Seventy years ago, Natalia Antoninovna came into this world in a prisoner of war camp in Finland. Her pregnant mother and two siblings were captured in their city of St. Petersburg by the Fascists and put there for the duration of WWII. What a hopeless beginning to life! Only by the grace of God, the prayers of her mother and her “magic hands” that could sew anything were they able to survive the four years they spent there. The Finnish women guards’ cruelty remain fresh in Natalia’s memory. When the war ended and the camp closed, they were put on a train and sent to a village outside of St. Petes. Stalin considered them “the enemy” because of their association in the camp. So they were not allowed to return to their home city. They were considered outcasts of society. But, they had each other.
But Natalia’s mother suffered physically under the stress of this time in the camp. At the age of 54 she died of lung cancer. However, on the day before she died, she told her daughter that God did, in fact, exist. And that in spite of what the government dictated to the contrary, she was to go to the church. Natalia honored her mother’s dying request, and from that day when she entered the church, her life started over. She became a believer.
Her great love for children eventually brought her to Orphanage #3 in Samara where she worked for 30 years as the director. This is a special orphanage for young children with disabilities (ages 2 to 10). Now she is 70 years old and long ago retired from her position as director. But she couldn’t stay away from the kids. And she had a dream.
Her dream was to bring church to the orphanage. To have a Sunday School so the children could have instruction in the Bible, in the Orthodox culture, and to learn about the lives of the saints. She went to the priest of her local church and asked him how to go about it. She wanted it to be done properly. He said, “I’m not going to tell you what to do. Ask God for direction.”
She did. And that night she had a vision–in which everything was revealed. The wallpaper, the draperies, which icons to display. Bit by bit she acquired all the elements. Now, she holds classes (as a volunteer) to instruct the children and add the much-needed spiritual element to their lives. The element missing in hers due to the atheist regime she grew up under. I attended one of her classes and marveled at the children arriving in their “Sunday best,” their devotion, their knowledge of the prayers and songs. Their eagerness to show me their notebooks. Kids whom most people cast aside as unteachable or unworthy of their time.
Natalia Antoninova may have started her life as a prisoner…a victim with a hopeless future. But she is now a testimony to God’s faithfulness to strengthen and enable someone who trusted Him to give her the desires of her heart and to restore “what the locust have eaten.”
It’s never to late to make a difference.