Even though riding on the train in the Balkans can be a very frustrating experience, I am also discovering it can be a source of unexpected encouragement and divine encounters.
Last Thursday my friends from America were visiting and I was having a very difficult morning, feeling very discouraged. John, Jenn, Ben and I were in the train going from Skopje to Veles, and I was sitting there feeling rather overwhelmed. There was an older woman, probably seventy years old, sitting in the compartment with us, and we struck up a conversation. She asked us what we were all doing here living in the Balkans, and I told her that we are working with different churches in Skopje, Belgrade and Thessaloniki. I expected the normal response from an older orthodox Macedonian, the suspicion that we are part of a cult. Imagine my astonishment when she began telling me about her relationship with God, and for the next thirty minutes or so proceeded to speak words of encouragement, life and wisdom over us. She told us, "You are all blessed, peaceful children of God. Everywhere that you go you will carry peace and freedom. You will fly with God. The presence of God that is in you will change your surroundings everywhere that you go. You have no reason to be afraid of anything, or to be discouraged." She went on in this fashion for a long while and as I translated for my friends I was laughing and looking over at them in astonishment, wondering where this woman came from. She is probably one in a thousand 70 year old Macedonian woman who has a personal relationship with God. The woman's name was Lile, and she said to me, "Please be praying for Baba (grandma) Lile." I assured her we would be praying for her.
The following week, I was once again in the train going from Skopje to Veles, this time with Sonja. It was Thursday, three days before at the prayer meeting I had asked God to give us divine appointments with people in Macedonia who need to hear about Him We were sitting in a compartment in the train with another young woman. When she asked us to tell her the time, Sonja took the opportunity to start a conversation with her. Having noticed that she had been crying Sonja asked her if something was wrong. She informed us that her mother had died unexpectedly three weeks before at a young age. She proceeded to tell us some of what had happened, and how she was feeling. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit as I realized he had strategically placed us there at that moment in time, and had answered my prayer very directly. Sonja shared with Monika some about how God is not the one who took her mother, and then I was able to share my testimony of having experienced much death and seeing how God brings comfort. I told her that God's desire is to give her beauty for ashes and the oil of joy for mourning, that he will bring the comfort that she needs. She cried as we spoke, and was very open to the things that we shared. We told her we would be praying for her, for which she was very grateful, and we parted ways, with the hope, at least on my part, of seeing one another again.
As I ponder these things a certain revelation sinks more deeply into my heart. My God is not a God who I have to fight with to give me blessing, or who reluctantly releases it if I pray hard enough. On the contrary, He looks for every possible opportunity to bless me. My God is for me, not against me, He longs to be gracious to me, He waits on high to have compassion on me. He brought me Baba Lile to remind me of this, and then Monika to remind me that through me He can extend this blessing to every single person whose path I cross, even sitting in the train.