Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Experiencing God among the Challenges

I was on a bus going to meet my wife Esther at her workplace. The bus was packed with a bunch of school children jabbering away, going home from school for lunch. At the next bus stop at least 15 men from some sort of work group wanted to board; probably in order to go out for lunch together. There was mass confusion as they tried to decide whether they would board the bus or wait for the next one, 10 minutes later. Half did, the rest stayed behind.

In the midst of this mayhem, my phone rang. At the beginning of our stay, I was the first to obtain cell phone service, and had only given my number to very specific people related to Esther’s work. I assumed the call was for Esther, so I tried to give the lady on the other end of the line Esther’s newly obtained number.

For my aged ears, it is often difficult to understand callers in English, let alone a speaker of the Swiss dialect amidst the racket on the bus. I must have sounded like a fool to the people packed around me on all sides, trying to convince the lady on the other end of the line that the call wasn’t for me.

Eventually I understood the message, and it wasn’t one I had wanted to hear. The woman was calling from the bank where we were trying to open an account. The proof I had to show that I was legitimately in Switzerland, my Visa, had run out. I was astounded. Both Esther and I had understood that I had been granted a Visa for a year, when in fact it was only for three months and had become effective immediately the day it was issued, June 14. It ran out 10 days after we arrived in Switzerland.

There are always challenges when one moves from one community to another; even when one just moves across town. When one moves over 4,000 miles across many cultural and linguistic boundaries, the challenges are magnified. For Esther, the challenges weren’t cultural or linguistic, but learning the peculiarities of the new technology she has to use to find clients and to report on her visits, as well the differing ways clients are cared for. For me, there were challenges of legality of my stay mentioned above, computer issues, and continuing issues setting up technology in our apartment, banking, and learning where the best cafés are. 😀

In spite of these challenges, I have tried continually to remind myself to look where God is present in every moment. When we dwell on the frustration alone, we can become quite discouraged. When we focus on the bright God moments, however, our mood improves. For some reason, we are much more attuned to the negative, and need constant effort to remember the positive. I heard somewhere that we need 10 positive reinforcements to obliterate one negative one. So I decided to list some of my God experiences during the past several days.

When I was in the midst of my telephone call, the lady on the bus across from me gave me a very empathetic smile. This was nicely encouraging. I’ve seen my share of scowls here, when people show their disgust at a foreigner struggling with the dialect. Thank you, God.

Swiss children on the bus happily
singing their alphabet song with
The day before I was on another bus, and a swarm of elementary-aged children entered, again, probably going home for lunch. They were a delightful bunch. They all were sporting colorful backpacks and chatted away unabashedly. The quartet across the aisle from me was practicing singing their alphabet song from school. None of the adults around me, nor I, could contain our pleasure or our smiles at the energetic, joyful scene. Thank you, God.

After the school children got off the bus, it continued twisting its way up the side of a large hill. For miles we were going through a huge forest of tall, stately fir trees, adding an eerie tone of a childhood fairy tale. When we finally came out of the forest, the sun broke through the fog, breaking the gloomy yet magic spell. We had reached the top of the hill. The view from the top was amazing, with the snow-capped Alps in the background. As if in celebration of the sun and the view, a striking pony, next to the road and fenced in its alpine pasture, friskily leaped in adoration of its maker. This was a beautiful sight to behold. Thank you, God.

I was pursuing answers to some of our challenges on the main streets of Bern, the capital of Switzerland. The streets were especially bustling because of an open-air market on one of the main squares of the city. Unusual for the normally well-organized citizens, people crossed pedestrian-only streets willy-nilly on a quest for the latest fashion or bargain. The only vehicles allowed on these streets are trolley cars. As an elderly man tried to cross the street, a trolley came bearing down on him. He quickened his step to avoid the trolley, but tripped on the curb and tumbled head first onto the pavement where he lay still.  Immediately he was surrounded by concerned people. No passing to the other side of the street like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan.

I watched while the concerned citizens tried to lift the elderly man to his feet. He was a large man, and since most of the Good Samaritans were women, I joined to add my helping hand. Nothing was broken, and he hadn’t suffered a fainting spell or a heart attack. He was free to go his way with his worst wound being embarrassment. The city returned to its anonymous activity, but I left impressed with how many people didn’t let their busyness interfere with the needs of a fellow citizen. Thank you, God.

A smile, singing children, a pony and Good Samaritans in a cosmopolitan city—all ways in which I experienced the presence of God recently during days of significant challenges. God is ever present. We only need to be aware and to remember. “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29: 13). Thank you, God.

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