Once upon a time three Westerners were traveling to a former Soviet bloc country on their way to one of the first conferences to be held there since the Wall came down. The border crossing was in the middle of corn fields as far as the eye could see. The border station was a 4’x4’ shed manned by heavily armed teenagers with inhospitable expressions fixed on unreadable faces. Said travelers were held up for 8 hours (5 PM – 2 AM) waiting for passports to be stamped and returned. Frustrated at this stagnant situation and unaccustomed to such flagrant disrespect, the driver of said group decided enough was enough and barked at one of the machine gun-carrying youths who sauntered over to the vehicle. The demand was made for the immediate return of the passports. The young man ambled over to the shed, picked up the three Western passports from the windowsill where they’d been sitting, untouched, all eight hours. He returned to the vehicle with the slightest of grins, handed the documents back, and indicated with a slight lift of his chin in the direction of the border, that the foreigners could proceed. (We were finally in-country, but we’d been warned of the dangers of driving at night on the highway because of bandits so we attempted to sleep in the car under the sole light illuminating the parking area.)

It was an extremely disconcerting feeling to be at the mercy of these testosterone-fueled, rogue soldiers. Their smug demeanor indicated that they were at liberty to do as they pleased. The machine guns slung on the backs of these angry-looking young men added to our sense of imminent danger and our vulnerability.

While this was, for us, a first-ever encounter with a situation fraught with such extreme unknowns, it was later that we three acknowledged that this type of circumstance was very common around the world. We were not molested, harassed, or interrogated or incarcerated. We simply were forced to wait until some hidden cue was given that it was permitted that we advance (or brave it and take the situation into our own hands). All told, not a story destined to become a bestseller.

To pledge allegiance to Jesus in Judea in the 1st Century AD was a far more precarious business. First, there was formal rejection from Synagogue, being disowned, even hated and feared by parents and family members, persecuted by fellow Jews, and second, being seen as insurrectionists, enemies of the state by Roman occupiers. There was peril around every corner. After enduring these circumstances for 50-60 years or longer, it is not difficult to see why some of these once-fervent followers of Jesus would be questioning how much longer they could hold on. Was there any help available to them? Were they alone in their misery, their poverty? Did God even see them? Was He listening to them? A letter, any sign of support, would help to bring renewed perspective and bolster flagging faith. But from where? From whom? We’ll pick up there tomorrow, 10 AM, 3 PM UK, 4 PM FR.  See you then!  PD

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