Mt 28-20 Go teach all nations my gospel--I am with you always until the end of time

A Missionary in Siberia – Part 2

Interview by Nikolay Syrov, a freelance journalist based in Moscow

Fr. Michael Shields, an American from Alaska, is the pastor of the Catholic parish in Magadan, a city created by Communist Russia as an administrative center for the gulags or labor camps. He has been serving in Magadan for over twenty years.

When we had our mission house there from 1993 until 2006, Fr. Michael was our friend and spiritual guide.


Nikolay Syrov: You’re from Alaska, right? How is Alaska different from the Magadan area in terms of the nature, climate, and overall external landscape?

Father Michael Shields: The nature here is a bit like Alaska, but the winters are longer than in the area where I grew up. And I must say that Alaska is so beautiful.

I was a mountain climber. I climbed the highest peak on the North American continent—Mt. McKinley, which is 21,000 feet or 7,000 meters. 23 days up with 165 pounds of gear and 7 days down 25 pounds lighter.

But I found a higher mountain here in Magadan. It is the mountain of the Lord, and you take no provisions—only a will to serve and a willingness to die. I am still climbing.

Nikolay Syrov: I met with some of your missionary assistants in Moscow a few months ago. Wonderful young men. I was stunned to find out that some of them actually decided to stay in Magadan for another whole year. Why do you think they did this?

Father Michael Shields: I have watched lives change here the last four years as these lovely young missionaries come to share the Gospel and their lives. Something happens. They face their demons, and they receive a deep conviction to live a deeper life—a missionary life. They find God’s blessings here.

Unless you get out of your security zone into mission, you not only can’t be a blessing, but you can’t know God because he went out in the most radical way of all.

So many of us are drowning in our small ambitions. We’re smothering under the smallness of our lives. We have no greater goals than to get something on our résumé and then go on and do all the things we’ve always dreamed of.

These missionaries find that they can share in Jesus’ work of saving the world, and that’s pretty exciting.

Nikolay Syrov: What can you say about them as their spiritual father? What is your personal experience in this story?

Father Michael Shields: I teach the missionaries this truth: God got out of his comfort zone to enter into our sinful world.

Can you leave your comfort zone to save the world with the person and message of Jesus?

God comes to everybody. He came to Isaiah. He came to Moses. He says, “Get out.”

The only way you’re ever going to get out is to realize that Jesus really got out for you.

All you or I get out of is our comfort zone, our security zone. Jesus got out of heaven. Jesus got out of his Father’s love. Jesus got out of life itself. Jesus got out.

In Jesus’ mission, he really gave up everything. And it is only when you see that he loves you like that, only when you see yourself as the object of his mission, that you will see yourself as the subject of mission.

Only when you see him rescuing you will you be willing to go out and risk everything to rescue others.

Nikolay Syrov: Can you shed light on the things that can go wrong in Magadan? I mean, what struggles or obstacles do you have to face in your daily work and ministry?

Father Michael Shields: Everything can go wrong and does. My plans have been dashed, my life broken, and my heart smashed many times. But the cross says that this is the way it will be. Unless a seed falls to the earth and dies, it will remain just a seed, but if it dies, it produces much fruit (John 12:24).

I don’t like dying at all. I hate it when God takes away my good plans or great ideas. But one sign of a mature Christian is that you like it when God tells you what to do and then you obey God and do it.

God breaks us to remake us. We are like Isaiah; we really don’t want to meet the real God. But when we do we fall on our knees and cry out, Oh God I am a sinful man and part of a sinful generation (Isaiah 6:5). Then the fiery coal comes to touch us, and we are healed.

And when God says, “Who wants to do the impossible?” we gladly raise our hands and say, “Send me! Send me!” (cf. Isaiah 6:8).

I have known times when there is no light and no way out. But then quietly God’s love prevails and all seems right again.

I have suffered and been betrayed a hundred times and would not change a moment of that, because my will was broken and my pride was crushed, and I could then really love God, because I had nothing to give him but myself.

Nikolay Syrov: I listened to your speech at the Franciscan University on YouTube. You presented a very strong idea that one becomes a missioner when one’s personal safety, needs and even freedom come second to the cause. Would you say more about this, please?

Father Michael Shields: We all have free will, and we all need to choose how to live our life. I don’t see much freedom in our secular-driven society. We are slaves of our desires, and our feelings rule our every decision.

I see so many lost souls because they think freedom is caring for just yourself, that to be happy you must care first for all your own needs.

But we are wired to love, and to love means sacrifice and giving yourself away. There are two ways to live: my life for yours or your life for mine.

The first is the Gospel and the real way to be human. Even the world recognizes heroes who give their life to save others. The motto of the missionary is: my life for yours.

The other way to live is: your life for mine. The life lived this way dries up and dies. Our culture has this motto: your life for mine. Abortion says your life for mine.

When someone tastes real freedom, when they give their life away, there can be no turning back. This is the freedom of someone who has encountered Jesus and sees how he said on the cross: My life for yours.

Now you just fall in love with such a savior and do the same. My life for yours.

The End

Part 1 of this article is online. Google title and author.