It all began with a photo. An old photo in which the winding road seemed to be endless. I was delighted with the expanse in this picture. And the silence. A simple photo, one of many in the album. Just as God’s Word, which falls into a broken heart, will not give you peace until you take care of it, so this image was giving me no peace, raising a desire to live in this silence and expanse someday.
When I was still a teenager, I had the desire to go on mission, shyly dreaming of serving on African soil alongside the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit. When I entered Nazareth (thirty-something years ago… ;)) I did not think that I would find the path from the photo, that I would live in a house on the steppe, on Kazakh soil, in the middle of Central Asia… Well, God fulfills dreams… in another time, another place, in other circumstances of nature. Every day I bless God for this experience – of finding Him right here – in the Eucharist, in His Word, in the people He puts on my path, and I am asking for the grace of faith and fidelity in the mission to which He has invited me.
Our Sisters came to Kellerovka at the beginning of August 2012. This was not the first home of our Congregation in Kazakhstan (previously in Karaganda and Ekibastus). Since 2013, every summer I used to come with volunteers for a month of service in one of the local parishes. But in the summer of 2017 – I stayed “for longer”… At home on the periphery of faith, human poverty, both material and spiritual – in our mission in Nazareth on the steppe.
Kazakhstan. A country in Central Asia, on the Caspian Sea, nine times larger than Poland, whose current capital is Astana. It borders Russia in the north, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan in the south, and China in the east. In the years 1936-1939, by order of Stalin, about 70,000 Poles were deported to this country behind the Urals, and with them Germans, Ukrainians and Belarusians. Today, around 100 nationalities live in this land of martyrs. 70% of them are Islamites. Slightly more than 20% are Christians, of which only tens of thousands of Catholics. They speak Russian and Kazakh, they work seasonally – on thousands of hectares of fertile land rented to state-owned companies. Plain lowlands and highlands, which turn from the south into deserts, are most of the surface. In the east, along the borders, the high picturesque Altai and Tien Shan Mountains stretch. The dry, continental climate means that the lowest temperatures in winter reach -45 degrees Celsius and in summer the highest up to +40 degrees C.
The longer I stay here, in this vast expanse of steppe and fields stretching for thousands of kilometers, in this seemingly uninteresting place, I discover its countenance is full of contrasts. On the one hand – a country full of life, full of wonderful modern solutions. On the other hand, there are places where water is still drawn from wells, where there is no electricity for weeks, and where the bus stops every two days. I meet different people here, and each of them is a separate story. I listen to them with emotion, realizing how much they have suffered, intertwining their fates with the history of the nations inhabiting this country. Life is harsh here. It is hard to get a job. After the fall of communism, and with it that of the sovkhozes and kolkhozes, each family received a piece of land. Unfortunately, there was a lack of appropriate equipment and rental was very expensive, so people were not able to farm this land. Some sold their land, others leased it for cultivation in exchange for grain, flour or hay. Thanks to this, they also gained the opportunity to work for the landowners. Seasonal, poorly paid, but always work.
We live (Sr. Letancja, Sr. Zuzanna and I – Sr. Kazimiera) in a small house, similar to many in the village. But ours is unique because of the constant presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We take care of the parish community center – a “mini preschool”, we serve in the church and in the sacristy. Together with the parish priest we travel to 9 villages so that the Eucharist can be celebrated there as well. We try to prepare those who want to receive the sacraments. We visit the elderly, the sick, and often very lonely people. We lead a group of mothers in prayer, we enable our young people to participate in the Movement of Pure Hearts. What we can offer is only time, a kind word, a moment of conversation. Sometimes it is simply presence, ears open to listen and a heart to love those whom God has given us here. Regardless of nationality, skin color or language, we plant, sow and water. And we believe that God will make it grow.
I would like these few “postcards” that I will send from Kazakhstan to be my invitation to a “walk” through amazing places, to reach beyond the horizon, to admire the simplest, and certainly an invitation to meet a living church – lonely, suffering, experienced, but as beautiful and strong as flowers in the steppe.
By Sr. Kazimiera Wanat