Sleeping on a Bench

Barbara Marquart Johnson

It was that time again. Our seminary professors were scheduled throughout the year to go to Russia, to our seminary there, to teach. It was Kurt’s turn, and as usual, he had a dozen things to wrap up before he could be gone. There had to be a student in charge of his classes for a while, and articles to wrap up for publication, all kinds of things. Wardrobe? No. Just his suit and a heavy coat. It was winter!

At any rate, as departure time came, off he went. I actually think he found these flights restful, because he could give his brain a rest, and he enjoyed writing post cards to his kids to mail when he reached his destination.

When he landed, he was supposed to go through the process of presenting documentation. There were several people before him, but finally, he approached the official, who after looking at his papers said, “This will not work. You need the original.”

“What are you talking about?” Kurt was suddenly activated.

Since Kurt spoke to him in Russian, he answered likewise, saying “You need the original of your visa. This is a copy. You may not enter.” Kurt snatched the document from his hand, and sure enough, it was a copy of the visa they had given him at the office.

“Well, I have to get through or I will miss my next flight. What can I do?”

“Wire your office and tell them to send the original.” The officer was enjoying this too much.

“Oh, come on. I’ve seen you selling visas to all those in front of me. Just sell me one, too.” Kurt was starting to realize his situation and was prepared to be polite if necessary to get what he needed.

“No. You Americans think you can do everything your way. And yet, when one of my Russian friends comes to your country, you treat them like dirt. Now you know how it feels.” He turned his back on Kurt and shouted, “Next!”

As he staggered away, he realized he could not leave the terminal, since he had no official papers. What could he do while waiting for his secretary to send the original? There was one bench empty, so instinct led him to hasten to take it over. If he had to sleep there, he was not eager to sleep on the floor, as several others were doing. As the evening progressed, the terminal filled with others who could not leave, and one by one, they dozed off, lying on old newspapers on the floor. Kurt, too, was exhausted, but he was also concerned about someone robbing him if he fell asleep.

Late the next morning, his papers were delivered to the terminal and his name was called. The unpleasant officer had gone off duty and was replaced by an attractive female officer. “Professor Marquart, you may go to the gate now where your plane awaits. Have a nice flight.”

It was times like this, when he practically had to run to avoid missing his flight, that Kurt realized that God was watching over him. As with nearly all the visiting profs, he was carrying a financial donation of several thousand dollars to give to the seminary. It was well known among the lower classes of Russians, and wealthy looking Americans were targets to be robbed. But he hastened on and made the flight just as they were closing the door, and off they went.

Because it is not unusual throughout Europe that robbery is a means of survival, it is critical that our men pay attention to their surroundings and be ready to defend themselves if necessary. