Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oma, our pioneer

Being that it's "Pioneer Day" today I thought I'd share our family pioneer story. It all starts with my grandmother, Maria Iwanitschi. We call her Oma because that's the word for grandmother in German. Here's the shortened version.

The photo on the left is my grandparents in front of their NJ house and the one on the right is Oma's passport picture.

Oma was living in Austria during WW II. My grandparents, Uncle and my mom moved there from their village in Ukraine that became occupied by Russian soldiers. ( similar to the scene in Fiddler on the Roof) but for real. They had relatives living in Vienna, Austria already so were allowed to come. They were hoping it would be safer in Austria than in occupied Russia. Not so. They lived through bomb attacks, sometimes daily, where they would have to hide in bomb shelters in the basement of their building. Scary because you never knew what kind of damage you would find afterwards. It's amazing to me that this was my families reality.

After the war was over there was a lot of clean up and hardly any food to be found. While this was going on my Oma was in the hospital. She had Tuberculous. While in the hospital she had part of her lung removed and ribs removed. As she was recuperating her brother brought her a bible to give her comfort. She developed an infection and was told by the doctors that she wouldn't make it. The bible had to be concealed from the nurses because it was forbidden. She was in the hospital for over a year. During that time she prayed and promised God that if she could be healed and be able to raise her children she would find His true church. She wanted to live the gospel the way it was written in the bible and look for a church to serve him for the rest of her life.
After a few infections and complications she was healed. She went home to her family. Life was hard, very hard. For months she would set out searching for the right church to attend. Each Sunday she would try a new church hoping it would be the one but none felt right.

One a particular Sunday Oma was walking home from getting food. She had to wait in a ration line for hours hoping they didn't run out of food. On her walk home she dropped the bag of food and as she stopped to pick it up on a street she normally didn't go on she heard singing. She looked to see where the singing was coming from. It was in a building that had a sign hung on it that said The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Visitors Welcome. She was used to seeing churches in beautiful elaborate building but never in an old ordinary building. She felt impressed to go inside. It happened to be mothers day. While at the meeting she felt good, peaceful, happy. She left and told them she'd be back next Sunday. When she arrived home she told her family that she had found the church. The next Sunday she took my mom. After taking the discussions she knew she wanted to be baptized.

A time was set. She was to be baptized in the Danube River. My grandfather was against the baptism after he found out that she would have to be immersed under water. He was worried she would get sick again after just coming home. She said, "I trust in God that all will be well" A small group met at the banks of the river on the appointed day and time. Some men in the group noticed 2 soldiers with guns patrolling the area. They said we would have to reschedule the baptism. My Oma would not have that. She began to walk into the water with her coat on and the priesthood holder who was to baptize her followed after her. She was baptized a member of the church that day, September 6, 1945. A few months later my mom was baptized and later my grandfather and uncle were also baptized.

Eventually they were able to leave the country on a ship to America. They landed on Ellis Island in NYC. Her desire was to continue on to SLC, Utah where the church headquarters were. She wanted to live among the saints in Zion. Right at that time, the prophet of the church said to build up Zion where you are, which for her was NJ. She followed the prophets counsel and stayed put, serving faithfully and sharing her testimony all her life.

Oma lived to see my older brother leave on his mission to the Utah SLC north mission and for me to go west for college. She has been an inspiration to me all my life. I feel so blessed to be her grand daughter. She is our pioneer!


Cherie said...

Lisa that is a really inspiring and neat story. I have goosebumps.
Your Oma was truly a woman of great faith and persistance!!

Because of her faith she lived and had a righteous posterity and that is so beautiful.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful family story.

Joy For Your Journey said...

What a beautiful and inspiring story!! Thanks so much for sharing it. It is always so interesting to me to see how the choices of one person can affect so many others for good.

Suzanne said...

This is an amazing story and absolutely a joy to read. Thanks for leaving comments on my blog. It means a lot to me! -Suzanne