A Fork in the Road

In the way of a little introduction…

It was the summer of 2019. My husband Steve, and I, were sitting in our modest little apartment on the third floor of an older, red-brick apartment building in Rock Island, Illinois. A retired Army veteran, Steve was months away from retirement of his civilian job with the Department of Defense.  Some years before, I had taken early retirement from my teaching career. We had talked about various retirement options involving major moves, but we kept coming back to the dream of getting a cabin in Arkansas with a big front porch, some rocking chairs, and a couple of good dogs.

We had just finished watching a movie when I turned to Steve and casually announced, “We need an adventure!” A few days later, Steve came home from his job at the Rock Island Arsenal and surprised me with, “What would you think of moving to Germany for three years?” I didn’t have to think twice. I’ve always loved travel. Living in Europe for three years? What was there not to love about that idea? I would now be able to claim having lived on four continents. It was more than I could have dreamed when I had suggested an adventure. A position had opened up at the military base in Vilseck, Germany. Steve submitted his application, and that’s where it all began.

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Good-bye, Illinois

When Steve received the news he had been hired for the position, a whirlwind of activity ensued. We still had a furnished house on the market in Decatur, Illinois. Plans were made for the military to come and pack our apartment, as well as the house. Steve made plans to leave for Germany in mid-September, leaving me with a legal pad filled with last minute detailed instructions for packing, shipping of the car, closing of various accounts, etc. To complicate matters, I had already planned a mid-October trip to Peru, South America, which also demanded the full focus of my attention. My return trip from Peru would give me less than a week to prepare for my departure to Germany the early part of November.

Steve felt relieved that I would arrive later as it would give him time to find a place to rent. We both agreed we would prefer a house, over an apartment. Friends were asking me, “What if you don’t like the place he picks out?” It didn’t matter to me, one way or the other. It was a temporary arrangement and I knew I could be happy just about any place. My biggest concern was our health. Here we were retirement age and making plans to move to the other side of the world where we didn’t know a soul, nor did we know the language. Somehow, I found it all rather intriguing. Hadn’t I asked for an adventure? I comforted myself with the thought that if Abraham and Sarah could have a baby at 100 and 90, Steve and I could move to Europe at our age! Time and age are not a factor in God’s scheme of things. After all, we had prayed and asked God for wisdom and guidance, and the door had swung wide open. All we had to do was trust God and take a step of faith. If I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that you can experience the most amazing adventures when you’re willing to step out of your comfort zone.

When you come to a fork in the road, take it.  – Yogi Berra

I’ve always loved writing.  The power and imagery of words intrigues me. I’ve had various friends encourage me to write a blog of our life in Germany. Others have suggested I write a memoir, but according to my husband, only dead people write memoirs! 🙂  Be that as it may, I agree with my friend Rhonda’s take on it:

How precious are our days on the earth! How marvelous the journey through! Where do they go if not jotted down onto a page or held together in a song? Too much is lost and forgotten! And the dripping of the blade of ice hanging from the sun- drenched eve? The laundry flapping on the line, the dust that gathers too quickly on the bookshelves, and the brilliant sunrise illuminating the steam rising from the roof of the corncrib shed? Who will hold it still and sure for me, if not the page? The sea of fading memories is greedy to take the velvet voice of the three-year-old and the sweet things he’s said so sweetly. It dilutes the sight of his chunky hands and his quick moving feet. There is so much I would forget if not hung up for me on the forever-page. I feel we must write as much down as possible. – Rhonda Gunn Drain

So much is easily forgotten if we don’t hang it up on our “forever-page.” I’m reminded of one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “That day, that special moment, hangs in the art gallery of my mind.” I don’t ever want to forget those special moments in my life, so I choose to blog. If you choose to come along with me on this adventure…all the better!

I took my flight to Germany on November 7, 2019. My friend, Suzie, drove me to the airport early in the morning…early enough to see the most amazing sunrise. It’s one of the pictures that hangs in “the art gallery of my mind.”

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Good-bye, America!

 

Male vs. Female Driving Instincts (In Germany…but actually, just about anywhere)

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To begin with, let me just tell you that my husband, Steve, is a motorcycle aficionado. He finds great delight in motorcycle challenges that involve riding 10,000 miles in under 13 days. He claims it is painful and brutal, but soo much fun! I, on the other hand, cannot comprehend any situation in which those words would fit well together. And therein lies the key to understanding the difference between male and female driving instincts.

Case in point. Steve accepted a job assignment here in Germany, working for the Department of Defense. He arrived mid-September; I came a little later, arriving early November. So, it is fair to say he had the advantage of getting acclimated to his surroundings for several weeks before I arrived. I might add, due to his military training, situational awareness is one of his strengths. He can learn his way around in some of the most bizarre situations and remote areas of the world, in a matter of hours, or a day or two, at the most. I have not had the luxury (or trauma) of being thrown into the middle of the Alaskan wilderness and told to find my way back. So, I am truly lacking in that skill set. I think I would be looking for the nearest hunter’s tree stand and asking for directions. However, for a man, that is a sign of weakness and also causes you to lose some of your masculine hutzpah.

