There’s always more to tell. In the days the followed after Santiago, I visited Finisterra and Muxia, walking between the two, then returned to Ireland, where I eventually settled into a cottage for 18 days and painted day after day from up to 5.5 hours a day. There was a weekend before I arrived at the cottage when I flew from Ireland to England for $20rt to visit friends in England, and then Karen, my wife, joined me there for a week in Ireland, and two weeks in England before returning home to the states on November 11th, 2016. What a week that was in the states. The election had been that week and there was rioting in Portland, Oregon. We saw pictures of the bonfires burning in the streets of Portland on the TVs at the Dublin Airport while eating dinner there the night before our departure. We were dismayed. To what were we returning?
Re-entry was challenging for me. If you want to read more on that, journey back to “Endings and Beginnings” Here and some of the posts from that season. I’ve detailed much there. But something that happened just two days after I got home was a phone call.
It came from a good friend, Carolyn, from Simply the Story, a storytelling outreach I had been involved for 5 years, at that point. She called to ask if I would join a team going to Dresden, Germany to work with Farsi speaking refugees from Iran. “Yes,” I said. “I mean, I suppose I need to check with the church, but yes.” My spirit had said yes and the word I had received from God on more than one occasion came back into my heart with this phone call,
“Just you wait for what I have planned. You will be traveling…” God had said.
I did check with the church leadership and they were so onboard with this opportunity. They knew how to get along without me! Amidst the ice storms of January and after being down with double walking pneumonia for the two weeks prior to departure, I flew out on Saturday, January 14th for Oakland, my friend, Carolyn, met me, and then on Sunday evening we met with another friend at the San Francisco airport and the three of us boarded our Swiss Air flight for Zurich.
There was this unreal feeling in all this. The last time I had landed in Zurich, I had been 17 years old. Crazy feeling to be back in that airport 40 years later.
After connecting in Zurich, we flew to Dresden and were met at the airport by the sweetest woman, our host for the week. Christina had this joyful, round face, with rosy cheeks, and was married to Dieter, a solid, stout and jolly German. Christina spoke fluent English while Dieter conversed with me easily in German, especially over a beer. Here’s Dieter and I while on a walk through Dresden one evening.
One night Christina had said, “Dieter would love to be able to drink a beer and chat. Would you be willing to do that?” So us men chatted in German over beer, while Christina made the meal. That might make me sound fluent, far from it, but my vocabulary increased by leaps and bounds as my brain tapped into that once fluent language bucket! It was like I had had 8 crayons to begin a picture but by the end, that number had increased to 148!
The stairs down from the living area to the street!
Our schedule while in Dresden was full. We had some 16 hour days from the time we left our homestay, a full 45 minutes from where our group would meet and when we would arrive home after the tram ride, bus ride and tromping through the snow. It was 20F with snow everywhere most of the time we were there that week. Long icicles grew outside my third story window.
One evening Christina had prepared a special dinner for us which we arrived to eat at 9:30 pm! Crazy long days. On Sunday she fixed a special traditional German meal for our evening meal, served on special dishes, and in their dining room. Their son was in town and joined us for that meal.
We met with the group of students for this storytelling class in a coffee shop in downtown Dresden which boasted this beautiful mural of the Prodigal Son. The coffee shop was owned and run by the church ministry outreaching to these precious souls. Certainly, I had prayed for refugees many times, but to meet those who had been internationally displaced because of all kinds of reasons, was heart-wrenching for me.
As I met these beautiful, precious people, they would tell me their stories with tears brimming their eyes, remembering the separation from many family members, the loss of jobs, of education, of hope. One young woman, 24, had traveled with her mom, dad, and younger brother, and she had had with her, her college degree certificate and her transcripts for electrical engineering. However, at one stop, someone broke into their stuff and stole all her paperwork. Without it, she had no proof that she had obtained that degree. There was no way to contact the school in Iran, for because she was a refugee, she had become a “nobody.” She would need to begin all over again. That was the story for many of the refugees.
The refugees were eager learners, as they discovered how they could learn from the stories of scripture by asking questions and how they then could share stories with others. One of our students gathered a group of six of his Muslim neighbors one evening after class and told them three Bible stories and led in some discussion. He was so excited, they all wanted to join him in the church that met in the coffee shop that Sunday.
