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Travels with God

Will You Take the Journey?

You don't have to read very far into the book of Acts to learn how treacherous were the journeys taken by the early Christians, especially the Apostle Paul. Travel in the ancient Mediterranean was challenging in ways we can't even grasp today. When they weren't traveling by boat, they were on foot, with the danger of robbers at every pass. 

Would we be willing today to take such physical journeys for the sake of the gospel?

As I pondered this question, it led to another. What about emotional journeys?

I'm talking about journeys of the heart: forgiveness, repentance, honoring others, loving our enemies, confronting someone with truth. 

These journeys of the heart are perhaps more treacherous than the physical landscape traversed in the book of Acts.

Discomfort? Inconvenience? Pain? 

Possibly all of these await us around every bend in the road of our hearts. 

Yet as followers of Christ, we are asked to take those journeys, regardless of how uncomfortable we might feel along the way.

I would encourage you today to spend some time reading in Acts. Follow Paul on his travels, as he carries the gospel to the Gentiles through hostile territory. Read about the persecution of the early church in Jerusalem. Perhaps listen in, as Paul's friends warn him not to go to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested.

Then ask yourself, prayerfully: Are you willing to journey, in the same way as Paul, through the deepest roads of your heart? No matter where God takes you?

Dear God, please help us today to trust in You. When You call us to search the deepest parts of our hearts, to live out Your love in ways that might be uncomfortable for us, remind us You travel right by our side. When we pass through the deepest waters, You will be there. We can trust You. In Jesus' name. Amen

***

Janet Eriksson is a missionary of prayer in Dahlonega, Georgia and founder/coordinator of the Hometown Prayer Mission. She also volunteers with The Center for Inner Healing. She would love to hear from you at hometownprayer.org.

Teenage English Lessons in a Polish Suburb

The atmosphere was quiet, as I waded through calf-deep snow toward a little apartment on the outskirts of Poznan, Poland. The light in the windows was inviting. This kind of winter was new to me, a Florida girl. The night sky was a deeper blue, as the moonlight reflected off the snow.

After spending the summer in Poland, and the fall semester back home at University of Florida, I decided to go back to Poland for the final semester of my senior year. Here I was, in the middle of an osiedle, a Polish housing community. The towers of lighted windows reminded me of Miami Beach. But I was a far way from there.

I was going to meet Krysia, an 11-year-old daughter of one of the university officials. She wanted to learn English. I had committed this semester to living my Polish experience to the fullest. I was here not just to complete the credits I needed to graduate. More than that, I wanted to squeeze out every ounce of this adventure. So I volunteered to teach English to this sweet little girl.

Her apartment was different from most of my Polish friends. She had her own room, for one thing, and a piano in her room. Her walls were beautifully painted and covered with posters that looked not unlike an American teenager's decor. Cozy thick carpet and lots of pillows piled up made me feel young. Everything was bright and colorful, including her disposition. She had a beautiful smile and a giggle that bubbled up with joy.

I didn't know her background, other than her parents were divorced. I knew nothing of the circumstances that led to her living in what seemed an affluent place, in the middle of this snow-blanketed osiedle, two tram lines away from my dorm. But this was part of my experience, so I embraced it.

We spent an hour together, two evenings a week, and in between she practiced. I asked her questions about her life, and her school. She tried her best to recount, in English, things that happened during the day, which opened a window for me into the life of a Polish girl. I knew it wasn't a typical window, as she went to a private school and lived in relative luxury. But it was a window into her young world, and I appreciated that.

With her vocabulary largely self-taught, she stumbled over the words. When she didn't understand something I said, in English or in Polish, she simply giggled. Her eyes showed genuine joy. My heart felt light too, after each session.

Even so, we weren't making much progress. I knew it; she knew it. Her father tactfully expressed that he knew it. I wondered if he would fire me, but he said it was good that she spent time with a native speaker from America. However, it was clear he expected more. While she wasn't a disrespectful child, I could tell she wasn't terribly worried about her father's wishes for her language skills. But she was thrilled to spend time with someone from the States.

That's when it finally hit me. "What questions do you want to ask me about America?"

The barrage tumbled out of her heart, with a mixture of Polish and English. I smiled. Now, we're getting somewhere. I asked her to spend time that week writing her questions, in Polish, in her notebook. I would answer them – in English – the following week, and we would talk about them.

