I (Lisa) have been thinking about the pros and cons of pit stops, as I took one recently. While pit stops are necessary, any race car driver would probably tell you that if they weren’t so very necessary, he or she would rather not take one. They cost valuable time and focus, and subsequent reacceleration takes effort. I imagine it takes a while for a driver to get back in the groove. When we began planning our journey, one thing we agreed on early was that we would not return to the United States for the whole year unless a family emergency made it crucial to do so. We wanted to keep our heads in the game, and not lose momentum for our journey here. We were blessed that our children and some good friends were willing to come our way for Christmas. So it was with somewhat mixed feelings that I learned I was a finalist for a job in Los Angeles and would need to fly there for an interview. I was thrilled to get that far for a position that had many applicants (though the likelihood of actually landing the job is still remote), and happy of course to see family and friends, both human and canine. But I was genuinely sorry to be apart from my favorite mission team-mate for ten days, and sorry not to be able to join him in ministering in Ukraine at a crucial time in that nation’s life.
I hadn’t anticipated how quickly I would get used to life back in California. What’s not to love? I loved driving a car for the first time in six months, having a phone that worked anywhere and not just when I am able to connect to Wi-Fi. I loved pulling my clothes out of the washer to find this brilliant machine next to it called a dryer! I know, they’re energy guzzlers and Europeans are probably right to reject them but oh, what a treat it was to have dried clothes half an hour after washing them! I loved being warm in a t-shirt by afternoon in Pasadena. It was delightful to see my sister three whole times and go a movie (Selma—amazing) and linger over Chinese dumplings with my mother. I loved walking my dog and her boisterous buddy-for-the-year every morning, and catching up with many friends. As with every pit stop, I reloaded on supplies: toiletries not readily available in Eastern Europe, socks and undies and a couple of TJ’s treats. I took a giant stack of mail from the wonderful friends who are receiving it for the year. And, as is inevitable with every pit stop, I lost steam.
I came back jet-lagged and cranky, unhappy with our tiny, bunk-bed-equipped, toilet-less room in the noisy youth hostel where we stayed while we hosted a conference for InterVarsity in London. I could not get to sleep until 3am Thursday night, and finally met our lovely partner Amy, from IV’s national office, in the lobby close to tears with frustration at my own state of exhaustion. Rich and I quarreled about petty things, reuniting with all the grace of a barge slamming into an old wooden dock. My vision for the weekend was small: get through it. My fear for what came after it was great: all I could think of in cold London was that most of the next five countries promised to be much colder—I don’t think late March counts as spring yet in Siberia, and temps in Moldova this coming week are hovering in the twenties.
Where did God meet me in London? Why, at a pub, of course! Friday night, as our meeting ended, we were given the option of braving the cold and walking a few blocks to a pub, and I thought, “Well, if I was awake in my bed until 3am last night, I may as well join them.” At the risk of getting in trouble with IV’s risk management department, we enjoyed, um, beverages and a surprisingly quiet, cheerfully warm back room of a pub, and after stories alive with friendly laughter, our conversation turned to how we had gotten involved with InterVarsity and how God had worked through it in each of our lives. A lovely young woman, Michaela, shared that she had been so drawn in by the worship at the campus fellowship meetings that she learned to play the guitar and asked to join the worship team even though she wasn’t yet a Christian! She proceeded to commit her life to Christ at the winter retreat. As she spoke, she realized it was essentially one year later, so we all raised a glass and toasted God’s good work in her life. Other students shared how desperately they were missing the first-year students they’d been leading all fall. “I miss them like a mom misses her babies!” It was a joy-filled evening, one that left me profoundly grateful for my own years in IV, and glad to have this small opportunity to invest in a dozen students who were seeking to be more missional with their semester abroad. It was also a treat to meet an Indonesian student who happened to mention that her father’s faith had been strengthened while in the Indonesian Christian Fellowship at Iowa State—Rich’s father was the very involved faculty sponsor of that group for many years!
I think I’m ready to head to Moldova tomorrow. I’m back on some sort of European time, and we made a run to London’s discount clothing store, Primark, today for warmer hats and scarves. I like to read up on each country and learn a few phrases, etc. before we arrive. We just had half an hour of free internet tonight, enough to learn what I had heard previously, that Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, which has made it a huge target for human trafficking of women and children. A stunning 38% of its GDP comes from remittances sent back from relatives who’ve gone in search of employment elsewhere. In that climate of discouragement, we hope to offer good news and caring hearts to the ones who are making a long-term impact there. We will be teaching for two gatherings of graduates from IFES ministries, as well as at various student and staff gatherings. I will seek to be fully present, listening well, caring and serving in every way I can, even as part of my mind is inevitably a little bit more on next year’s employment situation than it would have been if I hadn’t gone to Los Angeles. We do ask your prayers as we head into this colder phase of our journey, and as we seek God’s direction for the future beyond this year. Pray that we can trust God for that and stay as focused on the present and the Moldovans (and Belarusians and Siberians, et al.) right in front of us. Pit stop’s over, but it’s not a race…it’s a journey.
Rich and Lisa Lamb