A MARATHON TRIP
Wow! It was a big team this time! Ten! They came from Hawaii, from the Mid-West, from back East, from my home city and from Mexico! Most people would think that is great, but actually, it can be a little more difficult because of the nature of our activities!
Why do people go, you might ask? I would ask you: What if you never had access to God’s Word? What if you knew of people in another country who could make sure that you could have a Bible, but the only safe way to make sure that you would receive it was to fly to your area and bring it?
Wow! Would you want them to do it? Of course, you would! The Bible provides us with the Truth! It provides us with the "road map" for life—with instructions for living. It helps us to avoid the many pitfalls in life, with warnings of the deceptive traps that have been set for us! It gives us encouragement and instructions for a joyful life, and for eternity!
I am always thrilled when people want to be involved in providing the most valuable Instruction Manual for life that exists, even though every trip has its difficulties and even though we are stretched each time!
I am not saying that everyone should do this, some are equally called to be Senders! The Goers could not go unless they are sent! Some have other ministries they are called to—like my husband who is called to teach the Word, sometimes in places where there is nobody else to do it!
So, back to this trip! We left late on Thursday night and changed planes in South Korea, then arrived at our destination Saturday afternoon, having lost 14 hours because of landing in a different time zone, across the International Date Line. I also "lost" my husband in South Korea, as he was flying from there to a different area to teach principles of spiritual warfare!
What did we do when we finally reached the terminal? We collected our baggage, changed money into local currency, and then loaded money onto local transportation cards. After completing those three tasks, we pushed and pulled our bags to a bus that would take us to the area that would be "home" to us for the next couple of weeks.
When we reached the end of the hour-long bus ride, we were met by friends who lived and worked there full time. They helped us to carry all our luggage as we walked to the apartments that we would be staying in. We made it!
The next day was Sunday, which was a free day, so we went to church with some good friends who lived there. It was the Sunday for the Youth to be in charge of the service, which was an enjoyable treat. After church we did a little exploring and then back to our two apartments. An easy day to ease our adjustment into a new time zone, new beds, new housemates, new food and new activities.
Our "work" began the next morning. After team devotions together, we started pulling out the things we had brought for friends in this location. Next, we went to the office for a briefing to prepare us for what we came to do, followed by lunch. With some anticipation by the new team members, we were ready for our first trip of carrying His Word across the border!
Success! We all turned around and went back to get another "load" to take across again, but at a different border. This sounds simple. It actually involved four train rides and four bus rides and a lot of walking. But it was a small price to pay! It was a Good Day! Great food, a quick debrief of the day, showers and to bed!
What a great week! Yes, we were doing the same work every day—sometimes being stopped and not being able to get everything across every time. But we had way more success than not! Just knowing that each Bible would go to a person who had been waiting, praying to receive one; a person who had never had one! Can you even imagine having no access to a Bible?
Sometimes a person in our home country will ask, “Why can’t they not just read the Word online?” The Internet is many times blocked or monitored, leading to severe consequences. Another idea is suggested: Digital copies can be taken in more easily than Books. Yes, but millions do not have access to be able to use this method. The situation for the best means of crossing is continually being monitored and updated by the organization we work with.
Besides doing this very needed work, we, as a team, had so many good opportunities to experience the culture, to listen to and bond with long term people, and to get to know each other on the team better. It was such a rich experience! Our ages ranged from 15-75! But we were a team—working together, eating together, sharing our common goals, and stresses, and our life stories.
You might ask, "Were there problems?" Of course! Any time you have a group of people together, especially people who just met each other, there is almost for sure to be some friction, some misunderstandings—even disagreements! But most of this was prevented by the training we give ahead of time, even though team members come from places scattered across the country. This was done by group emails, spiritual warfare teaching, personality exercises, and a lot of prayer.
After our time of delivering Bibles, we flew to another city. Doesn't that sound simple? Believe me, it was not! First, we had to cram all the heavy Books into our backpacks, as we were taking Bibles in another language to this new location. We put most of them went into our backpacks since the roller bags would be weighed. We did put one layer of Books on the bottom of our roller bags. All packed, we crossed the border, then took a bus for an hour to another airport. We found the hotel we had reserved for just one night, as we had to be at the airport very early the next morning to continue to our next destination.
This was an old city where there is one of the seven—or is it eight—wonders of the world? The whole team went exploring for the day. I stayed in the hotel, with all our bags in my room. We had the valuable Books that could not be left alone. Nor could we lug them around all day!
Do you think that locked bags are safe? Let me tell you: Once I accidently locked the key to the padlock on my suitcase inside the suitcase! I know, that was a very careless mistake! I went to the hotel manager for help. He sent one of his employees to help me. It took him about five seconds to open my padlock! He didn't break it; he just unlocked it! And with no sign of "breaking in". So, locks don't guarantee anything! Or, as it has been said, “Locks keep honest people honest.”
The possible consequences of Bibles being discovered in our bags were: losing the Books, being interrogated for a few days by the police, and then deported. Because we were inside the country instead of just at the Border, there would be much more serious consequences.
Next morning, we were up and headed to the airport to continue our journey! As soon as we arrived, we found a taxi van which took us to the hotel that we had booked. When we got registered and into our rooms, we quickly got the roller bag Books crammed into our backpacks. At 10-minute intervals, by twos, we went different routes to take our backpacks to the apartment that was scheduled to receive them, nonchalantly walking along like tourists, stopping to look in store windows or shops or flowers along the way. We had a good visit with the missionary couple that gladly received them.
Note: They were kicked out of that country several years later—no charges, just clearing the area of foreigners! No warning! One morning they went to open their place of business and a padlock had been put on the door with a notice - CLOSED! They had lived there for over 20 years! They had only a few days to be gone!
