Being away from home on my 51 st birthday, no cards, no hugs, no surprises, in a hostile communist country, led to a negative time of grudging prayer on the morning of 25th May, 1984. Echoing St Teresa’s comments to God ‘if this is how you treat your friends, Lord, it’s no wonder you have so few’,(Joan, that is me), was not very receptive to the Lord’s gentle response ‘wait and see’.

However the ‘self-pity’ moments soon over, it was time to face Comrade Natasha, the trim, steely eyed, impeccably uniformed Commisar, to pay for the days excursions. When I momentarily hesitated at filling in the date on my travellers cheque , Natasha’s sculptured eyebrows soared and she coldly remarked, in perfect French, ” Alors, Madame le Morvan, I would have expected you to know today’s date!” Siberian shivers down the Le Morvan spine. How much more did she know about me and the secret purpose of my visit?

After a dreary day in the catacombs and trudging round grey, wet streets with huge images of Stalin and Lenin on every other building, it was a delightful contrast for our group to be taken to the ‘finest restaurant ‘ in Odessa at 7 pm. where we were led into the Banquet Room and bedazzled by candlelight and an exquisite table, laden with crystal and sparkling silver. The ten of us were welcomed by the Director and I was presented with a bouquet of red ( of course ) carnations, an exquisite birthday cake of sponge and cream -filled marshmallow circles and a beautifully boxed bottle of vintage White Port ( for which I would be given an Special Customs Form to take out of the country)

What a feast! Caviar and smoked salmon starters, pork and pate, beef fillets with truffles, four wine glasses of reds and whites, and champagne for the birthday toast, during which a handsome violinist serenaded me behind my chair. I did not see his copious tears of heartfelt goodwill, but the others did, Then , a section of the Odessa State Orchestra came in to play for us and lengthly speeches were made, mostly in Russian and perfect English!

When the red leather Visitors book was presented for us all to sign, Tom, a young, cynical journalist, wrote “a Feast fit for a Tzar, thank you, comrades!”

We made our exit before anybody had time to read it !

What a very different reception from the one we had received when arriving in Leningrad the previous Sunday.

There had been no welcoming serenade from the heavily armed soldiers, at the bleak customs station, as we were ushered from our uncomfortable flight, in a tatty Aeroflot plane. at 11am. Long queues due to thorough checks and searching of every suitcase and bag. I wondered what might be my fate when they opened my suitcase and found the forbidden 3 large Study Bibles, in Russian, nestled within my brand new Marks and Spencers knickers. (Bibles, not knickers, kindly given to me by my friend, Sr Catherine, of Aid to the Church in Need charity in Chichester) Being of a non courageous nature, I hovered at the back of the group and watched with horror as they searched the hand bag of one of our group, and finding a biography of Ben Yehuda ( the founder of modern Hebrew}, and realising she was Jewish, roughly marched her away to be searched, humiliated and have all her address books and other information destroyed. Her husband , a lawyer, looked on in dismay before he, too, was subjected to similar humiliation.

I had noticed this lady sitting in front of me on the plane. I had coveted the white lace table runner she was hemming because it was woven with Jewish Passover symbols ; menorah’s, etrogs, palms, lulavs etc and, because I love and celebrate the Jewish Feasts, I would have given my back teeth for such a beautiful cloth.

Little did I know, then, that these strangers would become my most precious friends on the trip, and that I would be gifted with this beautiful, shamefully coveted, table cloth at the end of our trip! I would treasure and use it on every Passover Meal for the rest of my life, and as a base for my Christmas Crib display.(below) What a merciful God we have whose kindness operates through generous hearts like her’s.

In the meantime, my knees continued to knock and I could almost hear my son, Tom ” Well, I hope , this time Mother, you are not taking any stupid risks into Communist Russia” I hadn’t mentioned the Bibles to Tom.