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Upon my arrival in Germany I was enchanted with this fairy-tale land; I wanted to absorb and record every detail of this beautiful country, and its people. We live in the quaint little village of Edelsfeld, which is fifteen minutes from the military compound. Other than the one-hour ride from the airport, my first outing involved the drive to Rose Barracks chapel on a Sunday morning. Steve is driving and thinking: It will take us fifteen minutes to get to the Rose Barracks chapel. Period.

I’m riding along and thinking: Wow! I love that little village nestled in the hills. I wonder what kinds of trees those are. I’ve never seen trees like that before. This seems to be an agricultural community. All the houses are built pretty much in the same style, cement block with stucco siding. All the roofs are tile with lots of skylights and solar panels. There are some windmills. The Germans seem to be very energy conscious. Lots of wood stacks and piled logs. Looks like maybe some of the homes are heated with wood. I see smoke curling out of a lot of the chimneys. I would love to take that little side road just to see where it goes. I LOVE those lace curtains in everyone’s windows. I’m going to have to find out where I can buy some of those. Oooh…that looks like a nice little shop. I need to find my way back there. Oh… that looks like a good restaurant, right next door. I love how the mist drifts through the trees. I’d like to try and do a watercolor of that scene. Those old barns are just charming. Oh…there’s a horse out in the meadow wearing a blanket… and on it goes. Mind you, I’m only thinking these things quietly to myself. If I were to verbalize all of this, I would have been left by the side of the road miles back, but you get the picture.

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Now, fast-forward to the week after I get my German driver’s license, approximately two months after my arrival. In case you are wondering what took me so long, I had to study a 98 page “Drivers Handbook and Examination Manual for Germany,” and learn 186 new road signs. Some of these signs have German words, such as Einbahnstrase (one way) and Ausfahrt, which identifies an exit. (That is one of the easier ones to learn!) Then of course, you need to learn how to convert Kph to Mph. There are guarded railroad crossing signs, and unguarded railroad crossing signs, distance to guarded railroad crossing signs, and distance to unguarded railroad crossing signs. Then there are posted signs letting you know you have 160 meters before the railroad crossing, etc., etc…and yes, you better remember that it is 160 meters because that will be on the test. You need to remember how many meters to stop before a crosswalk and a bus stop. You also need to learn that there are roads where POVs (Privately Owned Vehicles) are not allowed; there is the Autobahn (German version of the Indianapolis 500); there are Priority Roads; skinny roads (Steve’s term); super skinny roads; military roads (forbidden access); roads for cyclists and pedestrians only, and Rollsplitt – gravel roads. (GPS doesn’t know any difference. A road is a road.) Mind you, road signs are hard to remember when you’re cruising at 100Kph. If you ruminate too long on a passing sign, you’ll miss your turn. Well…you get the picture. It is quite overwhelming, but I study and I pass the test.

The first Sunday after claiming my driver’s license, we’re headed back to Rose Barracks for the Sunday service at the chapel. Steve says, “You’re driving.”

“OK, but you’ll remind me where to turn, right?”

“No. You’ve already been on this road 100 times. You know where to turn.” In my head I was calculating my response: That’s not possible. I’ve only been in Germany eight weeks; that is less than 100 days. Not counting round trips, that wasn’t even close, and most of those trips I was absorbed with trees, horses, and lace curtains. I didn’t say anything. It would take too long to explain myself.

“Well, maybe I should use the GPS.”

“No. Don’t ever rely on the GPS. It can lead you astray and put you on a skinny road, or a super skinny road, or a gravel road, or an off-limits military road.”

Me: Blank look on my face as I’m pulling out of the driveway.

“I want you to learn how to find your way in case you get lost some time. If you make a wrong turn, you’ll learn from your mistake.” (Somehow, I felt his military training was kicking in. I was being thrown into the wilderness to find my way out.) At any rate, I wasn’t feeling comfortable with the idea, and if you’re not feeling comfortable about something, it can affect your judgment. A few miles down the road, I was pretty sure a left turn was coming up. Oops! There were three places to turn left. Rather than make a snap decision, I drove on by and found a place to turn around. I could feel the “eye-roll” from across the seat. I recalibrate and get back on the right track. A few miles down the road, a big yellow sign comes up. Yes, this is an important sign, but a little confusing. There is an arrow pointing to the town of Vilseck and another arrow pointing to the Vilseck Military Community. Somehow my brain fixates on the word “military,” and I envision myself taking a forbidden military road with live ordnance flying over our heads, and Steve screaming “Stop!” In the time it takes me to think through this scenario, I miss my turn. I must turn around and come back.

 

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The following Sunday, I get smart and insist on using the GPS. On the way back home, Steve tells me to make an unexpected turn, not shown on the GPS. I find myself on one of the “skinny roads” – skinny road meaning it is very narrow, with little room to pass and ditches on either side. “Why did you do this to me?” I ask, just slightly irritated.

