Enjoying a pizza with Sparkles just before our trip to Switzerland
Had I not already given my word and booked my travel, I probably would not have gone on this summer trip with Operation Capitals of Europe (OCE). And thus, I would have missed out.
Sixteen days before the trip I fell and broke my left wrist, and I had an old-fashioned plaster cast on it (thanks to Italy’s public health system, it didn’t cost me anything).
In the meantime, I had a guest coming for two weeks. Sparkles (my nickname for her) wanted to partner with some ministries while she was here, and since 1) her trip fell perfectly within the period of the OCE trip, and 2) this trip would have one of our smallest teams ever, I decided to invite her along. After looking at OCE’s website, Sparkles was very enthusiastic about coming with us.
She arrived two days before the trip, which gave her the chance to get over jetlag, and gave us some time to get to know each other. Then we hopped on a trip to Switzerland.
Capital #1 Bern, Switzerland
Usually our trips involve going to capitals that are geographically close to one another. This time they were not so close, and we had a theme: the Little Tax Havens. Switzerland is well-known as a banking country where the rich and unscrupulous hide their wealth from their own governments. There we met the rest of the team. Karl was leading us around, teaching us about some key places in Bern, and talking about key points in its history.
That afternoon I discovered something I hadn’t known about traveling in a cast: it’s exhausting. These trips usually are tiring, but I’ve always been able to keep up. Not this time. After the fourth time that Karl suggested a “short walk” to the next place, I had to plead exhaustion. We had all been given free transportation passes at the hostel, so we took a bus. The last place that Karl wanted to take us was a short walk to the top of a hill, which would give us a great view of the city. No. I just couldn’t do it! But I wasn’t the only one. So while the others went up the hill, Fifi, Lee, and I sat on a shady bench and caught up on each other’s lives. I really only see these friends during these prayer trips, and it had been a while since I had last seen Lee. We do correspond as much as our busy lives permit—which honestly isn’t much.
The next day we went to the Heart of David House of Prayer and met with the folks there. These were the people who were on the frontlines, praying daily for Bern and for Switzerland, so it was a real pleasure to meet them, worship with them, and enjoy a nice lunch together.
From there we started prayer walking by the river. Lee had brought a travel guitar—the smallest I had ever seen. It had a very pretty soprano “voice.” After prayers and prophetic acts at the river, Lee began playing worship songs and we sang. That was when the people who had been drawing my attention began noticing us, too: swimmers. They weren’t so much swimming as they were just floating and allowing the river’s swift current to carry them by. Group after group had passed us. But now that we were singing, they noticed us. I began smiling and waving at each group as they noticed us (well, really, I was already smiling). Almost everyone returned my greeting.
Then we started walking along the river behind Lee, who led us to a bridge. Really, Lee tried to lead us, and that had been the idea, but Lars, with his long legs couldn’t keep himself from walking on ahead of Lee. Whenever you see our group prayer walking around town, Lars is always in the lead. I honestly don’t think he could stay behind if he tried.
One observation was that as we walked, Sparkles had a tendency to engage bystanders and share her faith. Normally, I’m all for that kind of activity. I mean, sharing Jesus is what it is really all about here on the mission field. But during a prayer walk is not the right time to be doing that. You’ve got to be wise about these things. So I took Sparkles aside and gently explained the importance of focusing on what we are doing. But there by the river, Lars encouraged Sparkles to share Jesus with a tattooed and pierced couple. She seemed very happy to be released to do what her heart longed to do. And, really, I was also happy that Lars had recognized her desire.
I think it may also have been a test to see if she could share her faith quickly, without losing the group. And she did. From that point on, we all relaxed whenever Sparkles found the opportunity to share her faith in Jesus. Sparkles had found her place in the group.
While we were in Switzerland, the Swiss were celebrating their national day. They opened the Parliament building to the public, had an Alpine horn concert, and best of all: gave away chocolate! We were guided through the building by a pastor to the Parliament.
