Last week, on July 8, was the 40th year anniversary of one of the greatest hope-crushing days of my life. I had just completed my first year serving with the mission group, YWAM, that I am still with. On that day in July, 1980, I was to have departed from Sea-tac airport in Seattle with four others from my group for a mission adventure to the then-Soviet Union and Mongolia. It was to be my first time in Asia, never having any idea that two years and a month later I would arrive in Kolkata, India to begin decades of service in that country.
As we approached our departure date of July 8, there was the nervousness and anxiety in me of being the team leader at the age of 21. But much of that worry in me was also because we still needed several thousand dollars to come in for our trip. There have been many steps of faith in my life in the 40 years since, but this was the first and biggest up to that point. Though I had only been in YWAM then for one year, I had already learned that this group believed in faith that God would provide in often last minute and amazing ways.
Our team had originally planned to go into the Soviet Union via the European side in Moscow, and then take the Trans-Siberian railroad all the way across into Siberia and then down to Mongolia. It was part of a larger Christian outreach called Operation Friendship. But with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December, 1979, President Jimmy Carter a few months later in 1980 pulled the US team out of the Olympics to be hosted in the country. We decided to go in via the east and take the Trans-Siberian up to Irkutsk then to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia.
But there was that pesky problem of money.
With just three days to go before departure on the 8th, we still needed about three thousand dollars. The Russian embassy had given an extension to release our visas pending the money coming in. Right up to the 8th morning, we were packed and ready to go, waiting at the YWAM office in Tacoma, Washington for the final money to come in. We were sure it would, even if the final bit came in at the airport itself.
But then the phone rang in the office. I fully expected it to be someone calling to give us the last amount. Alas, not. It was the Russian embassy, officially giving us the word that they had cancelled our trip and we would not be able to leave. The trip was over. All our hopes were dashed. Defeat and failure filled our hearts.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal at the end of that day 40 years ago: The day is over, and we’re not going to the Soviet Union (and Mongolia) at this time, the Lord is testing me over whether I’ll still love Him and be faithful to Him-we got these scriptures Habakkuk 3:17-19 and 2: 2-3. I need to seek Him now over what I’m to do next.
The first passage in the Old Testament book of Habakkuk deals with trusting God when everything has fallen apart in life. Though the fig tree does not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like hinds feet, he makes me tread upon my high places. Habakkuk 3: 17-19
When our hopes have been dashed, our dreams crushed, sometimes all that is left is trust. As I look back now, of course, those dashed hopes do not at all approach the devastation of what these verses describe, or even more difficult experiences I would have in the future. But for a 21 year old new leader who had told everyone I was going to the Soviet Union and Mongolia, only to fail, it was bad enough. I went home that night to loving parents who supported me, and tried to sleep.
It was not, however, the end of the story. Three days later I wrote this in my journal: We’re going for the trip again, this time in August… What had happened? Somehow in those few days, a new hope had arisen from the faith within me. I contacted the others on my team, and all of them also wanted to still go. We began to raise money again, only to find that our trip would be even more expensive. Our new departure date was August 19.
Have you experienced the new hope of a new dream? Or an old dream renewed? As I spent time praying on my knees each day for the courage and strength for this re-scheduled trip, the thoughts began to come: what if the same thing happens again? What if you get to the last day like before, and the money doesn’t come in? What if you fail again?
On August 19th, we packed our bags and arrived at the YWAM office again, still needing about 2,000 for the new itinerary. I can’t fully remember how I felt that day, only that I kept going no matter what. As the minutes approached when we would need to leave for the airport, we got a phone call, and almost all the money left was given by someone. Then the tourist agency called that was arranging our Russian visas, and they said we could go ahead and go and pick them up in Japan on our way. (actually they were not waiting for us there in Japan, causing a week delay and another adventure, but that is for another time!)
We left for the airport, and even there we were given more money by a friend. Even on the plane itself over the Pacific Ocean a former missionary to Vietnam felt led to give us money. The amazing adventures continued in Japan, the Soviet Union and Mongolia.
We are all living in times when for many hopes are crushed or delayed. Lockdowns due to covid-19 continue in various countries, racial and political tensions simmer or explode in the US. Careers and lives seem endlessly on hold.
What can we do?
Your hopes are gone, or endlessly delayed. You know what’s amazing? That day 40 years ago, July 8, 1980, became the day nine years later that I got married. My wife and I last week celebrated our 31st wedding anniversary. A day that was one of the lowest of my life at 21 years old became one of incredible joy when I was 30.
Keep hanging on through this time and rise again in new hope.