“I wanted you to learn what to do in case you ever find yourself in this situation.” (His military survival training is kicking in again, and I’m not liking it.) He smiles. “Don’t worry. It’s going to get worse.” The skinny road then turns into a super skinny road. By now, I’m praying I don’t meet another vehicle or I will have to back up to Timbuktu. I’ve always loved adventure, and I’ve always enjoyed taking the road less traveled, but by now, I’m feeling a little stressed. Then it happens. We pass a magical looking, tiny little structure on the side of the road. It looks like a gnome house right out of a Grimm Fairy Tale. As I drive by, I see an open door with two wooden benches inside, with just enough room to seat maybe four people. It appeared to be a little roadside chapel.

“Wow! Did you see that?” I exclaim.

“See! You would have never gotten that surprise if we hadn’t come this way.” He’s right, of course. I make a mental note to myself: I want to come back here someday. I’m still thinking about the magical little chapel when I miss the next turn.

“Why weren’t you paying attention to the GPS?” Steve sighs.

“You’ve told me not to depend on the GPS,” I counter. Despite everything, I manage to get us home.

Tomorrow morning I’m taking my first solo flight to Rose Barracks. Hopefully, I don’t find myself on a skinny road, but if I do, I’m going to be on the lookout for the magical little chapel by the side of the road. It’s calling me back. I’m afraid my female driving instinct is here to stay. I hope I never lose that sense of wonder and adventure, but I also need to remember my husband’s common-sense advice and driving instinct: “Stay focused. Stay alert and maintain situational awareness.” Sounds very military, doesn’t it? In retrospect, I think a nice blend of the male/female instinct is probably the ideal. Balance is the key to a safe, but adventurous life.

An Angel to the Rescue

e458e80815dc3632c2f5e6e09b7faf35I had pulled up in front of the local Thrift Store to deliver a rather large box of donations. As I lifted the box out of the trunk of the car, I set it down on the pavement. I knew it was too heavy to carry in, so I decided to drag it. I was stepping backwards and failed to see a slight raise in the sidewalk, and down I went. There I sat by my box, feeling rather sheepish, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted someone approaching. How nice, I thought. Someone’s coming to help me. My next thought was that this person reminded me of Aunt Bea (from the Andy Griffith Show.) She was a sweet looking older lady dressed in an old-fashioned coat. She had a look of concern on her face, but never said a word. She set down her old-fashioned purse and positioned herself behind me placing both hands under my arms. In one deft swoosh, she had me standing on both feet. I stood there totally amazed that anyone of her stature could pick up dead weight with such quick ease of movement. As I turned around to thank her, Aunt Bea and purse had vanished!

There is no other explanation than what I experienced was the help of an angel unaware. Yes, I believe, according to the Scriptures, that there are angels all around us and that they are sent to minister to us in the time of our need. Sometimes we recognize them as such, and other times they pass us by unnoticed because they tend to blend in with those around them. In Psalm 91:11 we read, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” I know this Scripture is true, for I have personally experienced it many times in my life. The rest of Psalm 91 reminds us that God rescues and protects those who love Him and acknowledge His name, and He promises to be with us in the time of our trouble. Yes! When you are down, He will lift you up!

Peruvian Journey

Peru_Pics-060It was October of 2012. I sat visiting with my brother, Ken, who was in the last stages of mesothelioma. “Promise me something,” he said.

“Of course.” (When your brother is dying, you would promise him the moon, if you could.)

“Promise me you’ll do something to help Sharron Hall and Abrigo Andino in Arequipa, Peru.

Sharron’s parents, and our parents, had been assigned to the same missionary post in Arequipa in the 1940s. Ken had always dreamed of opening an orphanage in Peru, as a memorial to our parents. When it looked like that was never going to materialize, he changed his focus to helping Sharron’s ministry. I had never met Sharron Hall, nor had I ever visited Abrigo Andino, (Shelter of the Andes, the homeless shelter she ran.) However, I felt morally obligated to fulfill my promise. Dear God, what have I done? I prayed. Please give me some direction. Soon I was sharing emails and phone calls with Sharron to get a little better acquainted.

In the meantime, I had been working on the manuscript of my book. The book is about my family’s missionary life in Peru, South America. It also includes my brother and sister-in-law’s amazing journey into the northern Andes Mountains to find our father’s grave site.  About halfway through the book, as I sat at my computer writing, the plan fell into place. I would publish the book and donate all proceeds from the sale of the book to Abrigo Andino.  I quickly communicated the idea in an email to Sharron, and she was thrilled. I felt relieved that I finally had a plan in place to fulfill my promise to my brother.

That was the year 2016.  It was in May of that year my mother passed away. To say that my manuscript was bathed in tears, is an understatement. During these past several years the book has gone through several rounds of editing, pruning, scraping, cutting, revising, and re-calibrating. This has taken a good deal of patience, not only on my part, but especially for my editor, who is a dear friend. I am forever grateful for her expertise and advice.