But , of course I had mentioned it to our wonderful Prayer Group. As usual, when writing thoughts which come into my head in prayer, I always brought them to the group for discernment. If the group discerned that it was not of God, I would not have gone abroad on my own wisdom. ( having done so only once and falling into the deceit of the evil one, and losing £100 on a horse ! At that time we were trying to fund a project and needed a great deal of money to buy a large house. Whilst praying about it, the name of a horse, ‘Annmarie,’ came into my mind. I persuaded my daughter to ring the local bookie in Havant who, in so doing, discovered that an ‘Annmarie’ was running in the 3.30 in York. It seemed like the answer to all our needs. In haste we dashed to find the Betting shop, and entered into the seedy world of miserable looking men, licking their pencils as they stood in booths smoking heavily while scrutinising their newspaper’s Sports pages. Walking up to the heavily grilled counter I whispered , so that absolutely no one would hear, ‘ please may I put £100 on Annmarie for the 3.30 in York ?’ To my embarassment, she bellowed out the request to the entire room, and every eye was on me, awaiting my answer to her next question, “win?, or place ?”Not having a clue what ‘place’ meant , I stammered ‘win, please’. and crept out of the shop. After spending an hour waiting in a nearby coffeee shop, planning what to organise and who to inform first about our miraculous answer to prayer, We returned, with a plastic carrier bag in which to carry our winnings home. Wondering if it would be a good opportunity , now, to evangelise about the power of prayer in that forlorn place, I stood at the grill and froze as she reported that Annmarie had come second in the 3.30 at York ! I lost my Teacher’s pension superannuation £100 and trust in my own discernment forever.)

Although, through this experience, I was taught to be more compassionate towards my own father’s destructive gambling addiction which I had never understood.

And so, when I wrote the following words in my prayer journal on 9th December 1983, I asked the Prayer Group, which included our very wise Parish priest, Canon Francis Collins, and my Pentecostal, Jerusalem Mentor, Sr Ruth Heflin, for their prayerful discernment.

December 9th 1983


It was December, so not a time of ‘melting snow in the west’ which would be in the spring, we thought, as we read and reread the prophecy prayerfully and tried to discern, as a group, what the next step should be. Every time we prayed about Russia a strong sense prevailed that I should take my Omnicord, an electronic harp, with me. As it had a heavy plastic case, I was not keen to have to add it to my luggage weight, but there seemed no doubt that it was to be part of the trip even if it seemed crazy. I would discover later, how it was to save my life, in Leningrad.

Omnicord used to keep prayer group in tune !

Taking heed of all who speak of Russia’ was not easy as none of my friends spoke Russian or knew the land, until I was asked to speak to an Ecumenical Prayer group in Portsmouth. At the end of the gathering we joined hands in a ring to express our gratitude to God for our fellowship and shared insights, the praise was expressed in many ways including the gift of Tongues. As we concluded, the man next to me asked where I had learned to speak such perfect Russian as he heard me when I was praying in the Spirit. He had worked in Russia as a translator and was surprised to hear me enquiring “is this the correct street ?’ in perfect Russian as we prayed. I admitted that the only word I knew in Russian was ‘Niet’ but shared the words I had written about going to Russia, much to his amazement and promise of prayer support.

There was much mention of Blessed Mary, as Elizabeth calls her in Luke chapter1 verse 42, which has been frequent in most of my words in prayer.She says humbly that she is called ‘Blessed because of the marvels God has done for me’ Luke chapter 1 verse 49. And, in most of my invitations to ‘tramp for the Lord,’ I have been advised to keep my hand in the in the hand of Jesus’ mother. I was only able to do so after I had been helped, through counselling, to deal with the negative relationship with my own mother since childhood. Like all unresolved issues in our hearts, it had been projected out, mostly, onto the mother of Jesus., I had learned, through my counselling training , that ‘What is not transformed is always transmitted.! ‘ What a blessing, after receiving help in counselling, to be able to experience Mary’s gentleness and loving concern and intercession for all God’s children in my prayers. This was why I returned to Medugorje to make a retreat and ask for prayer before going to Russia. Our Lady had been appearing daily to five children in this tiny hamlet, in HertzeGovina, Bosnia, in Yugoslavia since 1981. They had come under intense persecution from the Communist Regime, imprisoned and subjected to intense pressure, including being locked in a Morgue full of cadavers to force them to deny what was happening. Their parish priest had been put in prison. In the Spring of 1982 I was invited , by Lord Johnny Eldon, with two other mutual friends, to join him to visit and investigate the phenomena . We were made very welcome into the homes and parish, making friends with the children who were having the visions, and experienced the transformation of the entire village and the powerful sense of holiness. So when I shared my prophecy two years later, about going to Russia, with Vicka, one of the visionaries, she asked Blessed Mother about it that evening, and told me that her gentle response had been ” I cannot make the decision for her to go to Russia, but I will pray for her ” Mind blowing ! But what I could not imagine then, was how the Lord would use that precious experience in Medjugorje to encourage and give hope to a suffering ,old Catholic priest in Russia.(more about that to come later )

