Mount Airy Catholics are 'Russian' to help this mission
MOUNT AIRY — "You live in Paradise!" Father Myron Effing exclaimed as I introduced myself outside Holy Angels Church on a warm "Mayberry" October morning.
An Indiana native, Father Effing has lived as a missionary in Vladivostok, Russia, for the past two decades. He walks to a convenient globe in the classroom where we are conducting our interview and points out Vladivostok, a port city on the southeastern coast of Russia, just 30 miles from the Chinese mainland.
As a missionary in a former Communist country, Father Effing faces a vast array of challenges. The concept of the traditional family has been under attack for decades, and 80 percent of marriages end in divorce. The average Russian woman has had 5-12 abortions, and children are scarce. Many residents live in poverty, alcoholism is rampant, and suicide rates are high, he said.
Father Effing and his fellow missionary Father Dan Maurer have been hard at work establishing a variety of programs to care for and educate the people of Vladivostok about the importance of the family and choosing life over abortion. They founded five women's pregnancy crisis centers as an alternative to abortion and started Project Guardian Angel to match generous sponsors with mothers who want to choose life but can't afford a child. And their Grandma and Grandpa mentoring program seeks volunteers to visit and play with the many orphans in Vladivostok.
A new university campus was recently completed on an island that is part of the city of Vladivostok. There will be more than 100,000 students, and Father Effing is thrilled that a community of sisters from Kansas City is joining the mission to run a pregnancy crisis center on campus and host retreats for the students.
Father Effing said he is pleased with the positive impact that his programs have made.
"We are leaders in a lot of these social problems. I serve on government commissions and I'm chairman of the Russian committee that deals with the government on behalf of the Catholic Church. We make ourselves be heard. I think our presence is important. We've been involved in saving 10,000 kids through our five women's support centers."
All these programs are expensive, though, and the tiny parish in Vladivostok can barely cover expenses, let alone help pay for the programs the missionaries run. Consequently, Father Effing visits U.S. parishes like Mount Airy each year to seek financial assistance.
He said he is especially concerned about vocations.
"I'm 72 and Father Dan is 62, so we have to think about the future," he said, adding that they are blessed to have eager young men in the Philippines and Indonesia who want to enter the seminary and become Russian missionaries, but there is no money to pay for their seminary education. Of course, the missionaries appreciate any prayers on behalf of their work and for more vocations and funding.
Even with all of these challenges, Father Effing said he is hopeful for the future of the Church in Russia.
"The best thing about Vladivostok is simply being there, of realizing that after so many years of atheism that we have a parish and can speak and talk about religion. That's just a mind-blowing thing."
— Peggy Bowes,correspondent
At www.vladmission.org: Learn more about the Vladivostok mission and how you can help. You can also call their U.S. office at 209-408-0728.