I felt the need to write this blog to update many of you who have been curious, and asking about the status of my book. I am still waiting on the “green light.” I felt a pause and hold button, and wasn’t quite sure why, until recently. Earlier this year, I received an email from Sharron Hall. She was conveying to all thePeru_Pics-060 former MKs (missionary kids) from Peru, an invitation to attend the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Assemblies of God in Peru in October of 2019. Finally, I understood the delay. This was a trip I was destined to make, and I needed to make it before the publication of my book. It would give me the closure I needed.  My departure date is scheduled for October 14th. I will fly to Lima, the capital, and city of my birth, and there I will meet Sharron Hall for the first time.  We will spend several days in Lima for the celebration, along with other missionaries and missionary kids, as well as many national Peruvians who will have gathered from all over the country. What an awesome experience that will be!

After the celebration, I will fly to Arequipa with Sharron and visit Abrigo Andino. I will spend a week getting a first-hand look at a ministry my brother had such a desire to help. I can only imagine the excitement my family would feel to make this journey with me. They had such a passion and love for Peru. It will be my great honor to go and represent them, and be their ambassador.  Once I return from my journey, I will feel I have come “full circle” and it will be time to launch a book!

The Music of the Far Away

Ken _001I turned onto Interstate 35 North to begin my long journey home to Illinois from Olathe, Kansas. I had just said my final good-bye to my brother, Ken. I knew it was probably the last time I would see him this side of heaven. It had been four months since he had been diagnosed with Stage 4 mesothelioma, a slow growing lung cancer. It became painfully obvious that he had contracted this dreaded disease as a young sailor aboard the aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger, during the Vietnam war era.

I couldn’t hold the tears back as I watched a train pass by. Trains had been a big part of Ken’s life as a dispatcher for the Burlington Northern Railroad.  How would I break the sad news about my brother to our 92-year-old Mom? As of yet, I hadn’t told her about his illness. I knew I needed to, I just didn’t know how to go about it. Not only did Mom have dementia, she was almost completely deaf, and it was extremely difficult to communicate with her. My husband Steve had stayed home with her as she was unable to travel. Mom had lived with us for twelve years at that point. I remember how many times she had asked to see her son, and I tried the best I could to explain to her he wasn’t able to travel. I was always amazed that, for the most part, she remembered who I was, and remembered she had a son.

I dreaded the hours of travel ahead of me. I reached for the radio hoping for some distraction. If only I could find a good Christian station. I needed some “soul comfort.” Amazingly, the most beautiful, quiet, soothing voice came on announcing a familiar song about heaven. I was mesmerized by the voice. I felt a blanket of peace fill the car as my eyes welled up with tears. I began singing along. Then another song about heaven followed. That was beautiful. How come I’ve never heard that song before? Then came a beautiful rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, followed by Beulah Land….then other magnificent songs of heaven I’d never heard before….followed by an inspiring version of The Holy City, and When We All Get to Heaven….and the songs went on and on, mile after mile, one song after another about heaven. From time to time the calming, quiet, male voice would come on sharing a few remarks and announcing the next song…..another song of heaven.

Had it really been six hours that I had been driving? It seemed only a few minutes. The soothing, peaceful voice had never left me. The songs of heaven, the sweet, comforting music of the far away, had followed me all the way home. Traveling through four different states, I never once lost the station; there had never been any static interference; there hadn’t been one station break for commercials, weather or news. As I pulled into the driveway of our home, the final strains of a beautiful hymn faded into the quiet of the moment….

1016127_396260830492929_732820389_nI sat and listened to the end…

O Love that will not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee…

O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee

I trace the rainbow through the rain,

And feel the promise is not vain,

that morn shall tearless be.

 

Ken passed from this life October 27, 2012, embraced in the loving arms of Jesus, and slipped into the warm, waiting arms of his earthly father whom he had dearly loved and missed so very much. They were joined by our sweet Mom on May 25, 2016. Some tearless morning, I will see them all again.

Thirty Minutes in Hong Kong

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My year of teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China was quickly coming to an end, and I found myself swamped with grading final exams, reports to be submitted, sorting and packing, and a round of farewell dinners and parties to attend. It finally dawned on me that I needed to make reservations and purchase a ticket for my flight home. I had waited until the last minute, not realizing the mass exodus of teachers and other foreigners leaving during this same time frame, let alone Chinese travelers.

One evening, as a group of teacher friends were sitting around visiting at our apartment, the topic of everyone’s travel plans came up. I shared that I had purchased the last available ticket for the next two weeks which only allowed me a thirty-minute layover in Hong Kong before catching my connecting flight to Los Angeles. It got really quiet, jaws dropped, and everyone looked at me as if I had lost my last ounce of common sense. I could certainly understand why they would think that, but for some reason I was rather nonchalant and unconcerned about it. Everyone shook their head, “That’s impossible! You’ll never pull that one off.”

“Well, it was the only flight I could get out for the next two weeks, so I’m going for it,” I shrugged.

The day of my departure I left without the least bit of apprehension. (Looking back at the scene now, I have to wonder at myself. For international flights, they usually advise you to arrive three hours early.) When my flight from Shanghai landed at the busy international airport in Hong Kong, I knew I needed to exit my plane and move fast. There would be no time to waste. I walked out onto the crowded, bustling concourse and didn’t have a clue in which direction to turn. It was then that I noticed a very official looking Chinese lady dressed in what appeared to be an airport uniform. She was standing in front of me, holding a clipboard and surveying the passing crowd. I walked up to her, and not knowing for sure if she even spoke English, I simply showed her my ticket. She looked up, didn’t speak a word, and motioned me to follow her.

