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Thoughts on life by Teri McCarthy

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Part I – No Tickets, No Visa, No Service

Posted by admin in June 20th, 2009
Published in faith, missions

Long, long ago in a land far, far away there was an old-maid missionary, uh, well, maiden who thought she heard God’s voice and attempted to follow that voice wherever she thought it was leading her. Her handy hearing-God’s-voice-manual came from a beautiful Kingdom Princess named Corrie ten Boom. The poor old-maid-missionary maiden (is that redundant?!?) believed that she could do mighty feats for the Kingdom just like Princess Corrie. Until one day…

“You know Teri. You are no Corrie ten Boom, right? I mean you know that!” The words would have hurt more deeply and more bitterly if Marianne’s face hadn’t been so angelic and sweet. She thought, as my friend, she was doing me a big favor by giving me a reality check, but in reality she was crushing me beyond belief.

A long time ago, (okay, right, I said that already), I felt God calling me to the Soviet Union. It was 1986 and everything I had tried to get into that nation had failed. I either didn’t have enough education or enough money to do what was required by the USSR to get in. So, after praying and doing some research, I decided to go to Helsinki, Finland, where a person could get a tourist visa into the USSR in 24 hours and for cheap $$$. I had just enough cash to get me a one-way ticket to Helsinki and for a young, not-too-bright-old-maid-missionary maiden—that was sufficient for the journey.

I arrived in Helsinki late one very freezing cold, bitter nasty April night. And for the first time in 40 years Finland was experiencing a civil servants’ strike. Yeah, lucky me! No buses, no trains, no telephones, no mail, no airport workers (socialist country) well, you get the idea. Nada.

Because of the situation, the Finnair flight had been rerouted to a small privately owned airport in a town called Turku and all the passengers were taken in privately owned small mini vans to Helsinki. We arrived in the capital a little after midnight and were dropped off in the city’s center. Exhausted. Freezing. And with no transportation anywhere to be found, I was desperate for a place to stay. I asked a fellow passenger if she knew of a hotel nearby and she pointed to the Hotel Intercontinental just a block away.

By the time I reached the hotel it was nearly 1 AM. I had been traveling for 24 hours. I was dirty. I was hungry (okay, well, I’m always hungry) and I was eager to shower and sleep. The hotel had a room available. The rate was more than I could afford, but I thought for one night I’d have to go ahead and spend the mula and be really careful the rest of the trip.

Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for a wakeup call and I WOKE UP THREE DAYS LATER! Seriously. I was in a fog, completely confused and totally unaware that I had blown my entire trip’s budget right out of the shoot with one hotel stay. Brilliant.

I checked out of the insanely expensive hotel ASAP. Ashamed and beating myself up I decided since it was Sunday I’d try to track down a church and attend. If for no other reason than it would get me off the cold, icy streets of Helsinki and give me some time to figure out what my next brilliant move would be. It was an awful feeling being broke, alone, frostbitten and a little bit scared in a strange city so far from home. Hey, but the Corrie-ten-Boom Handbook always said “God provides”.

The church was made entirely of wood. It was like no other church I’d ever seen. It was enormous and yet very simple. The design reminded me of a big old wooden ship. I of course arrived late, icicles had formed on my nose and eyelashes (not a few of my favorite things!) and I was wearing every piece of clothing I had brought with me trying to bundle against the insane North Pole “spring” temperatures. In other words I looked fabulous.

I sat down in the last pew of the enormous church and an usher immediately came up to me and asked me to move. Did I mention that my rubber soled shoes were squeaking horrendously loudly on the wooden floor? Uh huh. In fact, I made so much noise getting from pew one to pew two that the pastor, who was trying to make announcements from the pulpit, just stopped speaking and waited patiently for me to get settled. The usher wanted me to join the “headset community” just off to the right of the pulpit, of course down front, so that I could have the sermon translated in English. How did he know I was a foreigner?

Once I settled into the pew with my headset on, the pastor resumed his announcements. Flags from every nation were hung around the wooden sanctuary. This was obviously a missions-loving church. The pastor was reading a few announcements back on track when suddenly, about the fourth row from the front, a young woman raised her hand. I could kinda tell this wasn’t a regular occurrence here at big old wooden church because the pastor looked shocked, the congregation looked shocked and all the ushers looked shocked. The pastor, not quite sure what to do, hesitated and then asked the woman what she wanted. The translator’s voice coming through the headset asked us to hang on because he too was shocked and didn’t know exactly what was going on either.

The young woman stood up and said something in Finnish. The pastor slowly motioned for her to come to the front. He walked down the five or six steps off the platform and leaned into her as she cupped her hand to whisper something into his ear. The translator chuckled nervously and said, “Sorry folks. I am not able to explain what is happening because quite frankly I have no idea.”

The pastor looked kind, thoughtful, hesitant, cautious and then nodded his head in agreement and helped the young woman up to the podium.

She leaned way too close into the mic, sort of bending down the way inexperienced speakers do—thinking she had to speak directly into the sponge top. She spoke. The translator did, well, you know…what translators do…he uh…translated.