Her pages were filled when I returned. Although I spoke Polish, and I understood more than I could say, it took several dictionaries and the full hour for me to understand some of her questions. I took her notebook home with me and wrote my answers in English. The next week, we had so much to talk about. In English.

Her improvement was amazing each week. One night, I walked in and she had sheet music from a song that was popular in the States. I helped her learn to speak the lyrics, and to understand (most of) what they meant. (She was 11, after all.)

At the end of the semester, her father gave me a bonus payment. I used it to buy her a gift, and we enjoyed a celebration.

The creativity that was needed in teaching her was something that would inspire me through many years as a teacher, in equally challenging situations. Do what works. Do what will stick. Make a connection. Be present. Get to know and appreciate the person you are teaching.

I will never forget that little girl, in the moonlit apartment, in the snowdrifts of a suburb of Poznan.

Do you have memories of teaching, or working through language challenges, or unexpected connections in places away from home? I'd love to hear them.

Be blessed.

***

Janet Eriksson is a missionary of prayer in Dahlonega, Georgia and founder/coordinator of the Hometown Prayer Mission. She also volunteers with The Center for Inner Healing. She would love to hear from you at hometownprayer.org.

 

The Beauty of an Ordinary Moment in Belarus

I crossed the border between Russia and Belarus at a tumultuous time. I had a lot to worry about – and to be excited about. I'm amazed at how, some 19 years later, what stands out in my memory isn't the dramatic backdrop. It's an ordinary moment with a student whose name I don't remember, but whose heart I will never forget.

As a visiting university lecturer, I was based in Russia for two years. A friend had invited me to travel to her university in Belarus and give a guest lecture. I was always excited to see a new place, and I was so passionate to teach on human rights, anywhere I was invited.

I was struggling with visa issues – nothing I had done wrong, just a mix-up on paperwork. This train journey was supposed to provide a chance to get a new exit/entry stamp that would clear up all my problems. Little did I know, the tension between Russia and Belarus meant that the borders were "removed."

While the border confusion might have inconvenienced me, the tension affected a whole nation far worse. The country's leader canceled elections and the value of currency plummeted the day I arrived. My friend who had invited me was married to the American consul. When he met me at the train station in Minsk, he just shook his head by way of explanation, and we went to McDonald's for a burger. He expressed sympathy over my visa situation but there was nothing he could have done.

I was to speak that evening, and again the next day, as part of a weekend conference. Meanwhile, I had a few hours with nothing to do. A student from the university in Minsk had been assigned to help with whatever I needed. She was willing to take me on any official errand or to any of the famous tourist sites in the city.

After a moment's thought, I said with a laugh, "What I'd really like to do is buy some eye liner." I also asked where I could find a CD of my favorite Russian pop singer.

She smiled. "I know where we can go."

We spent the afternoon at a shopping mall, looking for makeup and CDs. This was an old-style Soviet-era shopping mall – not what probably comes to mind when you read those words. The arrival of Western items was still fairly new. But this student knew where to find the things I needed. We could barely communicate but we had so much fun. Eye makeup and music doesn't require translation to be enjoyed together.

I've never forgotten that day. It stands out as one of my favorite moments living overseas. Forgotten were all the politics, border patrols, visa problems, and even the excitement of presenting my work at the conference. We were just two kids having fun at a shopping mall. An ordinary moment that brought such familiarity and peace in an otherwise tumultuous world. I am thankful for that student spending the afternoon with me.

When you travel or live abroad, these are the moments not to miss. They are the memories that will last far longer than the bigger dramas. Be fully present in those ordinary moments. Enjoy the company of the people who cross your path. Then write about those experiences, as an encouragement to others.

Have you encountered an ordinary moment in an extraordinary situation? I'd love to hear about it.

Be blessed!

***

Janet Eriksson is a missionary of prayer in Dahlonega, Georgia and founder/coordinator of the Hometown Prayer Mission. She also volunteers with The Center for Inner Healing. She would love to hear from you at hometownprayer.org.

 

How I Slept in a Glass Box in Sweden

My senior year of college, I studied in Poland. This was a year and a half before the Berlin Wall fell, and the uprisings had started. It was a rough place for this pampered American girl to visit. It was hard to get food. Things were scary. But God was watching out for me.