MEDJUGORGE. CHILDREN IN PRAYER WITH BLESSED MOTHER, and above Joan and Viv with Vicka ( left), and at Cross.

The Prophecy had included the words ‘much good will come through trains’ which, we discerned, meant that I would travel on the Trans Siberian Express at some stage. This brought up the question of how to finance the venture. Impossible for Michael and I, and even with gifts and offerings from the Prayer Group, there was no way we could raise the £265 needed to buy flight to Kiev and Odessa. ‘ YOU SHALL BE AN IKON OF HOPE IN THAT PLACE’ fell into place when I ,unexpectedly, received a check for £265 for an Ikon I had written, commissioned by the Parish Priest of St Joseph’s church in Portsmouth, the previous year. One does not put a signature nor a price on an Ikon, and when he had enquired as to the cost of it, I had explained that he should pray about a donation and whether he was moved to make one or not. Since so many months had passed, I just presumed the latter and felt quite peaceful about it. However, in January , A letter arrived asking pardon for the long delay and saying the sum of £265 had come into his mind in prayer !

Ikon for St Joseph’s church , Portsmouth

What a joyful surprise to be able , through his kindness ,to buy the ticket and fly into the unknown , and sadly unwelcoming, city of Leningrad, where on that Sunday morning in May, I was wondering how I would escape punishment for bringing forbidden bibles into Russia.

There had been no welcoming serenade from the heavily armed soldiers, at the bleak customs station, as we were ushered from our uncomfortable flight, in a tatty Aeroflot plane. at 11am. Long queues due to thorough checks and searching of every suitcase and bag. I wondered what might be my fate when they opened my suitcase and found the forbidden 3 large Study Bibles, in Russian, nestled within my brand new Marks and Spencers knickers.        (Bibles, not knickers, kindly given to me by my friend, Sr Catherine, of Aid to the Church in Need charity in Chichester) Being of a non courageous nature, I hovered at the back of the group and watched with horror as they searched the hand bag of one of our group, and finding a biography of Ben Yehuda ( the founder of modern Hebrew}, and realising she was Jewish, roughly marched her away to be searched, humiliated and have all her address books and other information destroyed. Her husband , a lawyer, looked on in dismay before he, too, was subjected to similar humiliation.

In Luggaage Reclaim .                                                                                              It was my turn.                                                                                                              The general feelings of the group were not buoyant after witnessing the hostility towards our Jewish members, and I imagined that I would not be the favourite flavour of the month when they discovered my contraband and marched me off.                                                                                                          I slowly lifted my suitcase on to the counter and the smaller plastic one containing my Omnicord which caught the soldiers immediate suspicion. Roughly interrogating me as to what it was, and dmanding me to open it    ( couldn’t resist temptation to stum a few chords of an Alleluia chorus) he exchanged words with another soldier and marched off with my electronic Omnicord to be examined and xrayed.                                                                                                        Fortunately nobody else knew what was inside my other case, so it was only my heart working overtime until the unpleasant soldier returned, stamped my papers and waved me through, not even opening my other suitcase ! Now I understood why the Lord had told me to bring the harp !

However, getting the precious bibles into Russia was one miracle, but I needed a few more to know what to do with them, who to give them to and how to find whoever was meant to receive them ! I hadn’t a clue other than “my people await you in Kiev’ and, at the moment, we were in Leningrad.