That afternoon we went to a large corral where they held a national outdoor worship and prayer meeting. As we entered the corral, I told the Lord, “If You want me here, then please give me a sheltered place to sit.” And He did! I wanted shelter because it had rained that morning and might rain more, and I was supposed to keep the cast dry. But if the sun came out, I also didn’t want to bake. But most of all, I was really hoping for a place to sit. Otherwise, I would simply return to the hostel.
There were prayers and worship, mostly in German, but also in French and Italian—some with translation, but most not. This was not a problem because I was with Fifi, sitting in the “over 60 or handicapped” tent. Fifi, who is Swiss from Neufchatel, translated French for me, and some of the German. It was really nice, having my personal translator.
Capital #2 Vaduz, Liechtenstein
We traveled in two cars to Liechtenstein, a tiny principality nestled in the mountains of eastern Switzerland between the Rhine River and Austria. Like all of Austria and much of Switzerland, Liechtensteiners speak German. While we were there, they put the Royal Treasures on public display, including the Crown, itself. This became a marvelous place to pray for the country and for its Prince.
For me, the nice thing about this capital was that every important place to pray was within a block or two at most of all the others. Being in the mountains, it was cool most of the day, and we finished quickly.
The next morning we said our goodbyes as two members of the group returned to their homes in France, and the rest of us continued.
Break #1 Milan, Italy
Being a trip of four capitals, when we usually do two or three at most, and being that these capitals were at some distance from one another, and being that we were going to have to pass Milan along the way, I had suggested that we break the drive up by spending a night at my apartment. For me this was especially nice that in my year of concentration on hospitality, I had the honor of hosting these people who are so very dear to me.
There was also a danger for me because I was very tempted to stay and let the others continue on without me. So I prayed about it because I wanted to do whatever God wanted me to do. I prayed for a miracle: “Lord, if You want me to continue on the rest of this trip, then I need the enthusiasm and desire to go on.” Praying like this, I thought I was safe because I didn’t think He would do it, but guess what. He did it. He gave me the enthusiasm and desire to continue on. I wasn’t doing cartwheels and backflips, but I woke up the next morning knowing that I genuinely did want to go on.
Capital #3 Monaco
On a tiny slice of beachfront land in the French Riviera close to the Italian border, Monaco is both a city and a country, renown as a gambling and tax haven. Monaco may have been the most difficult part of the trip for me. The challenge was as much emotional as physical because I was well aware that I was the one person who was slowing the group down—and I couldn’t do a thing about it. The others were very thoughtful about my needs, and always treated me very kindly. But the truth was that none of them had any idea about the suffering I was going through. Apparently the healing process, itself, takes a lot of energy. The cast was the old-fashioned plaster kind—very heavy and very hot. I had to keep my hand above waist-level to prevent swelling, but with the heat, it swelled anyway. Monaco was hot and crowded, with little shade and very few places to sit. Many times as they stood in the sun praying, I had to seek out a shaded place nearby, always drinking lots of water. The sun was baking me and frying my skin. I ended the day sunburnt, despite my best efforts to stay out of the sun.
When we finished in Monaco we went to our hostels in nearby Nice (Monaco is not a place to stay if you’re on a budget). Lars stayed by himself in one hostel while the women stayed in another. We met for supper, and Lars proposed that we break up the next day’s drive by staying at his house, which was about halfway to our next destination. He had already called home and made arrangements with Brigitte, his wife. Lars had always invited us to come visit him sometime, but for me, between travel and hosting, the opportunity had not come up.
Break #2 a village near Nimes, France
When we arrived, Brigitte had lunch ready for us: ratatouille over rice—one of my favorite dishes. She had a house guest who was hurriedly eating lunch so that he could catch a train. Her mother also joined us. Her mother didn’t speak English, but even with the language barrier, she was very gracious and welcoming. I had met Brigitte in Macedonia last year, when she and their daughter, Stella, had been free to join Lars because her brother had come to spend time with their mother (recounted in Holy Goosebumps).