For the next fifteen minutes I followed my Chinese guide as she led me up one escalator and down the next; down one long corridor to the next. Then we walked across a balcony. As I looked down over the railing, I noticed what seemed to be hundreds of people waiting in line to have their baggage inspected. We went down another escalator, through a back door and a back corridor, and across another long concourse, when my escort stopped and pointed to a door being closed by an airport attendant. I hurriedly gave my thanks and scrambled across the departure lobby now full of empty seats. The assistant kindly opened the door and allowed me to squeeze through. I managed to barely enter the cabin of the plane before the door closed behind me. It wasn’t hard finding my seat as it was the only vacant one left. I looked around and it seemed everyone was sitting there staring at me as if to say, “Where have you been? Hurry up and sit down!”

As I sat down and buckled my seat belt, the plane began to back out of the gate. The stewards had already gone through all the required safety procedures. Within minutes, we were airborne and on our way to Los Angeles! I sat back and relaxed, rather pleased at how smoothly everything had gone. My friends would be incredulous. No problem. Piece of cake. Then it hit me. I hadn’t gone through customs, baggage inspection, or even security. I didn’t even have a boarding pass.  How did I manage to get on this flight, anyway? The prospect of arriving in Los Angeles without my two suitcases began to sink in. How could they possibly be offloaded and transferred to another flight in the space of half an hour? I was planning an overnight stay before catching a flight home the next morning. Would my suitcases remain in Hong Kong? How would I even track them down?

Arriving in Los Angeles many hours later, I made my way to baggage claim with the other passengers and waited anxiously at the carousel. Did my suitcases even make it? I held my breath. Soon the familiar hum of the conveyor belt kicked in. Everyone’s eyes (especially mine) were glued on the chute, when out popped my two suitcases – first ones onto the belt! I was beyond thrilled and relieved, and breathed a prayer of thanks to God. It was obvious. He was the one who had orchestrated this incredible journey, this amazing year, from beginning to end. Thirty minutes in Hong Kong? My friends were right…I couldn’t do it, but God did!

Oh yes…there was one thing that did get left behind in China — my heart!

 

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Thirteen Chinese Bibles

th-2During the mid 80s, which seems a millennium ago, I spent a year teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Three years prior to my arrival, the Chinese government had surprisingly softened their stance against freedom of religion, and had made public statements to that effect. However, as foreign teachers, we still had to be careful and sensitive to the issue and were certainly not allowed to do any proselytizing. We were told we could share any religious beliefs pertaining to western culture and traditions in our classes, and that we could answer any questions relating to religious matters if the inquiries were initiated by the student.

I was on a team with three other Christian teachers, so of course we enjoyed sharing our faith and our cultural traditions during Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. One memorable experience I had was setting up a little cardboard nativity set and sharing the Christmas story. Afterwards, the students gathered around to get a closer look. They were just fascinated with the story, most of whom had never heard it before. I was amazed as they stood with reverent awe and pointed out the various characters and quietly reviewed their names.

One student began reciting, “These are the wise men, these are the angels, this is Mary and this is Joseph, Jesus’ father.” Another student immediately spoke up and corrected him, “You mean Jesus’ step-father!” I was pleased to see how they had absorbed the key elements of the story, and could sense a real hunger for God, but also a fear and hesitancy to even broach the subject. Even though there had been some significant relaxation on religious matters from the government, it was still difficult to purchase a Bible anywhere, and when you did, your name was registered, which caused some angst and hesitation.

During our holiday break for the Chinese New Year, my colleague Helen and I decidth-1ed to take a trip to Hong Kong. At that time, Hong Kong was still under British rule, so it was easy to find Christian bookstores and purchase Bibles. Both of us decided to purchase as many Chinese Bibles as we could possibly stash away in our suitcases. I purchased thirteen Bibles, and Helen about that many. We never had any fear about being caught, as we didn’t feel like we were doing anything illegal. We had never been told we couldn’t bring Bibles into the country.

However, when it was time to re-enter China, we had to go through baggage inspection, which was no surprise to us, but we still weren’t the least bit apprehensive – for some reason. At the train station we waited in a long line for baggage inspection, chatting away with each other and never did notice any other Americans in line ahead of us. The next thing we knew we were waiting behind two tall young men, who appeared to be American. I remember being surprised, because in our long wait, we had not even noticed them. (When you’re in a foreign country, Americans tend to quickly identify each other and strike up a conversation.) Their suitcases were being inspected rather thoroughly, and everything was being dragged out. The two began laughing, when one of them turned to the other and blurted out, “They must think we’re trying to smuggle in Bibles!” This was followed by more snickers and laughter. The guard/inspectors quickly replaced everything into the suitcases and waved them on. When Helen and I walked up they rolled their eyes at us, and waved us on as well, never inspecting our luggage. It was obvious they thought we were traveling with the two American men.

