This was a l-o-n-g day, and one filled with adventure. We caught a city bus bound for the train station in Kosice at 5:30, and boarded a train shortly after 6 o’clock. We arrived a half hour late in Budapest, Hungary, so we missed our connection. That meant waiting another couple hours for the next train. No problem. We just walked down the street, got some cash from a bank machine, and went to a little restaurant for a hot lunch to kill time.
The next ride was about five hours long. Oh my, it was HOT in that berth. There were five people in a six-person berth with luggage at our knees. A college girl sat facing me – we were by the windows, which also is by the heat register, which is controlled by the engineers. She and I were roasting but when we tried to open the window to get some cool air, the lady by the door let us know that she didn’t want that. She had a big sweater that she could have put on to stay warm if she got too chilly but that wasn’t her way of doing things. And so we sweltered until she got off.
An hour later we arrived at the Hungarian border crossing into Romania. Hungarian police officers boarded the train to check everyone’s identification. Apparently there was a problem with Gene’s passport. The police, who spoke no English, motioned for us to take our suitcases and said something like, “Go policia.” We tried to ask a few questions about what was happening but it was no use. They had our passports and were not about to give them back. We finally had to just get off the train and walk to the nearby police station. Seven uniformed officers walked with us. They were all very nice, but I admit that my imagination began to go a little crazy. Were we being led to a small room with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling? Were we about to be interrogated? Maybe even spend the night in a Hungarian jail?
When we got to the station, they told us to go into a (you guessed it) little room and sit down. And then they started questioning Gene about when he entered the Shenghan (sp?) zone – the term used for a region in Europe where there are no longer border crossings between countries. He kept telling them that he came into Kosice on Monday, two days ago. They were not satisfied. They asked more and more questions about his travels and asked why he didn’t have a stamp in his passport to show when he entered the zone. He said that the customs official in Kosice stamped his passport when he entered Slovakia, but that wasn’t the answer they wanted. Finally they asked for his airline tickets (he had his boarding passes and tickets), and his train tickets for today’s travels. They took both our passports along with the other info and disappeared. They left one officer with us – he spoke English fairly well.
We think he took this opportunity to practice his English. He asked about our children, seemed surprised that we would have a grandchild, asked about our job, etc. Then he asked if we celebrate Easter in Canada. We said yes. I said that that Good Friday celebrates the death of Christ and Easter Sunday celebrates His resurrection. He nodded with enthusiasm and said, “Yes, yes!” I asked him if he has read the Bible and he said that he has one at home. I told him that my father died two weeks ago and that because of what Jesus did, only his body is in the grave. His soul is in heaven with Jesus. He listened quietly and then said, “This is wonderful.”
We spent about two hours with this fellow. During this time he mentioned the Jewish people several times, especially in the context of their suffering in concentration camps. After we get home, we’ll try to find him a copy of Corrie ten Boom’s book The Hiding Place and mail it to him. Before we left, I gave him two granola bars for his children (he’d shown us a photo of his two little ones and his wife). He quickly slipped them into his pants pocket and thanked us.
When our documents were finally returned, he helped carry our bags to the nearby train station where I passed out chocolate to three people who were also waiting. Seeing their pleased reaction to the unexpected treat was more fun than throwing a party. Another hour and a half passed, and suddenly our new friend showed up. “Come with me,” he said. He grabbed one of our suitcases and escorted us outside to the platform. When the train pulled in, he walked us onto it. He shook our hands and asked us to write a postcard when we get home, telling him that we arrived safely.
What in the world was that about??? Only God knows, but I have a feeling it was more about our friend than about a passport. His daughter’s name is Esther – a Jewish name. We talked about how it’s a Bible name for a very brave queen. “She saved an entire nation,” he said. When he told us that his wife’s name is Elizabeth, I explained that she was the mother of John in the Bible. He looked blank. He said that he didn’t know who this John was because he hasn’t read his Bible much.
Perhaps his appetite was stirred to read the Book as a result of our visit with him. At any rate, we have a contact in Hungary in whose heart we believe God is working. Pray that he’ll read the Bible and come to a knowledge of the truth!