Greetings from the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in Poland!
It has been a whirlwind week of late nights and wee-hours worship, early mornings and midday meetings, and all that adds up to little sleep. Twenty-four hour worship over seven days is both challenging and wonderful. I always say that I can sleep after Tabernacles, but I hate to miss a moment while I’m here. I can’t believe that it is almost at the end now!
Last night a group of us got together in the hotel restaurant for some friend time after the church’s coffee shop had closed. Someone asked the question: what has been your best moment here at Tabernacles? The answers were as personal and varied as we were. Some people experienced miraculous healings, while others experienced God’s presence and help in a moment of their own inability. But for each of us the best moments were intimately personal God encounter moments.
My friend, Guy, had a miraculous healing. The day before coming to Tabernacles, he hurt his back. The pain got worse and worse, so that he couldn’t even carry his guitar. Max went to his house and brought Guy, his luggage, and his guitar back to my apartment for the night. In this way we were able to wake up together as a group (four of the five members of Team Albania) for our early morning trip to the airport. Of course, we prayed for healing, believing that God would touch him. But at first the pain got worse and worse. It broke my heart to see Guy walking slowly and carefully—an old man’s shuffle on a young man. Then one night Guy and Max were worshiping together in their room—with Guy laid-out flat on his back. Then Max said that Guy’s eyes shut and began to flutter. So Max went to bed, but was using his phone, so there was a little bit of light in the room. Then from around the corner, Max saw someone jump into his line of sight, and the jump became a victory dance: Guy was healed!
For me the best moment was a surprise invitation and welcome to the home of friends who I had barely known before. I had gone to the train station with Joseph, the church leader assigned to facilitate transportation and lodging. I was there to buy tickets for the Italian team’s return trip to the airport. We arrived at the train station at 3:39 in the afternoon on Saturday. Joseph hadn’t known the ticket office’s schedule, but only knew that the hours on Saturdays were shortened. As I stood in line, Joseph pointed out the posted hours for the ticket office: closing on Saturday is at 3:40 in the afternoon. I could feel God smiling on me.
Once I had their tickets, Joseph said that we were also there to pick up Boris, who was coming in from Ukraine. In the car, Joseph asked me if I was in a hurry to get back to the church. I said, “No, and probably Boris is tired from his trip. Let’s get him settled first.” So he took Boris to a house in a new development just outside of town. Boris went into the house, and Kasia came running out. She said something to Joseph, and Joseph asked me, “Would you like to go inside for a cup of coffee or something?” Of course, I said yes.
Inside was the entire team from Russia and their children, plus Kasia and Andrey’s children. I was ushered to a chair among the couches and chairs that encircled the square coffee table. The coffee table was hardly visible underneath mounds of goodies. Kasia had baked two different kinds of cake, cookies, candies, pretzels, coffee mugs, tea cups, napkins, a stack of clean plates and utensils, and as if that wasn’t already enough, Kasia had the children bring in cups of ice cream with strawberry syrup for everybody. I regretted that I was still full from lunch. I didn’t want it to seem like I was unimpressed with her hospitality, when the truth was that I wished to have such a hospitable gift for my own guests’ sake. So I accepted an ice cream and a cup of tea.
But more than a heaping tableful of delicious welcome treats, the thing that made me feel most loved and welcomed was the fact that everybody in the room immediately switched to English for my sake—even when they were in conversation with each other. I was the only native speaker of English present, and some of them spoke it with difficulty, so the effort on their part was very kind, and it’s something that I will never forget.
Then Joseph announced that he had to go pick up his daughter. He asked to be excused, and was concerned that I might feel abandoned. Instead, I was very glad not to have to cut my visit short, since he had stayed only about half an hour. Then Andrey asked me if I wanted to see his garden. So we went outside, where he has made several tree grafts. He has a gardening business, and he had grafted exotic trees onto stronger base trees for a hardier result. He pulled off dead leaves with such a practiced hand that it was obvious to me that he has that green thumb so necessary to gardening. This is a gift that I admire because I have the opposite effect on plants. It’s almost as if plants see me as the Grim Reaper and give up without a fight. I told Andrey that his grafts are scriptural because we (Christians) are the wild olive that has been grafted into the olive tree. Plus, mankind’s first job was taking care of the garden. I can imagine Andrey would be very at home in the Garden of Eden.
Then the children came out with a soccer ball and began kicking it around. They made some obviously invitational passes to one of the adult men, who happily complied. Soon the boys of all ages were kicking the ball to each other. One man, a pastor from Russia, had his tablet and was watching a video on it, but that didn’t stop him from kicking the ball every time it came in his direction. I was enjoying the show. One by one, both men and boys began to get tired and thirsty, and drifted away from the game. One boy seemed never to tire, and relentlessly chased the ball down wherever it flew. He was engaged in play with the last man standing. I remarked, “I believe he’s not going to stop until it’s too dark or his mommy calls him in.” The man laughed and agreed. And right on cue, Mommy called her little soccer player inside, and the game ended.
A new round of treats and drinks was set out for us, and then we gathered around to pray for our hosts. I was glad that we took the time to pray for them because it had been on my heart not to leave this house without praying for them. Each person prayed for them in English—much to my surprise. Although I am fluent in Italian, I still struggle to pray in Italian. I think it’s just because I am so used to speaking to God in English. The only time God has ever spoken to me in Italian was when He had a specific word for an Italian-speaker, and I think He wanted to save me the trouble of translation.
This visit and the warm welcome that I had received (not only from our hosts, but from everybody there) had really brought home the message that I am loved. In a powerful way, I understood that I am loved.
Of course, being here in my capacity as midwife to bring new worship teams to Tabernacles is the best overall aspect of Tabernacles. I have said again and again that I don’t feel like I really did anything. All this was birthed from my determination to bring Italian worship to Tabernacles last year—even if that was only me alone. Then God put Team Italy together for me.
This year the Italian team contacted me, saying that they are coming to Tabernacles, but that they don’t need me on their team. I was overjoyed: the baby had been successfully born and is now walking. But I did wonder what I could do for Tabernacles. And almost as soon as I wondered about it, the phone rang, and it was Max. He said, “I hear that you bring teams to the Feast of Tabernacles in Poland. I want to go.” So, Team Albania came together from a group of worshiping friends and it looks like this: Max, who is Albanian; Guy, Ivorian; Sally, British; and Allegra and me, Americans. We are from four different countries and three continents, and we all met just a year and a half ago in Milan.
Friends who only see me once a year at Tabernacles have asked if I’ve moved to Albania, and how it is that I’ve brought an Albanian team this year. I tell them: “The short answer is God.” God is good!