Running to God

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Alex Sytnyk
As a boy, Alex Sytnyk had to run to escape Stalin's troops. Today, he runs marathons.

“My first memory in life is clinging to my mother’s right leg for comfort,” Alex Sytnyk said, “My mom bent down and with tears in her eyes she said, ‘Alex, run. Run as fast as you can away from here and don’t look back. God will protect you and guide you.’”

That was the last thing Alex’s mother ever said to him.

“She had to peel my hands away. I remember it like it happened today,” Alex added.

Alex shared about that day and his life since then on Monday night as part of Orange Coast Christian Outreach Week.

Alex, a Corona del Mar resident, doesn’t remember much about his early years, but he will never forget his mother’s final words as they awaited death in an old warehouse in Ukraine during World War ll. It was 1939 and Alex thinks he was 3 years old, though he isn’t positive. Nor does he know his birthdate, his original last name, or how many members of his family perished that day.

“No one knows how many lives were lost under Stalin’s rule during the forgotten Holocaust in Russia,” Alex explained.

But he knew to heed his mother’s stern, but loving, instruction. Alex squeezed through a hole under a wall and ran until he collapsed from exhaustion. The first morning he ate grass, only to become sick. He wandered into a trench with soldiers who gave him some food; later an army truck took him to an orphanage.

One day, a train Alex and the orphans were on made a bathroom stop, and he couldn’t catch it once it started off without him. He was alone again, never knowing if the train’s destination was to a better place or a Soviet camp. He wandered aimlessly, ending up in another orphanage. One day the children went to wash off their lice in the river, and the current swept him off and he wound up in yet another orphanage.

Alex thought his troubles were behind him when one day a beautiful woman he views as an angel selected him to join an adopted baby girl in the woman’s palatial home in Poland. The war was raging, however, and one day Alex’s new mother packed the children up in a buggy and they fled. Alex recalled that she bribed her way with jewelry to get to Czechoslovakia, then Austria and eventually that mom decided it would be safest for him to go to America.

Alex then ended up at an orphanage in Canada. He eventually went home with an older couple named the Sytnyks who became his new parents.

“They already raised six children and had a dozen grandchildren but the Lord put it on their heart to adopt me,” he said.

Alex met his wife Pat in Canada but they opted for Newport to raise their son and build their life together. Alex began feeling proud about his real estate deals and had less time for his family and for God. A near fatal car accident changed all that, as God blessed him with another chance. During that time his son challenged him to read the Bible and take it to heart. “God used my son to get to me,” he said. “I dusted off my Bible and began reading it. So did my wife. We gave our lives to the Lord.”

“I still harbored deep hate towards Russians and what they did to me and my family,” Alex explained. “But God was nudging me to forgive them. Last week our son married a Russian girl, whose father is a retired Russian military man. The Lord took that load of unforgiveness off my shoulder.”

Alex finished sharing his powerful story by talking about his friend Bill Brady, who hosted the evening along with his wife, Judy. Bill challenged Alex years ago to try running, even though doctors discouraged it after his accident.

“I could only run one block at a time, but I rebuilt my strength little by little,” he said. “Now after 42 marathons, I think I’m still good for a few more. Near the end of each race, I’m reminded of my mother’s words, and I run until I’m exhausted.”

Alex’s book “A Mother’s Faith, A Boy’s Trust’ is available at Labels in Newport Beach. He often gives it when he hears someone needing encouragement.

“I tell them to make the most of their life,” he said. “Meanwhile, I thank God for His daily plan for me and for His promises to those who love Him.”

Cindy can be reached at [email protected].

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