ELKHART — In the remote area of Siberia that Mike and Diane Meagher called home for many years, the electricity is sporadic.
If there’s no fuel for the few generators in town, forget about it.
On average, the mercury there in the town of Vilyuysk maxes out at minus 26 degrees in January, according to worldweatheronline.com. If you missed the “minus,” that’s 26 degrees below zero.
Water comes from a nearby stream or, in the winter, melted snow.
“We live in the 17th century,” said Mike Meagher, in Elkhart, at least for now. “We have running water when we run with the bucket.”
Still, the U.S. citizens, on what they hope is a temporary hiatus back here in the United States, wouldn’t have it any other way. They scrape by in the remote region of Russia, about 1,000 miles north of Mongolia. They teach English at a local teacher’s college, earning 40 cents an hour. They spread the word of Christ, melding Christianity with native beliefs.
“Our bodies are here, our hearts have never left our village,” Meagher said.
The Meaghers now find themselves in Elkhart, lured by friends here, retrofitting an old U-Haul truck to serve as their home during a few months of travel across the United States. They’ll visit kids, grandkids, friends and backers of their missionary work. They’re also working on a memoir, titled “A Message Worth Dying For.”
Eventually, soon, maybe by September or October, the hope is to be back in Vilyuysk, where they lived from 1998 to 2008 and last visited in 2010. Back in the cold. Back in their log cabin. Back among the Sakha people, the native population that Meagher likens to American Indians.
“We love the people. We love what we’re doing there,” said Meagher, speaking from the offices of Wheelchair Help, a non-profit Elkhart group operated by a friend, Joe Lidy, that helps people who need wheelchairs. “Life for Diane and I isn’t about comfort or about how comfortable we can be. We’re not about things. We’re about people.”
Lidy, who offered the Meaghers use of space in the large Wheelchair Help warehouse to finish the truck renovations, notes the dichotomy of their situation. They come from an affluent, well-off nation but want to be in a relatively forbidding place.
“Who would want to go to Siberia? But it’s something they’re very dedicated to,” said Lidy.
‘THIS IS YOUR GOD’
The Meaghers’ arrival in Siberia came in a round-about fashion.
The last of their four children had gone off to college and the Meaghers — who had lived in Florida and elsewhere, much of the time in a bus (that’s another story) — figured the time was right. They’d finally pursue their long-standing dream of traveling to an isolated region where Christianity held little sway.
A place where they could spread the word of God.
Mike Meagher, who helped start a church in a dilapidated section of Philadelphia in the 1980s and has done other missionary work, had traveled to Siberia in 1994. Arriving there, he knew it was the place.
“It was eerie. I was at home. It was uncanny,” he said.
So they moved to Siberia in 1996, first to a place called Yakutsk, then in 1998 to the smaller more remote locale, Vilyuysk, where time, in many respects, has stood still. Hunting for moose and fishing accounts for much of Mike Meaghers’ routine there, but perhaps more importantly, the couple works with locals, teaching English and spreading Christianity.
Meagher said he and his wife have helped establish 27 ministries, melding local beliefs with Christianity. Per the native belief system, locals believe they are surrounded by evil spirits, that they are separated from the “creator.” Meagher teaches them that they can have a personal relationship with the creator, God, countering the belief that they are somehow isolated, shunned.
“I didn’t want to bring a foreign idea. This isn’t the god of the Americans. This isn’t the god of Russia. This is your god,” he said.
Back here in the United States, Meagher continues his ministry efforts electronically, with contacts in Russia and other nations. Work on the book, meant to further spread the couple’s Christian message, is also a high priority.
At any rate, they dream of the cold, of the Sakha people and yearn for a return.
“We were hungry, they were hungry. We were cold, they were cold,” Meagher said. “We just lived with them on their level and they fell in love with us, we with them.”