December 3, 2022

Blue Cross on Apparition Hill in Medjugorje

By Marcus Ashlock 

Let’s face it, life is tough to manage and some days or weeks are easier than others, but no one is immune from hardship or strife. Many people face difficulties that can drive them to despair—job loss, divorce, death, even the death of a child. When hardship or loss strikes, we wonder why us? And then we look for a way back to comfort and an easy life, or lash out in anger. 

But we are not called to be successful or to have an easy life. We are especially not called to be angry. 

We are called to be faithful to God.

It is difficult enough as a Christian to walk in faith on a good day amidst the distractions of the world and life in general, but how can one live a life of good moral example in hard times? How does one’s walk of faith begin to handle the loss of a loved one or even the suicide of a child and not wane? 

Mike and Laura Kondratuk of Brookings have an inspiring story of holding onto their faith during the darkest days a family can experience.

Listening to the Holy Spirit

Both Mike and Laura were raised Catholic; however, Mike describes his faith experience as “just going through the motions” in his youth and early adulthood. He was confirmed as a teenager, but going to Mass was something he did not do regularly as he got older.

“I was not a good practicing Catholic actually. When I was a child, I used to get sick all the time at Mass and I would have to throw up; but when I left Mass, I was fine,” Mike said. “When I met Laura, she was a very faithful and practicing Catholic, and to impress her, I started going to church with her.”

Mike says after they married and had a young family of three children, Laura was the parent at church with the kids while Mike would fish on the weekends from time to time. He would attend, but his heart was not in it.

“When our kids were young, I would tell Laura, ‘Would you rather I go to church and think about fishing or go fishing and think about God?’ I was serious about it,” Mike said.

After a series of dreams where Mike thought he had died, he saw the Blessed Mother in one dream as she smiled at him. In another dream two weeks later, Mike was in a crowded church where he lost his glasses and, while crawling on the floor, he found them among all the legs and feet of the crowd, but one pair of feet was different.

Pilgrims make their way up Cross Mountain in Medjugorje.

“I knew immediately these were the feet of Christ,” Mike said. “I felt shameful, humble, unworthy and I couldn’t dare look up.”

After both instances, he woke up, frantically explaining the dreams to Laura. She encouraged him to pray about the experiences, but Mike was hesitant. After the second dream, the word Medjugorje came to him, though neither he nor Laura had ever heard of the word. Laura found out what the word meant and Mike felt the desire to make a pilgrimage to Europe, to a town in southwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was drawn there to see the location of the alleged apparitions of Our Lady of Medjugorje.

Strengthening faith for an unknown need 

Mike’s experiences on his first day at Medjugorje led him to seek out a priest for his first confession since his very first confession as a child. His experiences there led him back to Christ, and he knows it was due to the Blessed Mother bringing him to her son.

“When Mike came back from that experience, he was a changed man,” Laura said. “He was completely different and he wanted to be able to share his testimony with people. So he did that. Whenever an opportunity arose, he would share what happened to him.”

Mike was not the only one experiencing the work of the Holy Spirit in dreams. Laura describes a vision she had one night before she would experience the worst pain a parent could endure shortly after.

“There was a vision that I had, and I didn’t really understand what it meant at the time,” she said. “I was being held in Christ’s arms as this incredibly scary, terrifying storm was approaching us. But I felt the comfort of being in his arms, and I just turned into his chest and I knew whatever that was, it was going to be okay. I just had to stay close to Christ and it was going to be okay. Two months later, we lost our son, Eric, and I remembered that vision experience and was like, ‘Oh, you were telling me through this storm to hold on to me [Jesus] and it’ll be okay.’”

Unbeknownst to Mike and Laura, life was going to put its heel on their necks with immense suffering. Laura’s strong faith example would lead Mike to be open for a faith healing of his own, a healing that not only strengthened his personal faith but also the faith of those around him.

“I think Laura praying a lot of years for me, along with my parents and grandparents, helped,” Mike said. “I had these experiences that made me realize God was real and to believe. He brought me back to faith through that, through Mary.”

The Kondratuk family before losing Eric to suicide: Nathan and Mike (back row) and Eric, Laura and Catherine (front row). Photo courtesy of the Kondratuks.

Inspiration for others 

After years of sharing their testimony of faith, Mike and Laura were encouraged many times to write a book. Published in 2021, “By God’s Grace: How God Led Us to Faith Through Healing and Beyond,” was written for three reasons: 1) to help people be inspired to see the ways God is working in their lives; 2) to give hope and healing to people who are grieving the loss of a loved one, especially to suicide; and 3) to be sure that we glorify God for all that he’s done in our lives and honor our Blessed Mother.

These experiences changed their family dynamic and brought all of them closer to Christ.

“Me coming back to faith after the Medjugorje experience definitely strengthened the faith of our family, and our living children will tell you that, too,” Mike said. “It definitely has changed the faith of our whole family.”

Mike and Laura said Eric’s suicide would never leave the family whole again, but their unwavering faith in Jesus Christ kept the family from falling apart. Their two remaining children, Nathan and Catherine, are both devout Catholics who look to God each day in their lives.

“Our son is a father now and has three little children, and he and his wife pray with their children every night. Their relationship with Jesus and the Blessed Mother is very important in their lives,” Mike said. “Our daughter is a doctor and part of the national Catholic Medical Association. Her faith is very important to her in her life and in her practice as a doctor. She wants to touch her patients through the love of Christ.”

“The story is not about us, it’s about God. And it’s about how God worked on our lives. It’s his story,” Laura said. “I think God works in everyone’s lives; it’s just a matter of whether you recognize it or not.”

Want to hear more?

Listen to an interview with the Kondratuks at
sfcatholic.org/catholic-views-march-20-2022. 

You can purchase “By God’s Grace: How God Led Us to Faith Through Healing and Beyond” online or at The Mustard Seed Catholic Bookstore in Sioux Falls, where Mike and Laura will be signing books Saturday, Aug. 20 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.