He said as clear as a bell, “This is the one you have been praying for since you were seven.” That was it! At that point, I knew. I would have never guessed a four-year-older, Polish Catholic, who didn’t speak English, living in Moscow as a lay missionary would be my wife-to-be.
With a Polish/Russian/English dictionary, we began to share our dreams, goals, hearts’ desires, visions, and plans that we each had. I’d never met someone who thought so much like me in my life.
After spending many hours with her for the following 15 days, on New Year Eve, after a staff party, around midnight we went sledding down a huge hill behind the apartment complex. When we crashed in the snow at the bottom of the hill by the Moscow River, she came right out and said, “I didn’t move to Russia to waste my time with a bunch of Americans, I came here to convert as many Russians as I can to Christianity; so please tell me what’s your intentions and if this is going somewhere, because if not, I don’t have time for this.” I gulped. I was not ready to say anything. I thought people should date for two years first, but she threw the ball in my court and I had no choice but to tell her. I said, “Well, God told me that you’re going to be my wife.” She asked how did He tell me. I told her the whole story and then she said, “Good, God told me you were going to be my husband too” I said, “Okay, so will you marry me?” She said, “Yes.” (We highly recommend that couples should not do this as quickly as we did.)
We then decided from that moment we would fast again until we each received three confirmations from God that this was truly His will. Twelve days later, we broke the fast and shared with each other the three confirmations we each received.
I called my parents to tell them the good news. They weren’t thrilled; neither was my sending church. It’s a long story that I may share at a later date or in a book. Months later, I was basically given a proposition from the leadership of my sending church:
“Leave Iwona and keep your youth group in Moscow or leave Russia and keep Iwona.”
They gave me several days to think about it. I told them on the spot that I didn’t need several days; I knew my answer.
I told them, “I am keeping Iwona; she’s my future.”
We were told to leave Russia that month, December 1992, and that we couldn’t meet with the youth / young adult group to explain the reasons why we were leaving. Leadership spread a slanderous rumor about us and said that we would never be ministry again. Got my first real dose of spiritual abuse then at the age of 22. I flew back to America on Christmas Day and Iwona took a train to Poland.
I was told that I couldn’t see her for one year to prove that I really loved her, which ended up turning into 15 months, as the test I had to pass.
From that cold Russian New Year’s eve night in Moscow where I proposed to Iwona, it took two and a half years before all was said and done and we were able to get married.
As life has moved us closer together, we now have three beautiful kids, and she’s still the woman of my dreams and always will be!
To be continued…