“Please forgive me but I have never done anything like this before in my life,” she said. Her voice was shaking, “Most of you know me and have known me all of my life. But I feel God is speaking to me today and wants me to say something. Please forgive me if I am mistaken. But here it goes…

“Child of my grace you have not come here on your own but I have brought you here. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed for I am still in control. I love you, I am watching over you and I am attending the things concerning you. Again, I say do not be afraid for you have not come here on your own.”

She wiped a few tears from her eyes and stepped down from the platform and returned to her seat. There was an incredible hush that had fallen on the large congregation. The pastor walked slowly back to the pulpit and looked at us. Then he bowed his head in prayer, “Father, thank you for speaking to us today. Please help us to always be sensitive to Your leading. Amen.” And on with the service he went.

The terrible civil servants’ strike, my entire trip’s budget blown on one hotel, no place to stay, no money, no clue as to what to do next and I had feared the worst. I had feared that I had missed God’s direction and had headed off on this big adventure all on my own. I feared that I had failed before I had really even started. And then there was that word, “Child of my grace you have not come here on your own.”

The entire service was focused on world missions. It was their annual missions emphasis Sunday! Who knew? There were missionary speakers, and slide shows, and international guests and it was hog heaven for me. Kind of like Elizabeth Taylor’s character in National Velvet. Remember the scene where they’d been traveling all night to get to the big horse race. She opens the door of the horse trailer, sticks her head out and sniffs really deeply, really feeling it and exhales, “hhhoooorrrrssssesss.” That’s how I felt. I was smellin’ mmmmiiiissssiiiiooonnnsss. Yummy smell.

After the service so many kind and friendly people came up to me and asked me my name and what I was doing in Helsinki. But one lady in particular stood out. Marianne. Dark haired and dark eyed. A true Austrian beauty. She waited for others to greet me and then she came up to me and said, “You my friend are coming home with me today. You’re staying with me and my husband. Our place is small and we have two very small girls, but you are welcome to come home with us and stay as long as you need.”

And I did. And my heart was filled to overflowing because a great big God in a great big heaven with a whole lotta things on His platter found time to provide for a goofy, dimwitted, Corrie-ten-Boom wanna be.

That night in Aimo and Marianne Lempinen’s tiny apartment living room I was sitting awestruck with Aimo and Mirianne and their guests…the International Relations Officer to Finland from the USSR. Aimo was a Finnish Foreign Affairs officer and had invited the USSR International Relations Director and his wife to their home weeks before. And here I was sitting in their living room watching the giant USSR guy balancing a piece of Marianne’s New York style cheesecake on one leg and a cup of coffee on the other.

He said to me, “There are absolutely no tickets to Russia at this time. Not even for me. The strike has rendered the rail system helpless. I am sorry. There is nothing I can do.” His richly accented English and deep voice made me want to go to Russia even more.

Aimo looked at me kindly, gently patted me on the shoulder as if comforting a child, “Well, you tried. I checked every agency in town last week for one of my colleagues and there are simply no train tickets available to anyone. With the Finnish trains not running, we simply must rely upon the Soviet trains and they are completely sold out—booked for ages. I am so sorry Teri.”

I said my goodnights and Marianne followed me to her daughter’s room where I’d be sleeping. “Try not to take it too hard Teri. Sometimes things just don’t work out.”

I shrugged my shoulders, “I know. But I just keep thinking that God told me to come this way through Helsinki to Moscow. You know Corrie ten Boom tells a story about a time when she believed God was telling her to take a certain route and the airlines said it was impossible because there were no routes going that direction. She insisted on that route and they laughed at her. But the next day the ticket agent called and apologized because the airline had started a new route exactly as she had requested it. The agent had actually said, ‘God must have built you an island Miss ten Boom because now the plane has a place to refuel. Congratulations.’” I looked expectantly at Marianne, who actually had met Corrie ten Boom in the Hague, and she smiled.

“You know Teri, you are no Corrie ten Boom, right? I mean you know that!” And she was right. No one had ever had the nerve to say it to me before and I realized the ridiculous notion I had carried for so long. The notion that I could be like Corrie ten Boom.

Marianne gave me a much needed reality check.

So, too tired to process everything and still trying to make the pieces fit together, I headed off to sleep in the top bunk of a wobbly bunk bed. I was looming nervously over a small pixie-faced blond haired five-year-old named Pia snuggled in the bunk below.

God didn’t build me an island, but…well…I’ll write Part Two tomorrow. Peace.

4 users Responded In This Post

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134. Kevin Eklund said,
June 20th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

That’s quite an exciting adventure Teri! I’m looking forward to reading part two 🙂

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135. Rick Hinze said,
June 21st, 2009 at 4:25 pm

“Child of my grace”, what a beautiful expression of our Father’s feelings toward us! It was so moving to read this on Father’s Day! Thank you, Teri!

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136. admin said,
June 22nd, 2009 at 6:16 am

Rick Hinze you are too kind! Thanks for the encouraging words. Kevin is my son-in-law and kinda has to say sweet things to me so I’ll fix him brisket, but you my brother, well…it means a lot. I write these old blogs because at 50 years of age, living in the ease of Zion, uh, I mean the US, I need to remind myself that God has done great things and He’ll do them again. Blessings! Oh and I hope you had a truly Happy Father’s Day. 🙂

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137. big sister said,
June 22nd, 2009 at 10:00 am

You are more than a Corrie-ten-Boom wanna be in my book…

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