Upon arriving back in Shanghai, I carefully stored the Bibles in the back of my closet. Throughout the remainder of the year, I had exactly thirteen students come to me privately, asking for a Bible! I was so grateful that I was able to quietly honor their request. I’ve often wondered about them. Did they read their Bibles? Were their lives transformed? Did they share their Bibles with family and friends? One student did come to me later and ask, “What does ‘Emmanuel’ mean? I was happy to tell him that it meant ‘God is with us.’ Even though I lost contact with these students over the years, I know that God is still with them.

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The latest news out of China, in regard to religious freedom, is not good. Christians are suffering renewed and intense persecution, churches are being shut down, and Bibles are now being confiscated. Once again, the government is tightening their grip. It would be wonderful to know where those thirteen Bibles are right now. I am forever grateful Helen and I were able to get them into China when we did…and that God provided His protection and covering for us! I know the Word of God is powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and has the ability to tear down barriers and cut into the darkest corners of the world and spread Light.

A Treasured Photo

IMG_3255One of the most memorable experiences of my life was the year I spent teaching English at a university in Shanghai, China. Some of the Chinese, such as my students, became dear friends over the course of the year I was there. Others, total strangers, briefly crossed my path, but I was fortunate enough to capture their beautiful faces on my camera, and they now hang in the art gallery of my mind.

One photo was such a treasure, that I made a charcoal drawing of this beautiful face, and it has hung on the walls of my office for years, with the original photo tucked in the corner. For the Chinese New Year break, (back in the day), my friend and colleague, Helen, and I made plans for a trip to Hong Kong. On one of our stops, rather late at night and still quite a distance from Hong Kong, we stopped at a little corner dive for a bowl of noodles. We were pleasantly surprised when an elderly gentleman (with the look of a classic Chinese scholar) struck up a conversation with us in fluent English. More often than not, when we were approached by strangers, it was usually someone wanting to practice their English, and the subsequent experience became burdensome and tiring.

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With my friend Helen

However, this gentleman shared fascinating stories with us of his time in America when he worked on the railroads. It was such a pleasant visit, we totally lost track of time, and didn’t even notice anyone else around us. Realizing the lateness of the hour, Helen and I shared our farewells and gathered our belongings. As an afterthought, I grabbed my camera and asked the gentleman if I could take his picture. This made him happy and he broke out in a big, toothless smile. As luck would have it, I was completely out of film. (That was back in the day when you had to place film in your camera and wait to have it developed.)

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Guilin, in southeastern China

I apologized to the sweet man and expressed my disappointment. At that moment, a young lady walked up that had been a silent listener to our conversation. She introduced herself and told us she was from France. She, too, spoke fluent English. She very kindly offered to take the man’s picture for me, and told me if I gave her an address, she would be happy to mail the photo to me. I was surprised by her kindness, and gave her an address but couldn’t help wondering if she would actually follow through on such a generous offer to a stranger.

Several days later, Helen and I were walking the streets of downtown Hong Kong (at that time, a city of 6 to 7 million people)  bustling with New Year’s fervor and throngs of people. We were on a mission to find a good “western” restaurant and were in the middle of a difficult decision: steak, hamburgers, pizza, or spaghetti? At this point, anything but rice and cabbage sounded pretty good. This would be followed up with a hunt for a good dessert: chocolate cake or maybe apple pie, if we were so lucky. (We were craving western food and wanted to take good advantage of our stay!)  We were enjoying the shopping and the hustle and bustle of the street when, out of nowhere, up walked our friend from France! Helen and I were so stunned, we were totally speechless. The young French lady didn’t seem the least bit surprised. “Oh, Hi!” she said, as she casually opened up her bag and pulled out a photograph. “I have your picture for you,” she shared, as she handed me the photo and walked off. We barely had the time to thank her and say good-bye before she disappeared into the crowd.

Helen and I looked at each other in total disbelief. The odds were about 7 million to 1 that we could possibly have run into our friend from France on this busy street in Hong Kong; how close we could have come to missing her had we walked into any number of untitled_46restaurants. What were the chances she would have had the film developed so quickly? That made the odds even greater. We had no idea she even had plans to visit Hong Kong.

The whole experience was so amazing to me that I decided to memorialize it with a charcoal drawing of my Chinese scholar.  Such encounters just make you pause, wonder in awe, and cherish the memory for the rest of your life.

