November 10, 2014

A Journey Through Argentina Led Me to a Miracle

People sometimes ask why I believe in God. I tell them about my trip to the end of the world.

The story started in Buenos Aires, where three young adult friends from the former Soviet Union converged on a quest to find a lost father. The trio included my future husband Daniel, a Moldovan studying in Argentina; Dima from Ukraine, and me, a Russian.

It had been eight years since Dima, 24, had waved goodbye to his father, who had flown to Argentina to look for work. But Alexander had arrived in Argentina as a local financial crisis struck. Ashamed that he couldn't send money home or return himself, his telephone calls became less frequent and eventually stopped. The family desperately missed him, and Dima dreamed about one day going to Argentina to bring his father home.

We decided to follow Dima's dream and, after meeting at the Buenos Aires airport, headed immediately to the only address that Dima had: the apartment of a married couple whom his father had mentioned years earlier.

At the address we met a Moldovan immigrant who introduced herself as Aunt Marina. She said she hadn’t heard from Dima's father in two years.

We hadn't expected to hear that. Shocked, we stood there, not knowing what to do. Aunt Marina invited us to wait for her husband, Uncle Sasha, to come home. But he told us that evening that he didn’t know anything more than his wife. “Rumor has it that Alexander is in Comodoro Rivadavia,” he said.

We jumped to our feet, eager to travel there. But our hosts stopped us. “Wait, Argentina is a country where no one is in a hurry and everything gets solved with time,” Uncle Sasha said.

Argentina is indeed a unique country. We stopped at the police station the next day and found out that no unified database was kept with the names and locations of locals or foreigners. Officers at the Buenos Aires police station said they only kept information on local residents and we would have to visit the police in another province to ask about someone living there.

We prayed about what to do next.

<strong>CROSSING CHILE:</strong> Daniel, left, and Yelena, the author of this story, posing with two Chilean truck drivers who gave them a lift across Chile. The photo was taken by Dima.

Spotted in Ushuaia

While eating at a vegetarian restaurant owned by an Adventist, we met some Ukrainian immigrants who were so touched by Dima’s story that they started making phone calls. Through a woman in Spain they found out that Dima's father had been spotted two months earlier in Ushuaia, a town proudly nicknamed “the End of the World” by locals for its status as the southern-most town on the planet. It is situated on Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire) island, not far from Antarctica.

We boarded a bus and arrived a day and a half later in Rio Gallegos in the far south of Argentina. To reach Ushuaia, we needed to cross the Chilean border and the Magellan Channel by ferry.

It was Wednesday, we had little money left, and we were running out of time. My plane ticket back to Moscow was for the coming Monday.

We purchased three bus tickets to Ushuaia, never once stopping to think how we would cross Chile. Somehow we thought that Argentina and Chile were like Russia and Ukraine or the United States and Canada, where no visa is needed to cross the border.

We were wrong. Chilean border guards sternly barred us from entering their country. When we trudged back to the Argentinean border, a polite officer had more bad news. “I have nothing against the young men, but you, young lady, have a single-entry visa,” he said. “You cannot enter Argentina a second time.”

I immediately pictured myself having to camp out in the no-man’s land between the two countries. I started talking quickly: “Oh, Señor, you’ve got to help us! You see, we are looking for the father of this young man. He hasn’t seen his father in eight years.”

By this time I had figured out that strangers were quickly touched by Dima’s story and, sure enough, five minutes later the officer returned with the exit stamp annulled in my passport.

We hitchhiked to the Rio Gallegos airport, where we learned that the flight to Ushuaia was scheduled for 7 p.m., the ticket office opened at 5 p.m., and the price was pretty steep. Imagine our indignation when the ticket office finally opened and we learned that the tickets cost double the regular price because we were foreigners.

We were confused about what to do next, and I started to cry. Suddenly Daniel looked Dima in the eyes and asked: “Do you want to find your father?”

Dima answered, “Very much!”

Daniel got on his feet. “Then let’s go! It would be stupid to stop now when we are so close to our goal.”

Searching the End of the World

We landed in Ushuaia at 8 p.m., found a room with three beds for rent, and visited the nearby police station. We prayed nonstop. The police officers told us to go to another police station. There, several officers listened to us and asked us to come back in the morning.

I started speaking very assertively: “No ‘tomorrows.' We have traveled halfway around the world to be here, and our time is running out. You’ve got to help us today!”