In the enormous hotel, my newly -met room mate, Sue, and I moved in to room 4146 on the fourteenth floor having been given our key by a large Babushka sitting, it seemed permanently, at her table in the corridor . Sue was a delightful, Australian nurse, whose Father had been in Intelligence and who had taught her how to discover where the ‘ bugs’ were likely to be hidden in our, and every, room. In no time she had taken the telephone to pieces, then the intercom and light fittings, and finally located it in the water sprinkler in the ceiling by the plastic chandelier. I took out my harp and sat under it to play a lively praise chorus to which we both sang fearlessly to whoever might be listening. From then on we treated the bugging device as a ‘friend’ and explained in great detail when we were about to bath or empty our bladders ! It took away our fear and we were careful to censure our conversation in there

After a guided tour by bus, during which our Guide described the horrors of the 900 days in 1941 _1944 when the city was under siege, by the Germans, and fifty thousand people starved to death. We were shown the many islands and driven around the beautiful, spacious , tree lined boulevards and Baroque buildings. Then to the Heritage Museum ! The magnificent Winter Palace of Catherine the Great. What a joy to see, closely, Rembrant’s Prodigal among thousand of other treasures. The place was packed with local people drinking in the extravaganza, opulence and beauty and colourful contrast to their drab surroundings and lives.

Next day, some of us took a taxi, independently, to see the Ikons in the church of St Nicholas. Heavy rain made us dive into the nearest door of this blue and white, magnificent, golden domed Orthodox Church, to find ourselves in the midst of, and face to face with , six open coffins ! The occupants were six old ladies looking serene and beautiful in their lace bonnets, bedecked with flowers and surrounded by their mourning relatives. Celebration of the Eucharist was in throe and the choir was in full chant, Joined in everything with delight and awe.

Walked to shops which were pathetic, dreary and drab with long queues . approached by tipsy man asking for English pounds in exchange for roubles, people begged for our shoes and clothes. Noticed Military Officers seemed well dressed and more civilised. Took Metro, exquisitely marbled and chandelered, back to hotel where, after supper we were taken to a Circus, which was very professional and slick and beautiful, full of Russian families.


Plane to Odessa. Feels much more Mediterranean,, more trees and smaller, more homely hotel. Sue does her intelligence probes and locates our new ‘friend’.

Managed to discover, from our Guide Sergei, that there was only one Catholic Church permitted to operate by the state, so skipped breakfast and found it at 7.30 am, by 8 o’clock it was full. A tiny chapel in back of dark building full of old ladies with flowery headscarves, praying earnestly and noisily. When I stood up to go for holy Communion, with my head uncovered, several ladies dealt with what was for them, disrespect, and tied a flowery head scarf round my curls. The old priest said Mass with his back to the congregation, and when he turned to face us I saw a broken old man with scars on his kindly face. After Mass, and having returned my headscarf amidst kisses and warm hugs from the old ladies, I followed the priest into the small sacristy where an African doctor, Dr Jean-Felix, was helping him to disrobe and tidy away the sacred vessels.We managed to communicate via the Doctor (on an exchange visa) in French, Father asked if I had any Rosaries or other religious items to give him, so I emptied my pockets of a selection of beads, miraculous medals, holy cards etc wishing I had brought a bible or other things for him. Then he shared how difficult and dangerous it was to be a Christian and asked for prayer for Russia. I told him that Blessed Mother was appearing in Yugoslavia and had said to the visionaries when they asked her about Russia “ There is more prayer behind closed doors in Russia than in the whole of the West” He , and the doctor were extremely eager to know more about Medjugorje and extracted a promise from me that I would somehow get some official printed matter to them about it. I had no idea how this would be possible, there was no way it could get to him through the post. It wasn’t until several months later, in Chicago when, at Mass in St Gertude’s Church, the Parish Priest, Fr Bill, a dear friend, introduced me to a music student going, the next morning, to Odessa on an exchange programme, she, hiding the information we had gathered about Medjugorje, among her sheets of music, enabled my promise to be kept. And when we met again, the following year, was able to confirm its delivery. Sometimes One runs out of ‘WOWs!’