My Debut as a Movie Star

China260In the early years of my teaching career, while I was still single, I kept on the move. I never liked staying at one place for too long, always on the hunt for a new challenge and a good adventure. I was fascinated with the country of China; it held an aura of mystery about it that I was eager to explore and discover. I signed up with the Educational Services Exchange with China organization which trained and sponsored English teachers, sending them out in teams across the nation of China. My four-person team was assigned to teach at Jiaotong University in Shanghai. Recently I decided to type up my journal and get it stored on my computer. Just for fun, I thought I would share an excerpt from my journal of one very unusual, and delightfully fun day…which in reality, they all were:

Last night, Zhang Zhong Xiang, director of Foreign Affairs at Jiaotong University called  to request a favor. A friend of his, a director with the Shanghai Film Studio, was in a panic. (Shanghai is considered the Hollywood of China.) They were scheduled to begin work on the movie “A Grain of Rice in the Boundless Sea,” and needed some foreigners who could pass as Europeans to appear in the movie. He didn’t know any foreigners and called Mr. Zhang hoping he could draft some teachers from Jiaotong. So, Mr. Zhang called me and asked if I could round up some teachers on the spur of the moment. He told me the movie was about the life of Liu Hai Shu, a famous Chinese painter. Mr. Liu is now quite elderly, in his 90’s, and they were wanting to film his life story while he was still living. As a young man, Mr. Liu studied art in Paris. This particular segment of the movie was to be a dance scene in Paris at a private party, and we were told they only needed us to appear in the background and we needn’t worry about any speaking parts. It was pretty short notice and I was only able to recruit six teachers, including myself. At 8:00 this morning the studio director came in a van to pick us up. Rollie was told to come dressed in a suit and tie. The five of us ladies were told we would be able to change into suitable clothing from the studio wardrobe.

As soon as we arrived at the studio, we were whisked off to the dressing room. We dressed and undressed a dozen times, but couldn’t find anything that fit! Being foreigners, we were considerably larger than the average Chinese and couldn’t fit into any of the clothes! I finally managed to squeeze into an ugly, old aqua-colored dress that was about three inches too short in the sleeves. The side seams in the dress were ripping out. I couldn’t find any dress shoes that fit, so I ended up having to wear my brown loafers. I was then told to go to the hairdresser to Margie_blog-001“have my hair repaired!” That was an interesting experience as my hairdresser had never styled curly hair before. I was feeling rather dowdy until I saw my “partner.” I was paired up with a tall, Swedish business man passing through town for a few days. He was spotted at his hotel, recruited, and whisked away to the studio! We were one motley looking crew and not feeling very Hollywood. Mr. Swede was forced to wear a suit about three sizes too small. They ended up taking the hem out of his pants, but they were still too short! We nearly split our sides with laughter when the Margie_blog-002others emerged from the dressing room. Kate was the only one fortunate enough to find a good-fitting dress. The others, out of desperation, were dressed in sweater-tops and make-shift skirts, made from dresses with the bodices rolled down!! Yikes! We were all walking around feeling rather sheepish, and grateful that we would only be appearing in background scenes, with no close ups – or so we were told.

Once everyone was dressed and had their “hair repaired,” the filming began with the dance scene. Swede and I were told to sit on the sofa, pretend we were sipping wine, and carry on an animated conversation. Fortunately, he spoke fluent English. The dance scene was shot several times and lasted about an hour. In the middle of this scene an elderly man walked into the studio and immediately filming came to a halt. Everyone gathered around to make introductions and Margie_blog-005shake hands. It was Liu Hai Shu, himself – the man whose life-story we were filming. He and his wife, and daughter stayed quite some time to watch the filming.

Once the dance scene was finished, the six of us got up and headed back to the dressing-rooms, relieved that it was all over. However, as I was walking down the hall someone grabbed me by the arm and said I had to come back, that I was in the next scene. Horrors!  It was a very minor scene, but nonetheless, I was front, and stage-center in my ugly dress and brown loafers!

I was asked to stand by the leading lady, keep my mouth moving and feign a conversation. (She spoke no English.) Then the leading man was to  walk up and ask her for a dance. They shot the scene five times before they were satisfied with the results. Not knowing what else to say in Chinese, I simply kept repeating the question “Ni de Margie_blog-003shemme mingzi?” –What is your name? The poor lady would politely nod and repeat her name for me. She did this about fifty times before it was all over. The worst part came in the second shooting. I had accidentally exposed some flesh in front of the camera, because of the growing rip in the side seam of my dress under the arm. The director yelled something, the cameras stopped, and in ran an assistant with needle and thread, whipped in a few stitches and the cameras continued rolling.

Soon after, we were told we would be taking a lunch break. All of the cast were to be transported by bus to a local restaurant a few miles down the road. By this time, we all just wanted to go home. We weren’t too excited about making an appearance in public in our dumpy clothes. To top it off, we only had a few minutes to eat a bowl of noodles before we were rushed back to the studio. By this time, we were all convinced the life of a movie star was none too glamorous.

Once back at the studio, we were told that we were needed for several more scenes, and were asked to stay.  It was too late to back out. We were committed! Norah was asked to sit at the grand piano and play some music, which she managed to feign by running her hands back and forth across the keys. Rollie was plugged into several scenes with the leading man. They really liked his appearance in his (own) nice suit (which fit), and with his white hair he looked rather dapper and sophisticated.Margie_blog-004

As the afternoon wore on without a break, we began to get progressively more tired and hungry. At six o’clock we were served a delicious box supper of rice and meat sauce with pork. We were famished and managed to gulp down our supper between scenes.

