Conntecting the Dots

Wednesday, March 19

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!

Tuesday, March 18

The whole situation felt surreal as Gene and I sat on the couch in Diane’s living room, watching the video of family and friends celebrating my dad’s life. I think the enormity of what I’d missed suddenly struck me as I watched the pallbearers carry Dad’s casket from the hearse to the gravesite. Four chairs were placed beside the casket – one for Mom, one for my brother, another for my sister, and the fourth for me. Three chairs were filled and one sat empty…until my sister invited Gene to take my place. One by one, each immediately family member stepped to the casket, spoke a few words in Dad’s honor, and placed a carnation on the top. Unfortunately their voices weren’t picked up by the mic, so I wasn’t able to hear what they said.

Thankfully that wasn’t a problem for the memorial service. I could hear every word that was spoken, and they were totally God-honoring. The service paid tribute to Dad and gave glory to the Lord for a life well-lived. While I grieve the loss of my dad, I rejoice in the fact that he’s whole and in heaven. I can only imagine what an Easter celebration must be like there!

The rest of the day was spent with our IM coworkers. I’m so blessed by their concern for me through the loss of my father. And I’m incredibly blessed and excited to see how God uses these people to accomplish His purposes. Their perseverance is to be commended. Working conditions here aren’t what they’d be in North America. Bureaucracy and political red tape can complicate the simplest task. Internet disruptions can cause all kinds of trouble when trying to process overseas government documents. Public transportation glitches can wreak havoc when running late. There are numerous reasons for them to grow discouraged and weary, but these folks have the tough stuff it takes to survive and thrive here. “Bless them, Lord. Grant them strength for their road. Direct their steps. And lead them beside the still waters, restoring their souls when they’re weary.”

Monday, March 17

This was our last travel day for this speaking tour. I’m amazed at the stamina I’ve had, especially considering the emotional load I’ve had to process at the same time. All I can say is, “God is good.” I’m so thankful for Diane’s companionship over the past 12 days, and for the many people back home who have been praying for me. Therein lies the reason for this trip’s success.

This morning Diane and I took a four-hour train ride to Cracow where our IM friend Iwona met us at the station for our one-hour layover. Bless her heart! “I’m caring for the strangers in my land,” she said with a smile. Then she directed us to a snack shop equipped with small tables and chairs and proceeded to unpack a roast chicken lunch for us. She has been such a source of joy to us on this trip. I look forward to deepening my friendship with her over time, despite the distance.

The most incredible thing happened when we boarded the train to continue our journey to Kosice, Slovakia. Out of nowhere appeared the same little man who’d helped us with our luggage in the Cracow station nine days prior! I didn’t even see him coming. Suddenly, there he was, picking up my suitcases and carrying them onto the train for me. He hoisted them onto the luggage rack overhead, just as he did before. (I’m sure they were nearly half his weight). Diane paid him, and he gently took her hand and kissed the back of it. Then he turned to me. Without even a glance at my face, he gently took my right hand and planted a feather-light kiss on the back of it. And then he was gone.

Amidst numerous platforms and levels in the train station, his finding us a second time was nothing short of miraculous. Diane and I like to think he was an angel sent to help us with our heavy bags, a kindness sent to remind us that our heavenly Father was watching over us.

Gene flew into Kosice this afternoon. After two weeks apart, it was great to see him again. He brought the video of my dad’s funeral, he said. Tomorrow I’ll watch it and enter a new leg of this emotional journey – one I’ve not traveled before.

Sunday, March 16

Today would have been my dad’s 84th birthday. I sent him a birthday card early just in case he didn’t reach this day, but Mom told me that he wasn’t opening his eyes anymore by the time it reached him. “Sadness,” my friend Diane would say. He’s not here this year, but he’s enjoying a party that far outshines anything we could have dreamt up.

Today we attended a Polish church service with another IM couple. This city has 80,000 people and only 100 believers between two Protestant congregations. On the way to church, we drove past a massive Catholic cemetery approximately the size of a city block. Grave upon grave upon grave. The majority were covered with marble and decorated with flowers and candles. Across the street was an open market with sellers and their wares – grave candles and floral arrangements. Again, as Diane would say, “Sadness.” One thing I noticed was that no one seems to smile here. There’s a sense of heaviness in this place, as in many other places.

The evening sessions were well received by the women at the sponsoring church. One little lady reminded me of my grandmother. We tried to communicate but it was difficult without my knowing any Polish words and her knowing only a handful of English. What a delightful woman she was, though. More goodbyes, more kisses, and more prayers for God to build His kingdom in this place.