In June 1988, I graduated from the University of Florida at the Polish university campus. The plan was then to travel by train (my request) to meet my family in Oslo, Norway, for a vacation. Norway was our ancestral homeland, and we had planned this trip for a long time.

I got on the train, with about 10 suitcases, and had a long layover in West Berlin. Once again, I had requested that layover, so I could have one last day in the city that had become one of my favorite stomping grounds.

By the time I boarded the train for Malmo, Sweden, where I would transfer to the Oslo-bound train, I was exhausted. My physical appearance betrayed the long travels I had taken, and the even longer year of upheaval I had lived through. I was so tired I slept through the Baltic Sea crossing, which I had really wanted to see. I was awakened by a knock on the door and opened my eyes to see a tall, blond man in uniform, asking for my passport.

The Swedish border guard actually laughed when he saw my pristine passport photo, my current bedraggled appearance, and the stamp that indicated I had been living in Poland. He was probably more than a little amazed I had a private first-class cabin on the train. I was not used to traveling first class and didn't have a dime to my name, but that cabin was my mom's graduation "touch" on my travel arrangements.

The train went a little farther and then we stopped in Malmo. It was to be a short transfer to the train that would take me to Oslo, and I was ready to bring this journey to an end. However, as I stepped onto the train platform and hauled out my 10 suitcases, I learned that the station was closing for the evening. There would be no Oslo-bound train until the morning.

One of the station conductors suggested in broken English that I take a taxi to a hotel. I explained that I had no money and that I was supposed to meet my family in Oslo. My travel had been pre-paid and one of my Polish friend's family had packed food for my trip. But I had calculated reaching Oslo late that evening. I wasn't prepared for a stop in Malmo. 

I told the conductor I would just stay in the train station overnight. It wouldn't be the first time I had done something like that during my travels. 

But he wasn't having it. He said the station was to shut down completely, doors locked, no passengers left inside.

I looked at him and shrugged. "What can I do?"

He must have been a dad, by the kindly way he looked at me. I could only guess he must have thought about what if his daughter were in this situation.

He told me I could stay overnight inside the station. But for my security, I would have to sleep in the glass conductor's box out on the platform. He let me fill up my water bottle, and then he and his colleague locked me in the box and told me they would be back at 5 a.m.

So, that's how I spent the night in a glass box in Sweden.

People who have heard this story have typically reacted in horror. But really, it wasn't that bad. I had spent so many worse nights during my adventures abroad. This was a clean train station in what appeared to be a safe city. I felt safe in that box. I sat in the conductor's swivel chair, put my head on the little desk, and went to sleep.

At 5 a.m. the conductors returned and let me out. The station was open then, so I could move into the lobby and wait there for the train. I was hungry. But I had no money for food. A man from Czechoslovakia sat next to me. He spoke English really well. He traveled to Sweden often on business. He showed me where I could buy breakfast but I told him I was without currency. He said, "Just a minute" and went over to the kiosk and bought me breakfast.

Then he reached into his overnight bag, brought out some cheese sandwiches, and handed them to me for the train ride to Oslo. Anyone who knows my love of cheese would guess this man was either an angel, or God had already prepared him with extra cheese sandwiches to share with me. Either way, I will forever remember that man and be grateful.

When I arrived in Oslo, hours later, I just about crawled into the hotel where my mom had reserved a room for me. My family wasn't due to arrive until the next day, but the room was already paid for. It was a 5-star hotel used by the tour company we were going to travel with. I must have looked a sight. The reservation clerk seemed to think I was lost. I don't blame her.

As she studied my passport and stared at my face, I said, "I know. I've been traveling a long time."

Finally, she seemed convinced and she gave me my room key. I ordered room service: a cheeseburger with all the fixings, and a large Coke. I still remember the price: $16. It went on the room tab. I figured I'd apologize to my mom the next day, and pay her back later. An hour later, I was sound asleep beneath a downy comforter.

When I look back on that trip, and so many other moments like it, I can only say, from the depths of my heart, "Thank You, God, for Your protection, provision, and love. You are so good."

***

Janet Eriksson is a missionary of prayer in Dahlonega, Georgia and founder/coordinator of the Hometown Prayer Mission. She also volunteers with The Center for Inner Healing. She would love to hear from you at hometownprayer.org.