We saw God move among these people. One of our students had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had previously had some tests and was heading back for another test while we were there. The whole class gathered around him and began to pray, fervently. As we prayed I received a vision of the tumor actually shrinking with imagery that looked like it was burning. Nyma, one of the refugees saw a very similar vision. We both felt that God was saying this brother had been healed. Indeed, after his doctor’s appointment, he brought us boxes of chocolates to celebrate and confirmed that the doctor had said the tumor was gone. So, these brothers and sisters had immense hopelessness and yet, immense joy, hope and saw the loving action of God.
One young man asked that I pray for him, so I did so, asking God to bless him and work in and through him. While praying, two others had lined up behind the first asking for prayer as well. They were eager for all that God could offer them.
There were others involved in this training, who spoke German and English, so they were split into a second group. At times both groups met together, for special experiences, or as they did for church on Sunday morning, when many others joined as well, and at which I was asked to speak. That was a huge blessing.
On our last day, during a time of testimony, when the students can share how God had moved in and through them in this time of training in biblical storytelling, one of the Americans not on our team, but a missionary to Dresden, leaned over and whispered, “Could I talk to you for a moment?”
One glance at this young man and I knew my answer. He was visibly shaking with the stress he was carrying within him, and his eyes brimmed with tears. But I saw few possibilities of “where” we could go within the building. I noticed that the kitchen was accessible. So, he and I crawled around people and walked to the kitchen. As we did so, the Lord gave me a picture of this man, in my arms weeping while I held him. I thought that was interesting and wondered when that might occur!
This kitchen was not an ideal counseling office. The free floor space was an area of 6’x3′ surrounded by sinks, refrigerators, stoves, and with people coming in and going out bringing in dirty dishes and taking out clean ones. We stood facing one another, and I said, “Okay, what’s up?”
This beautiful black guy, with deep brown eyes, and a striking smile, looked at me with tears and said,
“I’ve misjudged you.”
Now of all the openers, that was not what I expected.
“Okay. Tell me more.” I said.
“We get people through here, usually older, white, males with beards (it frightened me a bit to be described as an ‘older’ guy!). They come with an attitude, with an arrogance, with a racial prejudice in them and just want to prove how great they are,” he said, “and I thought you were just like them. But you aren’t like them at all. I have not treated you well nor thought rightly about you. That was wrong. I need your forgiveness.”
“Wow,” I responded, “I forgive you, Martin.* But I get the sense there is something else going on.”
What followed was one of the most amazing 45 minutes in my life. I was able to pray with him through some deep hurt and injury, see Jesus move in with healing and restoration. And I watched as the stress flowed from his body and his clouded eyes cleared.
As he shared and we prayed the Holy Spirit whispered, “He was sexually abused, as were you. You will have an opportunity to tell him this.”
After we had prayed, he was now laughing and free, standing before me. Seeing this new man, the Holy Spirit said, “Now,” so I said that there was one more thing I thought he ought to know.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“I also was sexually abused by the associate pastor of my home church.”
And he came unhinged. “What? You too? Really? You did? How did you know? How did you forgive him?” And then he began to sob and I held him.
God, you are so good.
We parted and I made my way back to the group and Martin* to the bathroom, and put some stuff away in my pack and saw my anointing oil, and the Holy Spirit said, “I had you bring it for him.”
“Okay,” I thought, so went back to the bathroom and said to Martin* as he was washing his hands, “The Holy Spirit said I am supposed to anoint you with oil.” And Martin* again got all excited, and kept exclaiming,
“Oh Jesus! Jesus! I was just standing here thinking, ‘O bummer. I wish I had had him anoint me.'” And there I was.
What a trip of miracles. The thing that my heart believes is that God took me to Germany for the healing of Martin’s* heart. Certainly, there were other benefits, blessings, and gifts. The time with the refugees was incredible, unrepeatable. But alongside that blessing, it was God’s desire to see this man find the freedom he needed. I was staggered at this thought and it fits into the reality of me yet being on this pilgrimage, this Camino, a walk that takes me across the street and around the world to see people blessed, healed, set free.
*this name changed