Saturday, March 15

The Radom conference began at 10 a.m. Four college-age women formed the worship team, singing the Polish version of familiar songs such as “Come, Now is the Time to Worship.” It’s amazing, really, the international family of God. He has adopted children of every culture and language. We might not be able to understand our brothers’ and sisters’ words while on earth but there are no communication barriers when we praise our Father together.

The day consisted of two sessions. After the first ended, one woman approached me and said, “I’m a scientist in the process of writing a book. I know exactly what you mean when you speak of the fear of inadequacy.” She explained that the task of writing this book stands before her like a mountain. She said that after hearing me telling about the fears I faced before writing Moving From Fear to Freedom, she knew she could proceed and trust the Lord to equip her for the job just as He had equipped me. Praise the Lord!

Others spoke to me after the last session, grateful for the perspective they’d received and excited about putting into practice the truths they’d learned. Goodbyes were said. Kisses were exchanged. And once again my heart rejoiced in the privilege of meeting these Polish sisters and being used as a channel of God’s blessings. This city has approximately 300,000 people and only 200 believers. I pray that the Lord will use this afternoon to help build His kingdom in this place.

The conference over, Diane and I hopped on a bus and headed for the next stop.

Friday, March 14

Another travel day. Jagoda, our Polish bubble, picked us up and delivered us to the train station. “Come back soon,” she said. “We can put you to work for a whole month speaking for our groups in Poland.” The train rolled in, and true to European fashion, stayed for only one minute. We barely had time to say our goodbyes before the whistle blew and we were off.

The instant we climbed on board, we were greeted by Anya, another IM friend. She’d translated for me when I was in Poland last September, and she was to be my translator for the women’s meeting in Radom, our next destination. What a joy to see her again. She’s in her mid 20s, attending university in Warsaw to develop her talent as an artist. Her passion for the Lord runs deep; she has wisdom beyond her years.

Several other IM coworkers met us in Radom and took us to their apartment. The entire day was a feast of getting to know each other better. In the evening we shared a precious time of praying together for the country of Poland. When we said “Amen,” Anya broke into song. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness…” We weren’t exactly a choir ready to go on tour, nevertheless we felt the presence of God fill that tiny apartment and our hearts were blessed. What a privilege to be partners with the Lord in building His kingdom in this country.

Thursday, March 13… Continued

The evening’s meeting was held in an upscale restaurant, hosted by the International Christian Fellowship church in Warsaw. Evening meetings are not the norm here, so Barbara (the pastor’s wife) wasn’t sure how well it would be attended. She was delighted when 37 women showed up. These gals were mostly Westerners – the wives of American businessmen and embassy employees.

At Barbara’s request, I spoke on the theme “If Teacups Could Talk.” Using an acrostic from the letters for the word friend, I talked about the different aspects of women’s friendships and then shared how Jesus is my best friend. If the attendees had as much fun as I did, then the evening was a success.

This speaking engagement provided me with an “aha” moment. My past experience in Nepal gives me credibility not only with missionary women but also with these Westerners living overseas. I understand homesickness, loneliness, language barriers, and culture shock. I understand what’s involved in moving overseas. I pray that my words encouraged them tonight. And I pray for more opportunities to connect with them and others in the same position.

Thursday, March 13

We met with a group of about 10 young mothers this morning, led by one of our wonderful IM gals. She has such a passion for these women, her peers. She meets with them on a regular basis to encourage them in their role as mothers and wives. I was delighted when she emailed shortly before I left Canada, asking if I could speak to them when I arrived in Warsaw.

We met in a family-friendly restaurant. A screen on one wall featured cartoons for the children to watch. Kid-sized tables and a bench swing made it a welcoming place for the little ones. This venue made it a very different atmosphere in which to speak. It was busy, busy, busy, and loud. At times I wondered if these moms could even hear me, let alone process what I was saying about the value of their role and how to stay refreshed.

My concern was answered as we ate lunch with them, when several approached Diane and me to ask questions about marriage and parenting. They found encouragement in knowing that I was a stay-at-home mom and was 40 years old when I started my writing career.

We left these lovely ladies after 2 p.m. and connected with Jagoda, the president of Women’s Forum (CCC) for Poland. Diane and I have nicknamed her “our Polish bubble.” She reminds us of the Energizer Bunny –going, going, going. She bought tram tickets for us and took us to tour Old City Warsaw. Trouble was, rain and wind swept in early that morning and blew away all traces of spring. “This is for crazy women!” said Jagoda as we zipped up our coats and braved the elements.