After lunch, while Brigitte was driving the guest to the train station, Lars asked if we wanted the tour of the house. He said that it would take about half an hour. It was a big house, but we thought he was exaggerating. He wasn’t. The house had been built as a farm house in the 1600’s, and as the family grew, buildings were added, and eventually connecting buildings and passages. The result is a big stone rabbit warren that was surprisingly comfortable and welcoming. They have three dining tables: twelve person, sixteen person, and twenty-four person. Lars had just finished fitting one of the former horse stables as a meeting place. He is hoping to host missionary teams there.
Someone asked the question: “What did they grow here?” I had assumed a vineyard (this is France, after all) or olives. The answer surprised me: silkworms. France used to supply the western world’s silk. Then as transportation improved, the world discovered cheaper silk that came from China, so the French farmers abandoned silk production. Brigitte’s ancestors had planted olive trees and some grapevines, but nothing compared with the income that silk had provided the family.
Then Brigitte’s mother could no longer live alone. So Brigitte and Lars moved into the house with their four children, and raised their family there.
About this point, we arrived at the swimming pool. Brigitte’s mother had joined us for the portion of the tour that included her apartment and the yard. When we got to the pool, her mother invited us to swim with her. I couldn’t because of the cast, but Sparkles was happy to join her for a swim. So we returned to the house where Sparkles changed into her swimsuit and I took a nap. What a pleasure to visit such a comfortable house in the midst of this difficult and tiring prayer trip!
Capital #4 Andorra la Vella, Andorra
The next morning we bid goodbye to Brigitte and her mother. About two hour’s drive from their house, the car began to climb. And it climbed and climbed until we were about two miles above sea level. We stopped for gas at the mountain top border to Andorra. There it was very cold, windy, and the air was noticeably thin. Happily, the capital city was deep down in the valley below. There was little wind in the valley, which was far warmer than the mountain top.
I was let out at the hotel while the others went to park the car. When I had made the reservations back in May, it was the first time I had used this credit card in months. Two weeks after making the reservation, someone used my credit card number to book round-trip tickets from New York to Paris. Of course, I reported the theft to the credit card company and closed that account. They had suggested that I report the theft also to both the hotel and to the airline. The airline responded appropriately, the hotel had not. So when the desk clerk asked me for my credit card number, I gave her an earful about the number having been stolen when I made the reservation. She suddenly had trouble understanding English. Now, if I were a little hotel, I would want to know if someone on staff was a thief. And if the staff were all honest, then I would want to know if the website had been hacked into. Either way, it benefits the hotel to know about the theft. Instead, the desk clerk was completely unresponsive, claiming not to understand the English she had been speaking fluently moments before. It occurred to me that I might be talking to the thief, herself. Interestingly, when I mentioned all this, Lars said that when he made the reservation, his credit card number had also been stolen. He was also not held responsible for the thief’s bill. Needless to say, neither of us gave our credit card numbers to the hotel. The clerk made it sound like a grave mistake: “Then you’ll have to pay for your breakfast and any other thing at the time of service.”
For me, the credit card theft set the tone for this, the last little Tax Haven on our prayer trip. To clarify: it set the tone, but I did not let it ruin my time there. Rather, I took my prayer cues from this episode. Andorra had been a mountain hideaway for bandits that eventually became a hideaway for the riches of the rich. Being in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, Andorrans speak Catalan, but also French and Spanish—both very useful languages to know in Europe. So we prayed for Andorra to return to its simple beginnings, which had been lost in the mad rush to hide money.
When we prayed at the government buildings (old and new were side-by-side), Sparkles took out a colorful scarf and began to dance on the Andorran map imbedded into the piazza. This was a high point for me, watching her dance uninhibited by the other people in the busy piazza. I was so glad that she had come. In fact, I was glad that I had come, too. Despite all the discomfort and difficulty of traveling in a cast, I was truly glad that I had come, too. God is good!