Guided tour of beautiful Odessa, spoiled only by non stop, piercingly loud, regurgitated official statistics by our Armenian guide, Dona. and frightening sight of army of goose-stepping soldiers changing guard. Much happier seeing exquisite ikons in Museum and telling Dona the legend of King Abgar of Odessa, of which she was ignorant. Then for a bathe in the icy waters of the Black Sea before supper and a visit to the Theatre, below, to see a Ballet , a superb performance of “Mascarade”

The ballet was a real joy, wonderful choreography and dancing. The opulence of the Baroque interior was staggering and the Guide took great delight in pointing out the harmony of the gold and orange velvets and the crystal chandeliers. The theatre was packed , people flock to every performance, as they do to the circus, I suppose the contrast to everyday life is a form of escapism.

Have been trying to catch a feel of the ‘old Russia’ , have caught glimpses and snatches in the chanting and music in the Orthodox churches, which is more like being at Mass with the villagers in Medjugorje, the fervour and love is humbling and I could only weep and be carried along in the deep faith and prayer of the lovely people in church. It is sad not to be able to speak Russian, but there is a warmth and unspoken communication in the churches which is not found anywhere else.

Saturday left Odessa

After lunch at the airport, flew over miles of endless Plains , Rivers and Delta’s to Kiev, capitol of Ukraine. Lovely green city, chestnut trees in flower along wide streets and heavy scent of Acacia.

Room on 5th floor of gigantic complex, well stocked with police officers and Intourist service staff , all proffering the usual ‘nyet look’, but more so. Feeling excited about being in Kiev, very conscious of the second line of the prophecy which brought me to Russia, “MY PEOPLE AWAIT YOU IN KIEV but clueless as to who the people were or how I could possibly find them. Kiev means ‘Hero City’ and I wondered who might be brave enough to make contact with me or allow me to speak to them in this place where we were closely watched every moment. Official tour of city took in various monuments and site of a fourth century monastery and church, saw bride and groom walking down a Memorial Path to Tomb of Unknown Soldier ,to perform the marriage ritual. Constant reminders of Nazi atrocities. Then to St Sophia, monastery and catacombs containing thousands of mummified bodies. very hot, temperature in 80’s and bitten all over by nasty bugs.

Enjoying the company of my Jewish friends, Hester and Nat who are ‘Roots Bound’, both grandparents having been Russian, but who were being watched and having been stripped of all papers and addresses at customs now dependent on their memories. However they shared with me their urgent desire to visit the site of Babi Yar, a ravine near Kiev where the largest shooting massacre of 33,771 Jews by the Germans had taken place in 1941. Eager to go with them , I found a man who agreed to take us and arranged to meet us at the metro at 2pm that day. We met up and together bought tickets and boarded the train. Our Guide did not want to be seen standing near us and, after about ten minutes into the journey, he fled, leaving us without a clue as to where we were going. He was obviously very frightened of whoever was watching us, and we did not feel at peace. So, sadly, we never visited the Memorial.

Babi Yar Memorial of massacre of J in 1941ews

Praying for inspiration to know where to make contact with the people ‘WHO AWAITED ME IN KIEV’ only thing that struck me was to go to a church service and mingle. So, skipping supper, taking taxi to St Vladimir’s Orthodox Cathedral, I mingled.

Mingling was not difficult in an Orthodox Church Service where there are no seats and the large congregation constantly walk around, venerating Ikons, praying and conversing . Praying silently, I cautiously approached several people hoping to find somebody who  might respond to “ Speak English ?” To no avail. In fact hostility was the usual response and after about an hour , feeling weary, I left.

It wasn’t until I reached the last few marble steps from the church that I realised that two young students were beside me. One of them hurriedly removed his wrist watch, turned the fingers to six o’clock and whispered ‘demain’ pointing to the watch. Before I had time to respond they had disappeared.

Fortunately I remembered my French for ‘tomorrow’ was ‘demain’ and gathered I was to return the next day at six o’clock. My weariness evaporated.

After a full day of visits, having opted out of the first and instead found my way to the Museum of Eastern and Western Art which as it did not open until noon, I sat in a children’s playground park in the sunshine and conversed with a Russian English teacher with her delightful children, before persuading the kind curator to allow me into the closed area containing the sixth century Ikons in the Museum. A true joy!

At last it was time to slip away from the group, and supper ! And make my way to keep the rendezvous which, by now , seemed like a fantastic bit of my imagination, the ‘accuser’ was ridiculing me as it does whenever we try to trust God.

 But in my large plastic bag lay the two large Jerusalem Study Bibles with Notes, just in case !

