I have joked these past few months that my husband’s new technique for getting me motivated to start packing is to inform me that we might have to evacuate tomorrow! Those were the circumstances surrounding the last weeks of our term of ministry as Youth with a Mission family consultants in Ternopil, Ukraine!
Since the Maidan Revolution and the subsequent invasion of Crimea that led to our evacuation from our home in Simferopol, Crimea in February 2014, the situation in Ukraine had fallen to a all time low. The fighting in the east kept Ukraine destabilized, and every day there was talk about friends and acquaintances getting drafted to the front, how much more Ukraine’s currency had devalued, and the latest counts of casualties and refugees. Now Ukraine’s president Poroshenko was talking about initiating Martial Law in Ukraine, and if that happened, the chances were very high that Ruslan, as a Ukrainian citizen, would not be able to leave...easily. This was a more serious issue for us because Ruslan’s US Green Card was expiring in April, and we needed to be back in the States before that happened, or he would loose his permanent residency.
Though the tentative plan had been to leave in about two more weeks, now we might need to leave at any time, and we still hadn’t even purchased plane tickets! For months things in Ukraine had been so touchy, that we didn’t want to be tied into having to fly out on a certain date, if the need arose to leave earlier. Now, instead of having the luxury of 14 days to prepare for our trip, and pack up our house for the family that would be staying there during our leave, I was looking potentially at just hours. We were dancing around that awful word...evacuation...AGAIN!!! We had already started our term of ministry this way, to say the least, it was not how we wanted to end it.
Good friends of ours had loaned their car to us before leaving for a trip to the USA. While there, they decided to apply for refugee status, and asked us to sell their car. A tricky thing since Ukraine’s economy is on the verge of economic collapse, and hard currency is difficult to come by. We had been trying to sell the car for months, and now, potentially just days before our departure, we were uncertain if that was going to happen.
As it turned out, our 24 hours stretched into five days. Five very full, very long days, and as we settled into our first flight out of Kiev, 6am Sunday morning, I marveled at how incredible God worked it all out. And I purposed to myself yet again, TO TRUST IN THE LORD; no matter the circumstances!
Monday morning, Ruslan told me to start packing. Wednesday we sold the car to the Youth with a Mission Family Ministry leaders for Ukraine who had been praying for just such a car. Wednesday night we purchased our train tickets to Kiev. Thursday night we purchased our plane tickets to the USA; the cheapest tickets we have ever purchased in all our years of travel. Friday night we left by train to Kiev, and Sunday morning we flew out of Kiev to visit friends in Lancaster county, Pennsylvania. Everything was so perfectly orchestrated, and that is because we have such a incredible faith building Conductor!!!
We had a wonderful 10 days of RECOVERY in Pennsylvania during which we purchased a Town and Country Chrysler Van with the money from the sale of our car in Ukraine in 2013. Our plan was to drive down one side of America, across the bottom, and back up the other side in time to enroll our daughters, Gloria and Emily, into 2nd and 4th grade, at House of the Lord Christian Academy, in Oldtown, Idaho, by the first week of April.
Some people thought our idea of driving 6000 miles from Lancaster to Pensacola, from Jackson to Tucson, from Phoenix to Las Vegas, from Lake Tahoe to Portland, and from Seattle to Priest Lake, Idaho was crazy, but after the year we had, it seemed just about right! We enjoyed every minute of our time together, learning about America, catching up along the way with old friends most of whom we know from our 19 years of working in Eastern Europe. We played games in the car, talked, prayed, and little by little started to feel what normal was like again.
In Pensacola, Florida, while looking out over the beautiful Gulf of Mexico, I felt like the Lord spoke to me one starlit night, that it was time to stop living in the past, and begin to focus on the future. With expectancy!
With anticipation! And I felt, for the first time, that we were truly on the other side of a year’s worth of hardships and trials. In West Texas, while driving along the interstate, I was calling ahead to find a hotel to stay in for the night. The first hotel we stopped at informed me that their rooms started at $199.99, and that I wouldn’t find a better rate because of the oil boom that had brought in so many migrant workers to that area. Since our budget was more in the $49.99 department, we decided to head further down the interstate in hopes of finding something more reasonable! About 20 miles outside of Monaghan, TX, I was on my 5th call trying to find a place to lay our heads for the night. Google had brought up a number for the Silver Spur Motel, and by the third ring a lady with a thick foreign accent answered the phone. I asked her how much for a room with two beds in it. Her answer left me speechless. “Are you the missionaries I’ve been waiting for?” She said.
