IT SEEMED A very small cough, and so much was waiting to be done. But in a week I was in bed with bronchitis. Hunger, shortages, and the Budapest adventure brought me down with a thump. So I was on my back, feeling exhausted and ethereal, when an uninvited visitor called. A Russian woman doctor. Her face was a mask of tragedy.
Mrs. Vera Yakovlena knew us only slightly. She’d come from a town in the Ukraine where countless priests and church people, including herself, had been deported to Siberian labor camps. Few returned.
She wasn’t interested in my illness. She had a message to impart.
“We worked to clear the woods, men and women together. We had equal rights: we could die of starvation or freeze to death.”
Mrs. Yakovlena touched my arm with a hand that bore thick, white scars. “Every day people died, collapsing from overwork in the snow,” she said, trembling at the memory.
Her punishment when she was found witnessing for Christ was to stand for hours barefoot on ice. When she failed to fulfill her work quota, the guards struck her with their fists, causing her to fall in the snow. She was denied the watery broth that was given them when they returned to camp.
A harsh voice yelled, “Hey! Is your mother a believer?”
Frightened, Mrs. Yakovlena gasped, “Why do you ask?” For in that moment she had been thinking of her mother.
The guard said, “Because I have been watching you for ten minutes, but I haven’t been able to shoot you. I can’t move my arm. It’s a healthy arm. I’ve moved it all day. So your mother must be praying for you.” His voice warmed. “Run back. I’ll look the other way.”
Mrs. Yakovlena saw the soldier later that day. He laughed and raised his arm. “Now I can move it again.”
She survived ten years in this camp. Most of the others died. But she came back to tell how, in her sorrow and need, God had shown His might. Now she was a doctor in the Soviet Army.
My head ached. Instead of pondering the miracle, I could think of nothing but her sufferings. What did it mean? Why had she come to tell me such things?
As she stood to leave, I struggled dimly with my weakness and asked her to stay the night, to wait at least until Richard returned. But already she was at the door. Briefly she paused to say, “My husband was also taken. He’s been in prison twelve years now. I wonder if we’ll ever meet again on this earth.” Then she was gone.
Twelve years? I couldn’t understand. Much later I learned that this messenger from God meant to tell about the sufferings that I and my husband could expect. Ananias, a disciple in the church at Damascus, was also told two thousand years ago, “Show to the new convert, Paul, the future apostle, all the things which he will have to suffer for My sake.”