 When my ‘mingling’ amounted to nothing I made my way out of the Basilica. Halfway down the steps, the young student, with the watch, appeared at my side with a bald headed, middle aged man, whispered ‘Pastor’ and bolted out of sight.

After ascertaining that I was a Christian, he told me how dangerous it was to be so in Russia, meetings were forbidden, services led to arrests and severe punishments. Never the less, he had a small seminary where twenty young men were being trained by him in secret, constantly  meeting in different venues, and gaining teaching from a Christian radio station into which they could tune into on their illicit radio’s. When I asked if they had Bibles he looked downcast and replied ‘Not a single one !’ When I pointed to my plastic bag and told him what it contained he looked like a startled Deer and said ‘dont give them to me here, we are being watched by that car on the street, but let us walk along the garden path and when we reach that huge old tree, I will take it and run to my van. Wait for me here.’

Had I been a gymnast I would have executed three of the most superb somersaults there and then. My heart was bursting with gratitude to the Lord, to Sr Catherine in Chichester, who, working for the Catholic charity ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ had supplied the Russian bibles, to my wonderful Prayer group at our Bible School, to Michael my husband for encouraging my faith and to the Parish Priest in Portsmouth for the Ikon donation which made it possible to buy the trip.

The pastor returned , his face wet with tears of gratitude and joy. We embraced as brother and sister who shared the joy of knowing and loving the Lord Jesus.

‘How on earth did you get them through customs? They search for Bibles diligently because they cut the pages and sell them on the black market for a hundred dollars a page to Christians who are desperate for the Word of God ‘

I told him about my harp. We echoed each others ‘Alleluia’s.

We parted, each blessed by the other, knowing we would never meet again on this earth. 

What we did not know was that the following year,1985, I would be given a word in prayer to go to Alaska where I would be taken up to a small hamlet north of Fairbanks, to visit a prayer group who had obeyed God’s prompting to set up a radio station which was able to reach Russia. I was interviewed on the radio and able to tell of the amazing blessing they were to the pastor and his students in Kiev.


After a 5am rise, in with a small plane with propellors, only serving ‘cherry limonade’, we arrived at an enormous hotel complex sporting 6000 rooms, two cinema’s, Theatre, Shops etc. and taken on the usual ‘sight seeing bus tour’ with a guide who looked as if she had stepped right out of a Chekov novel, but who sadly was unable to keep any of us awake during the three hour drone of statistics.

Exploring the very beautiful ‘Red Square’, and unexpected charm of St Basil’s and the Kremlin on foot after supper was delightful and Sue and I decided that we would join the long queues next day to see the open coffin of Vladimir Lenin. Sue had spent time in her nursing career with embalmed bodies, and was keen to see if it was genuine or wax. It did not take her long to decide the latter. 

We were glad to get out of the gloomy Mausoleum and visit the Tretyacov Gallery to be blessed by the Rublev “Trinity” and “ Our Lady of Vladimir” and three rooms of beautiful Ikons and paintings. I was in heaven, in spite of being reprimanded by the curator for wearing my handbag over my shoulder instead of under my arm !

During our days in Moscow we visited many beautiful galleries and Monasteries, none more beautiful than the ornate and elaborately marbled Metro, charging only five kopeks to travel anywhere. 

I still had not received any train ticket for my journey on the Trans Siberian Railway and was feeling increasingly uneasy about leaving the group and travelling alone. After prayer with some of the group, and a disturbing dream about it, I succumbed to my cold feet and decided to remain with the group and fly home, cancelling my train ticket and trusting in the Lord’s mercy for being either a coward or tuned in to His prompting.

Our final night in Moscow was attending a delightful performance at the Bolshoi ballet in the Kremlin Congress Hall, during the interval of which we followed the crowd up to the top floor where tables were heavy with caviar, Sturgeon, smoked salmon and champagne, into which we tucked with relish and surprise and delight.

 However during the second half of the ballet, as the superb cast danced to Gounod’s  ‘Ave Maria’, I was overwhelmed with sadness. I saw the face of Blessed Mother with tears from her heartfelt love for this country of Russia.

And grateful to have been able to understand more now than before my visit’

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