Startled and tongue tied, I answered, “I guess so! We are missionaries, but this is the first time I’ve called you!”
“You come, and I give you a good price!” Was her reply. “Ok,” I said, and hung up the phone.
I looked over at my husband in the drivers seat and said, “Apparently that lady is expecting us!.”
It was definitely one of those goose bump moments when you know God is up to something really incredible. We decided to check the place out first, and as we drove through what I can only describe as a developing Ghost town, we came to a very small motel, built with concrete bricks right next door to the train tracks. It didn’t look like the kind of place we’d want to spend the night in for any amount of money! I kept feeling, though, that this was the spot that the Lord was directing us too, after all the lady apparently knew we were coming!!
We decided to check out another hotel, just to see what their price for a night was. It had been raining, and the parking lot of the Holiday Inn was under a considerable amount of water. As Ruslan turned into what we thought was the entrance into the parking lot, our car hit the curb and it brought us to a jarring stop. I looked at my hubby and said, “We sure can check this hotel out, but I think the Lord has very literally stopped us from going here, because we are supposed to stay at the Silver Spur!” That hotel also ended up being $200 for the night, so back we went to the little Motel by the railroad tracks. We parked, and walked into the hotels tiny lobby to find out if there was still a room available. The first thing I noticed was a picture of the Taj Mahal on the wall. Right above it was a picture of Jesus holding a lamb. Moments later a beautiful older Indian woman walked in to greet us, and the first thing she said was, “Are you the missionary family I’ve been waiting for?”
Ruslan and I look at each other, and in astonishment I replied, “We are missionaries, but why are you expecting us, we didn’t even know we were going to be here until 30 minutes ago!”
“Somebody called earlier and said you would be arriving,” Was her reply. I do not know if any other missionaries showed up that night, but from that moment on, we knew the Lord had organized our stay. This precious woman began to share her story with us. She had been a devout Hindu woman all her life, and at some point had broken her back. Laying in bed one night, she was flipping through the stations when she came to a teleevangelist program where they were talking about how Jesus can heal us.
She prayed, “Jesus, if you really are God, than would you please heal me!” Instantly she was miraculously healed, and gave her life to the Lord! How this precious woman from India ended up in the middle of no where West Texas I will never know, but she began to tell us story, after story, of guests of her hotel that the Lord had directed her to pray for, and many of them have gotten healed! “Would you pray for us?” I asked. She went to retrieve her prayer shawl and some anointing oil, asked us if we knew Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and began to pray for us. We could just feel the Holy Spirit fill our little room, and it was a powerful time.
We left that little hotel the next morning, convinced that there is no place on planet earth, that God can not send His people to comfort, encourage, pray for, provide for, and be the instruments of God for! How else would you explain such an experience? A elderly woman from India, in a developing Ghost town of West Texas, with a guy from Ukraine, a girl from North Idaho, their children....AND JESUS! Hallelujah!
On a side note, the next day, about 100 miles down the road from the Silver Spur Motel, we stopped to gas up and eat some lunch. As Ruslan was washing the windshield, he noticed some liquid gathering under the front end of the van. Realizing it was the radiator, we asked around for a auto shop, where we might get it checked out. Fifteen minutes later, our van was getting a new radiator, the result most likely of the Lord bringing us to a stop in front of the Holiday Inn the day before. The cost didn’t break the bank, and as the girls and I sat in the cozy waiting room working on our home school lessons for the day, I looked at the wall and marveled at the picture frame that was on display right next to a bronze of John Wayne. It said, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all of your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight!” Isn’t that the truth!! Two hours later, we were on our way, marveling again, at how our Lord works in the lives of his children!
Our road trip through the USA, was a marvelous time. As we were finishing a day of exploring in Sedona, Arizona, we were looking out over the famed Cathedral Rock, supposedly one of the most photographed rock formations in the country. I was overwhelmed at the enormity of it, and felt so humbled to get to bask in it’s incredible view. As Ruslan stood beside me taking pictures, I felt the Lord’s whisper into my spirit. This is a picture of how great I am!! I am so much greater, than the greatest challenge you think you are facing! I’m greater than Putin! I’m greater than political unrest! I’m greater than your financial need! I’m greater than all your worries bundled up all together! Whenever you are feeling like the challenges and trials are looming giants, just remember this picture, and KNOW How GREAT I AM!!