This was no leisurely stroll through the park. Facing time limitations and freezing weather, we hustled through history. “This is our White House,” said Jagoda. The camera pointed and clicked, and we raced on. “This is part of the wall that surrounded the city,” she said, motioning to her left. Point, click. “This candle marks the opening of an underground tunnel where children relayed messages between members of the Resistance,” she said. Point, click. “This symbol was placed on exterior walls to declare that the Polish people were alive and would continue fighting for their freedom against the enemy forces.” Point, click. And so our tour continued. By the time we reached the tram to return to Jagoda’s car, our hair hung limp and we looked like something the family dog might have dragged home. But hey! We made a memory!

Jagoda’s enthusiasm couldn’t be dampened by the rain. “Now I’ll take you to the train station,” she said. “Pray for a parking place nearby.” And off we drove. Sure enough, when we arrived at the station we found a space between two cars. “I don’t know if I can stay here, so I must hurry,” she said. Typical of the European way, she bumped up the curb and parked the car with its right wheels on the sidewalk. “Let’s go!” she said. Half-running, half-walking, we lugged our suitcases down the stairs, arriving at our platform as our train pulled into the station. “Goodbye,” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow!” Diane and I were on our own, riding the train to the outskirts of Warsaw to meet our next contact person.

Wednesday, March 12

Today was a long day but extremely fulfilling. The first session was with Campus Crusade for Christ missionary women. Many are struggling with not knowing their niche. They became involved with CCC immediately after university and enjoyed a specific role. But as the years passed, they married and started raising a family. Now their husbands are busy and fulfilled in ministry, but they’re left feeling as though life is passing them by. They’re also facing major financial challenges, especially as the tension continues between the euro and the American dollar.

I can totally understand how they feel on both issues. As the Canadian dollar has strengthened, our family’s missionary financial base has dropped by several hundred dollars per month. I’ve been learning to trust and not be afraid as our expenses increase. I’ve learned to practice praise in the “midnight hour” as Paul and Silas did. God dwells in the praises of His people, and when we praise Him in difficult circumstances, He delights to show His power. And so I thank the Lord that I can speak to them from my heart and not just give them pat answers. The women laughed and loved it when I told them that the shirt I was wearing was from a second-hand store. One gal stood up and indicated with arm gestures that her suit was also from a thrift store. We laughed again, and then someone said to me, “You’re one of us!” To me, that’s a high compliment.

I can also relate to their struggle re: not knowing their niche in ministry. While in Christian camping ministry for 11 years, my husband was the program director but I had no defined role. That was a frustrating place to be, but through it I learned that my family was my first ministry, and I discovered small ways in which I could use my gifts even from my home. My heart totally empathizes with these gals who are well-trained and gifted but wondering if they’ll ever have opportunity to use their education again.

Later that evening we met in the same room. This was an outreach meeting, and the organizers expected 50-60 women. More than 70 showed up! The room was packed full. And what an evening it was. My interpreter was fantastic; I felt she conveyed my heart, not just my words, to the audience. The Gospel was clearly presented but asking for an outward indication of an inward decision is not culturally appropriate. We have no way of knowing whether anyone committed her life to following Christ, but He knows. I have to trust that if someone prayed to receive salvation through Him, He will care for her and provide her with the support she needs to grow in her new-found faith.

As I present these sessions on overcoming fear to these Polish women, I’m realizing that this message is soooo needed. Always, several gals speak with me after the meetings. They say the messages were exactly what they needed to hear. They say these spoken words are giving them courage to face their fears and hope to face the future. And they give me lots of kisses. Left cheek, right cheek, and left again. My heart is becoming more and more entwined with theirs.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another travel day….back on the train again. We spent about three hours rattling down the tracks toward Warsaw, capital of Poland. Along the tracks approaching the city I saw homes barely bigger than a shoebox, looking broken and abandoned. Apparently these are homes where city dwellers come for weekends. They plant vegetable gardens on these wee plots of land. One Polish university student told us, “These vegetables must taste like iron!”

The moment our train pulled into the downtown station, our contact was there to meet us. She flagged a taxi and we headed for the home where we’d stay for the next three nights. It was 5:15 p.m. – rush hour. Ha! Who came up with that expression? It was anything but a rush; we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than an hour.

Immediately outside the station stood the Palace of Culture – the largest, fanciest structure I’ve ever seen. Our escort told us that it was built by the Russians after WWII, as a “gift” to the people of Poland. Its height and breadth intentionally stood to remind the Polish people of the Russians’ dominance. Even today, it towers over all other buildings in the downtown core. Its presence stirs mixed emotions among the city’s citizens. Some hate it because it reminds them of Communist rule. These folks want to raze it and build something else in its place. Others argue that it’s a piece of their history and needs to remain as a monument to what’s taken place in the past.

I’m realizing more and more that I need to read about the history of this country. There’s so much to learn. If I’m going to truly understand the needs and thinking of these precious people, I have to gain a better understanding of where they’ve come from.