Once again I was escorted to center-stage, asked to sit in an easy-chair, and was told a Chinese gentleman would walk up to me, bow and feign an animated conversation, to which I was to respond. The cameras started to roll. A very sophisticated man walked up, bowed politely, and began reciting the only thing he knew in English, the ABCs! So, I responded with the only thing I could think of in Chinese at the moment – the numbers one to ten …”yi, er, san, si…” We tried to look as animated as possible, nodding our heads and smiling a lot, and desperately trying not to burst out laughing as we repeated this over and over. The director seemed pleased and only shot the scene one time. Later, Karen asked me, “You two seemed to really be enjoying your conversation! What were you talking about?”

Finally, at about 7:30 in the evening we were told filming of the “dance scene” had been completed. Relieved and more than ready to head home, the director took us all to a back room and presented us with gifts of appreciation. We were each gifted with an original piece of Chinese calligraphy done by one of Mr. Liu’s pupils. He is also rather elderly, but quite well known in China. The calligraphy is considered quite valuable and certainly a treasure, but the memories of our “Chinese movie debut” were even more so. We shared quite a few laughs on the way home, and all we could say was, “Only in China!” Only in China could we have ever snagged a bit part in a movie on the spur of the moment! Once our claim to fame was officially over (eight hours, which topped the proverbial fifteen minutes), we all agreed we probably needed to keep to our day jobs!

The movie is scheduled to be aired on T.V. in April.

(It would have been interesting to see the final result of our movie debut, but we all left the country before its scheduled showing.)

Hitting the Panic Button

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I’ve always been fascinated with sheep. The Scriptures identify us as the sheep of God’s pasture, and for good reason. They are dumb creatures and have a knack for following the wrong crowd and getting themselves into trouble. They are skittish, and spook and panic easily. No wonder they need a Shepherd to look after them. I remember walking a country lane and coming up on a flock of sheep grazing on a hillside. I stopped to admire them and then decided to capture them in a photo. As I raised my camera, they stopped their grazing, and froze in place, watching me intently. I could see the near panic in their eyes. They weren’t sure what this stranger was up to.  All it took was the almost imperceptible click of my camera, and they all turned tail in mass and stormed down the hill in a stampede. I was rather amused at the entire scene, until I reminded myself that I, too, was “one of the flock.”

I always rather prided myself in staying cool, calm and collected in stressful situations, especially in my teaching career when I was given my own little “flock” to watch over. However, I do remember a few occasions when I failed miserably. One of my teaching assignments found me in Guayaquil, Ecuador teaching second grade English in a private Spanish school. Every day brought some challenge or other where I had to rise to the occasion, whether it was killing a scorpion crawling out of a student’s book bag, or chasing an iguana out of my classroom with a broom. (This was rather fascinating as I hadn’t realized that iguanas ran upright on their hind legs!) These things didn’t phase me. I was just grateful I didn’t have the classroom located by a grassy field. The teacher in that room had to regularly corner and catch a visiting rat, while her students stayed perched on top of their desks. She would catch the rat by the tail, take it outside, swing it around her head a few times and then hurl it as far as she could back out into the field. The rat always managed to find its way back! I’m afraid if that had been my room, I would have been on top of my desk with the students!

The day did come when my bravado was tested. It only takes just one such experience to remind a person just how weak and cowardly they really are. It was ten o’clock in the morning and I was in the middle of teaching a lesson. I heard a distant rumble outside that soon grew louder. It caught our attention. Within seconds, all the louvered windows on the side of our room slammed shut and my little flock froze in their seats, their eyes fixed on their fearless teacher. I could see the panic setting in. Then the ground began to shake violently, and the students’ desks bounced around. This was immediately followed by a crack in a wall and falling plaster. Students on that side of the room were covered in dust. What followed next was purely shameful and weak on my part. I hit the panic button! I took out in a dead run and headed for the door at the back of the room. I made a beeline for the playground located just outside our classroom where I knew nothing could fall on me. I made it to the middle of the playground before I turned around and saw my entire class running after me screaming and crying. I honestly thought I was going to get tackled. They all huddled around me, clinging and not letting go. By then the earthquake was over. I looked past the playground and saw several Spanish teachers standing in the doorways of their classrooms laughing. I felt the shame fall on me in layers like the plaster dust in my classroom.

I calmed my little flock down and herded them back to our room. First order of business was to sincerely apologize for my cowardliness. I promised them I would never let that happen again; never again would I abandon them in the face of danger. We had been hit with a 5.2 earthquake which was considered moderate. Our classroom was the only one that experienced any damage at the school, but a few downtown buildings had collapsed, killing several individuals. Later, I stopped by to visit with the other teachers and asked them how they had responded to the interruption in our day. “We just bowed our heads and prayed,” they responded rather casually. Great! Why hadn’t I thought of that?

 I often look back on that day when I hit the panic button, just like that flock of sheep I stopped to admire on the hillside. It didn’t take much. From what I hear, courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it and move forward. I experienced other earthquakes while I was in Ecuador, but never again at the school. Each time, I think I gained just a little more calmness in my response, and hopefully a little more courage. That day at school, however, I was reminded I’m just “one of the flock.”