Adventure in Minsk

One of the illustrations I shared in the message Sunday at the Indian Creek Gardner campus centered around the fact that at times God lets us wrestle with a particular challenge beyond the point that we think we can handle it. He doesn’t intervene until it seems that it is too late. Here is the story.

One of the mission trips I took was to the country of Minsk. I taught at the International Leadership Academy for Christian leaders. During the time I taught there the school was underground because the Soviet Government didn’t allow any foreign missionaries into the country. Essentially I was there illegally.

One of the ways they hid me was to put me in student housing at dorms at the University of Minsk. Each day I would walk to class or anywhere else I would go. I also learned to ride the subway around town. I was there for three weeks.

On one particular night I’d already taught for a full day in the school. I went back to the dorm to change clothes because I was going to lead a Bible study outside of town that evening. I made it to the dorm. Changed clothes and then headed back toward the subway.

On the way there I saw one of the Americans driving down the road beside the sideway on which I was walking. Jeff stopped and offered me a ride. I was very surprised to see him and surprised he offered a ride but I accepted.

I need to tell you that one of the things that I did while I was there was develop what you could call hyper-vigilance. I was on high alert continually about all my surroundings. I watched people very carefully. Since I didn’t speak the language I was especially tuned in to their body language. And on top of that I was especially observant about keeping up with my directions. I looked for physical clues continually about where I was because I couldn’t read the maps. Since I wasn’t supposed to be there in the first place I couldn’t ask for directions. My safety was very dependent on a great sense of direction.

But when I saw Jeff I let down my guard. I got in the car and he drove me to a different subway than I typically used. I’d never been to that one and didn’t really know where it was in relationship to the dorm. He dropped me off just before the time I had to catch the train. We had an arrangement that I would be on the subway platform at 6 p.m. One of the other teachers was going to ride the subway to this stop. If I was there I would get on and we would go together. If I wasn’t there then he would go on without me.

I headed into the subway and reached into my pocket for the token we used to pay the toll. That is when I realized, when I changed my clothes I forgot my Passport, my wallet and my tokens. That was bad! Really bad! I didn’t know the way back to the dorm from that station. And I didn’t have a token to ride the subway. It was already getting dark outside and if I started speaking English to anyone to ask for help I would blow my cover. I was in a pickle! I broke out in a cold sweat.

To make matters worse I had 5 minutes to get to the subway floor if I was going to meet my friend and catch my train. That represented my best chance to get help. I started praying hard and walking around the outside of the subway station. I thought perhaps I would find a token someone lost in the snow but after one circuit around no such luck. Now I was down to just a couple of minutes. How would I get on that train? I was praying like crazy!

Let me describe the inside of the subway terminal. There were 7 or 8 turnstiles in a row where people entered and about the same number where people exited. At one end was a controller’s room sitting about ten feet off the ground with a person in it watching over the whole operation.

While I surveyed my options I remembered a conversation we had in the classroom one day where a student told me if I ever didn’t have a token I could get really close to someone and if the laser beam that went across the opening didn’t break then it would think it was just one person—but you had to great really close. If the beam broke then a loud alarm would sound.

I looked over the crowd thinking, who do I want to get that close to? I looked at the person in the control booth to see how observant she was. She was watching attentively. I thought even if I don’t break the beam she is likely to see me. By now I had less than one minute to decide what to do. I decided I would bear hug an old man and pray God would give me grace. I was ready to take my chance.

At that moment an elderly woman went through the turnstile and screamed out in pain. She doubled over. Her husband began to shout and call for help. I thought, this is interesting, a distraction. The first thing that happened was that the two guards who stood on the other side of the turnstiles, holding Uzis, left their post and gathered around the couple. I didn’t know they cared I thought. Now the only problem was the woman in the control booth.

About that time one of the guards signaled to her to come help them. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! But I didn’t want to set off the alarm. So when she poked her head into the huddle I quickly climbed into the control booth bent really low and ran through it to the other side and down the stairs. I hurried for the larger set of stairs and didn’t look back. As I ran down the stairs I thought, I don’t even know the Russian words for Stop or I’ll Shoot! The train arrived just as I reached the platform. I got on it and my friend, the teacher was on it. We left as if nothing unusual had happened!

God provided! It about gave me a heart attack! It seemed like getting to that train was improbable at best but God got me there on time.

Don’t be surprised if God allows you to be in a storm and don’t be surprised if it looks like your boat might capsize but don’t give up even when it looks bleak. After all, we do serve the God of the resurrection.