I am one of the happiest women in the world, because I am married to my soul mate, Illya Antonenko. Today we are celebrating our 10th year wedding anniversary. God has led us in the most amazing and unique ways. I want to share our love story with you and give glory to our Lord and Savior for His faithfulness and loving kindness.
Early in the morning on March 11, 2001, my phone rang. After a couple of words, the familiar voice popped a question, “Would you marry me in May or August?” There wasn’t really a “yes or no” option – only “when”. Of course, I still could say “no” – after all, I had never seen the person on the other side of the phone line!..
Ours is a crazy story. Perhaps, one of a kind. But then, whose isn’t?!
Illya and I “met” on the phone. Being an event coordinator for a youth ministry in Ukraine, I had to call youth leaders in our city to remind them of the upcoming network meetings (there were no Twitter and Facebook then:)) Illya (which, by the way, means "Elijah") was one of the youth leaders I called about once a month, usually afterhours since he came home late after studies and work (he didn’t have a cell phone). We both grew to look forward to those conversations, but our busy schedules prevented us from meeting face-to-face. Eventually, Illya was admitted to the Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, moved there, and our friendship seemed to end there.
Two years passed. I never really thought of Illya, my life being busy and all. Then one day (December 14, 2000), there was a phone call to our office that turned my life around! It was Illya Antonenko, calling from the States (at 4am his time!) under a pretext of looking for somebody’s phone number and along the way “to find out what God was doing in [my] life”. I thought my heart would jump out of my chest! The roller coaster of non-stop emails and phone calls was about to begin! By Christmas time I knew I was in love – with somebody I had never met!..
I was extremely curious of why Illya called me on that day. He knew a lot of other people he could call, so why me? Talking to my Grandma once, I mentioned this long-distance thing. My Grandma was and is a true woman of prayer. She and my Mom always prayed for me and my sister as well as our future husbands. So she told me one thing she hadn’t shared with anybody until then – for two weeks prior to Illya’s call, the Holy Spirit moved her to pray for my future husband that God would “remind him of Oksana”. Of course, now I had to ask Illya about his part of the story! Apparently, God had heard my grandma’s prayers and took away Illya’s sleep that December night. Feeling lonely in a different country, Illya began looking through his old phone book, and my name “popped out” and brought all the good memories of our conversations.
As I mentioned, we emailed each other. The number of emails we exchanged is in the hundreds, if not more. Many of those emails were pages long.
“My attraction to you is not a mathematical formula that numerically satisfies my “wish list” but rather a prayer answered.” (Illya, February 2001)
“I think it is a very special gift of God that He gave us each other and this relationship. I am not losing sight of the right things but I think sometimes there is a place for surprises, unforeseen steps of faith and crazy stuff. God creates everything new. Our God is unthinkable – Isaiah 40:10-18” (Illya, March 2001).In short two months we felt like we’d known each other for ages. Our friendship grew into courtship. Of course, we wondered if our long-distance relationship could be a solid enough foundation for the commitment of the marriage. But then there were Isaak and Rebekkah who didn’t have even that, yet they are one of the star couples of the Old Testament. And there are also couples that live together for years “to try it out”, who marry and then divorce in a year or two because “the marriage hasn’t worked out”. So it wasn’t about how long or even how well we knew each other but how much we trusted God and how serious we were in our commitment to Him and to one another.
Both Illya and I sought God, His will and direction. We prayed separately and together (chat rooms can be very spiritual, too:)), we asked for wisdom and discernment, we sought advice from people we knew as spiritual leaders and mentors. Surprisingly, all our family members and close friends were cheering us on and rooting for our future together. I come from a Christian family, my grandfather was imprisoned for his faith, barely surviving the labor camp in Siberia, later he was the head of the Baptist Union in Ukraine. So, naturally, my family, especially my grandmother, really wanted me to marry a fellow Baptist. Illya was a Pentecostal. And in Ukraine Baptists and Pentecostals traditionally didn’t mix. I personally never understood the issue, but there still was my family whom I loved and respected. So when Illya proposed to me, the first person I talked to was my Grandmother, since she was the one who prayed for us and she was the oldest member of my family.
My Mom was also very supportive, and my two younger sisters didn’t want a better brother-in-law than Illya. All this served as another confirmation of God’s clear direction and His blessing.“Grandma, I’ve never met the guy in person. Maybe I should wait till he comes and then give him my answer?” – “Oksana, do you LOVE him?” – “Yes!” – “Then don’t make him wait!” – “Well, he’s a Pentecostal. How do you feel about that?” – “Dear, I’ve prayed for you, I know he is the answer to my prayer. If you follow him to his church, I bless you. Just say yes!”
Illya was a poor student. So for us to meet in person required a miracle, considering the airfare and other travel expenses. We prayed. God provided. A friend, who heard our story, bought Illya a ticket to fly to Ukraine and meet me. We met two weeks before our legal wedding in May (in Ukraine only a state wedding is legally recognized, so Christian couples often have two weddings: one at the state office and one at the church). We didn’t consider it THE wedding, but had to do it in order for me to get my new passport. In August 2001, Illya came to Ukraine for the second time, and that’s when we had our real wedding before God and people.
As we are about to celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we thank God for His amazing, wonderful, and unique ways of blessing our family! Even in times when we struggled, He remained faithful and kind. Even when we had our doubts, He never let go. He blessed us with a son, Bogdan (“God-given” in Ukrainian), then a daughter, Daryna (”gift”), and then a baby Matthew (from Hebrew “Gift of God”). In 2009, God inspired Illya to take upon a project to format and publish a Kindle Bible that would become a blessing not only to us but to many Kindle users. Now Illya spends most of his evenings and weekends working on the books for Kindle. God was faithful to provide him with a job in sunny California, and although we dearly miss our home in Northern Virginia, we trust God to lead us so we can fulfill the beautiful plan He has for our lives.