Friday, March 14, 2008

A Bleak and Uncomfortable Trip for God's Purposes

Yesterday our pastor and one of our congregation members left along with a neighboring church pastor and one of his congregation members for a remote location I will not disclose at this time for their protection. Suffice it to say that it is not a part of the world that people go to have fun, and from the sound of it, it is far from fun to get there. Two plane flights and a train trip; they left midday Thursday and will arrive late Sunday (our time) from what I could tell. They are a motley crew in some ways: Our pastor had a flu a few weeks back that left him with an asthmatic cough, and I recently heard he also has kidney problems; not only that but the planning of the trip was pretty much his responsibility and as the necessary sequence of events did not fall into place because of matters that were in God's sovereign control, the preparations had to be made a second and then a third time even while he still wasn't feeling so good. I think this delay may have actually been a blessing in restoring him to health after his sickness, but it wasn't an easy or auspicious beginning. The other pastor has an artificial leg; both congregation members have backs that give them trouble, one has a bad hip, and the other has various food allergies including severe allergies to nuts. I think most of these considerations might have given me pause even if God had urged me to go; but He didn't.
Our churches had a prayer night a little while before they left, and the requests must have covered every possible aspect of the trip. One of my prayer requests is that they'd have good water to drink. Our pastor picked out that one prayer request as very unlikely, and the water was described as rusty orange coming from the taps. So I am praying for clean fresh water all the more for them during their stay. I would be delighted to find that in fact God had answered that prayer somehow, and I will be waiting to hear specifically what there might be in that regard.
I am a bit fidgety about the trip, which is weird because I just don't get fidgety. Considering these health problems, a lot could go wrong. So I'm keeping myself busy, but most of all, the best antidote to nerves is to pray. I hate the feeling of being nervous (so I just don't allow it in myself generally and thankfully I'm just absolutely not a worrier), so when I feel it, it is a perfect prayer prompt.
So last night I got on the computer and tried tracking just where they are, what times their time they will arrive places, and found out a little (very little) about their trip--mostly how tough a time they are probably having. First I found a website that helps people coordinate different cities' time zones and the times they all are in simultaneously. That was very helpful! Even with its very clear information I got confused, but after a long time I think I came up with a clear idea of what time they will be experiencing when.
I found their airline website, and it told at least the current status of their flight. It was still suspended in the air, a good thing, and to me all that means is that it is sustained by an unseen hand. Though I've read some about how aerodynamics work, it is still hard for me to fathom just how such a big object as a jet plane can stay steady up in the air that long. Of course, for God to perform that, it's no doubt as simple for Him as my holding a needle in my hand. And not dropping it. (Thankfully God is a God of grace, and that is not my middle name. Ha!)
I then found a train website that sounded like it might be the one they were taking. It had pictures, and the pictures looked good (though of course pictures of such things can and will be deceiving). As I looked longer it became apparent that this was a tourism train for absolutely crazy tourists, and it was prettied up and the website was so polished, and the prices were so unthinkable (in the thousands of dollars) that I knew it was not our group's train.
The next train website I found didn't have pictures. It had the right cities, and didn't have any luxuries expressed, though it assured us that the train was a decent, clean ride. That was a relief. (I had pictured chickens in people's laps, goats eating their lunchbags, and the like.) The fare was $17 per person for a quite long trip, which further convinced me that I had found the right website.
The site had lots more information, all about the city they're visiting, which sounded like it was promoting the city's industry to businessmen. The more I read the bleaker it sounded. I think there is very little of beauty there, though the city is rather large. When I've known people in the past to go on short-term missions trips, they generally go someplace with some redeeming features from a human standpoint, someplace that is fun or touristy in at least some way. They take a day or two out to reward themselves, looking at the sights and experiencing the culture. I don't think this is a planned part of the trip this time. There's nothing to see, from the sound of it. The very ugliness of it may be a form of beauty, perhaps, if you squint and look sideways. It's an uncomfortable place in a lot of ways. This is the third or fourth trip for our pastor, as I recall. He has made friends with a pastor there and looks forward to seeing him and his family again, and hopes to rekindle the friendships he'd made there in years past.
So I pray a lot for this group. I respect all the more fully their willingness to even consider such risks and hardships. I'm going to get a lot done while they're gone. I look forward to their safe and healthy return. And I do want to hear about the water.

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