Twenty-year-old Kole Brodowski, from Garden Grove, can’t remember a time that he didn’t want to serve a mission for his church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Missionaries are one of the most recognized characteristics of the Church. It’s not uncommon to spot the young men donned in white shirts and ties walking or riding bicycles in many cities and remote communities around the world. But for Brodowski, his mission was to be anything but common.
He was 19 when he received his mission call to serve in the Russia Rostov-na-Donu Mission. To say he was excited, was an understatement. “I thought it was the coolest mission call ever! I didn’t know what to expect, I just thought it would be awesome,” he said. Brodowski would soon find out just how “awesome” it would be.
In 2016, Russian laws changed the way the Church could operate within the country. Missionaries were now called “volunteers” and could no longer proselyte publicly. Their focus would now be on supporting the Church and its members and engaging in community and humanitarian service, rather than openly proselytizing. This meant that from the start, Brodowski had to learn a different way to share the gospel. Basically, our role was to support the existing members living in our areas and build relationships with those in the community by providing service,” he shared.
Volunteers were able to talk about the gospel, only when the people they met, asked them questions. However, this didn’t stop Brodowski. He and his companion said they prayed daily to find opportunities to serve the communities to which they were assigned.
One such opportunity was holding game nights at the church building, where church members and nonmembers could get to know each other better. The game nights were conducted in English, a language most Russians learn in school. In Russia, it’s illegal to teach English without a license; however, keeping within the tenants of the law, the game nights didn’t provide English instruction, they only provided an opportunity to practice the English they had already learned. The group would sit in a circle and discuss different topics and play games in English.
March 1, 2019, while facilitating a game night at a Church meetinghouse in Novorossiysk, Russian police entered the building to investigate a claim that English was being taught. Officers arrested Brodowski and his companion and took them to a detention center in Novorossiysk, a city 930 miles south of Moscow. What they thought would be a weeklong detainment, turned into three weeks, with the missionaries being charged with illegally teaching English and proselytizing in public.
Every day their mission president, his wife and their attorney would visit them with care packages, updates on their case and they were allowed to call their families. During one visit on a Sunday, the missionaries were given a private room where they were able to partake of their Church’s sacrament. “I remember feeling so peaceful, so clean and calm. The sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost was there; even in this place, the Spirit of the Lord was there with us,” said Brodowski.
When he first arrived at the detention center, Brodowski wondered why all of this was happening to them. “The Lord wants us to come unto Him; He wants our willingness and once we turn our hearts over to Him, He will change us from the inside,” Brodowski explained. “In that moment when I was in a place where worldly things were going on, with everyone smoking, drinking and speaking of bad things and it being an anti-God and anti-religious place, I could still feel peace within myself because of Jesus Christ.”
Brodowski continued, “My testimony is really strong and is centered in Christ and His atonement; every day on my mission was different. Sometimes I just wanted to have a normal day. In those moments a person has to rely on Christ for Christ has felt everything we are feeling and He has gone through it as well,” he said. “The experiences are there for us to grow and prepare ourselves to one day meet God. When we feel the Spirit, it changes us. It doesn’t necessarily change the environment, but the Spirit changes us and we become able to deal with what we are going through.” Brodowski said, “It’s not that the burden is lifted, but we become stronger to be able to bear the burden. When we rely on the Spirit, we know God is there; He is aware of what we are going through and wants us to turn to Him. I know that because of Christ’s atonement, we can have peace in our lives and never feel alone.”