Now that we had unloaded our precious Gifts, the next day we were free to meet our main contact for this part of the country. She wanted to spend some time with us to relax and debrief her life here, about her work and just time for some fellowship. Being a single long-term missionary can be a lonely life. So, all 11 of us, plus the driver, crammed into a van with seats for seven and went to a nearby mountain. Our missionary friend believed we could safely spend quality time together there.
She quietly disappeared as we checked into the rustic hotel, and then rejoined us. We spent the evening debriefing her as much as possible while huddled around a small space heater in one of the rooms. She continued sharing while walking around and exploring the mountain the next day. It was a fun and relaxing time for all. There was snow on the ground and one of the team members from Hawaii had never seen snow in her whole life! What a treat!
We went back to the city. While there, we needed to change more money into the local currency. What an experience! I went with our missionary contact to meet her friend who would be able to get a good exchange rate. We met in the bank parking lot. She handed him the money we wanted changed. He walked off with it, leaving his car running with the heater on, so we could keep warm.
About 15 minutes later he was back with local currency! What? It turned out that he got it on the black market! Before giving it to us, he took it into the bank for them to count it on their machine! The bankers knew it was from the black market! The police, who were stationed inside and outside of the bank, knew it was from the black market! And nobody seemed to care! A new and unusual experience for me! I was glad that I didn't know ahead of time! Our missionary friend saw it as the normal way to do business!
Early the next morning, we left for the train station to go to our next destination. While waiting in the crowded station—there were hundreds of people—one of the young women on the team had a complete melt-down! She thought others were deliberately doing annoying things to her—like pushing, kicking, and hitting. She wanted to "go home", which, of course, was impossible. I told her that she had to stop crying and to calm down, as it was putting all of us at very serious risk. She needed to rebuke the enemy and quietly hum praise songs. She did and all was well. Phew!! Also, she had not eaten, nor taken her morning pills – which I did not know about! So, it was probably partly natural and largely spiritual warfare!
What did I learn from this? A more detailed application that would not catch me by surprise about peoples’ medications!
We were on that train for twenty-four hours. We had lots of time to sleep and to do prayer walking up and down the train cars several times. Also, we had time, while looking out the window, to pray for all the people in the buildings we passed. We caught up on our logs, on our sleep, on our eating, and just talking with each other. Sometimes we had good conversations with the local people who were also traveling. People were generally friendly and liked to practice their English if they knew any.
At the end of the train trip, we got checked into another hotel in yet another city. We went to a restaurant to eat real food, which was much better than our snacks on the train. We made it to the mosque before the afternoon call to prayer and found places to sit outside—a little way away, but where we could see the large crowds of men going in for their prayers. We had our silent prayer time for them and their families and the leaders the whole time that they were in the mosque.
Always there is more obvious spiritual warfare associated with this place and these activities. It is a city lost in darkness. Team members often got sick, sometimes had nightmares—many weird things would happen. One person on this team was sick in bed with a fever. Every time she fell asleep, she dreamed that a demon came in her room and was coming towards her! Then she would wake up! Another person stepped in a pothole in a dark alley and twisted her ankle, which bothered her for the rest of the trip. Another person had her camera in her jacket pocket while walking in our group. It was taken out of her pocket without her being aware of it! Very slick pick pocketers!
Are you with me? Are you ready for the next trip?
We left the next day for our last destination. A good friend, our main contact in this city, picked us up at the airport. We learned that the place he had leased the previous year to have Christian Retreats had been shut down!
It was way out of the city, away from everything where he thought it would be safe. He had borrowed money and put a lot of work into making it an ideal place to come together for worship and teaching. A government spy had infiltrated his group, posing as a Christian. He had taken pictures, then reported the Christian activity to the government police. The police called our friend in and showed him the pictures. They closed him down, saying that people can worship their God any time they want to, but only in the government church!
He had borrowed a lot of money to restore and furnish the place! Our friend's attitude was like Job—"He gives, and He takes away." Even still, it was very hard on him and his family in every way. When he talked with me alone about it, he broke down in tears, which was good…healthier than keeping it all in! Later, God led one of the members on another one of my teams to donate a large sum to pay back the money that had been borrowed! What a blessing!
Yet another surprising situation on this trip! Years before, the wife of one of our longest contacts, another good friend, had been "sucked" into a terrible cult. She was gone for seven years! No contact with her husband or young children! Then she escaped, which was no doubt God's answer to a lot of prayer to rescue her from that cult! And, of course, there were many scars on all the family members for being deserted, as well as scars on her! Her now estranged husband had called our driver that she wanted to meet with me and to go with us on the bus to the tourist place that we were going to that day.
She was waiting at the prearranged place and when Mark, our driver, pulled up she just kept saying my name to make sure that I was on that bus. She got on and just held me in the aisle and cried for at least two full minutes while the bus driver waited, and everyone was quiet. Then we walked to the back of the bus and the trip continued.
She cried off and on. Life was hard, understandably! Her husband didn't trust her anymore. Her children were very angry with her, as they had to live with no mother for all those years! It was a very hard situation with no easy answers. I mainly just listened and prayed silently, wanting to trust her, but it would take time to rebuild relationships—for everyone. A very heavy situation!
During the following few days that were left of our trip I had more meetings with that couple who had been apart all those years. We talked about how to rebuild their relationship. There were also times when our team spent time prayer walking in and over the city from a high hill that overlooked a major part of the city.
On a lighter note: On our last evening when we were all in the hotel for the night, the 15-year-old girl on the team came to our room in her giraffe sleeper. She got the two of us to join her in going to the third room of our team. There we found the two team members from Maui who tried to teach all of us the hukihua! It was all very fun and entertaining! Everyone was a good sport! A good last night before heading home!
READ more stories by Neal and Yvonne Pirolo!