The officers took a photo of Dima's father and promised to show it on local TV.

Exhausted and overwhelmed from the events and emotions of the day, we trooped back to our room. It was raining, dark and dirty, and we were hungry. The whole world looked unfriendly. We asked ourselves how anybody could want to move to this island. The island certainly matched its proud local name — the End of the World, or El Fin del Mundo — that night. We were not sure that that was something to be proud of.

But everything looked better in the morning. Waking up, we looked out the window and saw snow-white tops of mountains on one side and a sparkling ocean on the other. The sun shone brightly, making the view look like a scene from a postcard.

We hurried off to the federal police station. I stood in line to explain our quest while my two friends wandered up and down the hallways. A policeman passed them and said, “If you are looking for a restroom, it’s right there. ”

“We are not looking for a restroom, we are looking for a father,” Daniel replied.

The man happened to be the police chief, and he became engrossed in Dima’s story. He brought us to his office and started making phone calls.

“I can’t find anything,” he finally said, sighing. “You know it’s so difficult to find anybody in Argentina.”

We had noticed.

“If we could locate somebody who is Russian or Ukrainian, they would know for sure where to find your father,” the police chief said. He then exclaimed, “Oh, I do know a Russian woman — she owns the hotel next door, let’s go see her!”

The Russian woman turned out to be an elderly woman from Serbia, and that squashed another hope. We returned to the police station.

A Helpful Police Chief

The police chief made more phone calls. Suddenly he face lit up, and he quickly wrote something down on a piece of paper.

“Your father applied for a local driver’s license. He wrote this address on the application. It’s a hotel, but people live in our hotels for months, so he might still be there.”

We dashed off to the hotel, where the elderly owner remembered Alexander but didn’t know where to find him. “A young man who works here knows, ” he said. “Come tomorrow, he will tell you.”

“Can we call the young man today? ” I asked.

The man didn’t know his phone number but said a girl down the street would have it. We found the girl, but she didn't know the phone number either. She did, however, remember where the hotel owner had written it down, so we went back to the hotel. Finally, we got the young man on the phone, and he told us the address of the place where Dima's father lived and worked.

Hearts pounding, we jumped into a taxi and arrived 20 minutes later at the address, a fenced-off white warehouse in the outskirts of Ushuaia. There were no windows in sight, and the fence kept us from approaching the building.

We called out, but no one answered.

Dima seemed close to a nervous breakdown.

“I am ready to jump over this fence,” he said.

Daniel walked around the warehouse and found a window. Inside he saw a man with a mustache, drinking tea. Daniel waved for the man to come out and called for Dima to join him. The man emerged, stared at us through the fence, and asked us in Spanish what we wanted.

Dima looked stunned. “Dad!”

The man didn’t understand him and obviously hadn't recognized him. “Yury?”

Dima’s voice became hoarse. “I am Dima. I am your son.”


The man then gasped and covered his mouth with his hand.

“Open the gate.”

The two men ran along the fence to the gate and, reaching it, grabbed each other in a tight embrace. They cried, not wanting to let the other go.

I wept, too.

<strong>DAD AND SON:</strong> Alexander embracing his son, Dima, 10 minutes after they were reunited. Credit: Yelena Serebrennikova-Verenchuk

A Family Reunion

Dima's father invited us into the building for lunch. He asked many questions about the family, the house and, of course, his wife. He announced that he wanted to return to Ukraine.

Daniel and I spent two days in Ushuaia and then flew back to Buenos Aires. Dima’s father paid for our tickets.

We saw Aunt Marina’s smile from afar off as we approached her on Ricoletta, a central street in Buenos Aires. She guessed the good news before we told her.

“I told Sasha, ‘Their God is going to help them,’” she said.

Days later, Dima and his father boarded a plane for Ukraine.

Shortly afterward, I heard about the family reunion in Ukraine. Dima told me that his father and mother cried, laughed, hugged, and looked at each other with unbelieving eyes. Dima’s younger brother followed his father everywhere, like a long-lost puppy. The family was together at last.

This adventure gave new meaning to the prophet's words in Isaiah 43:5, 6: “Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west; I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not keep them back!’ Bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth.” (NKJV)

When people ask me why I believe in God, I tell them that it is because I have seen how our heavenly Father performs miracles — even at the end of the world.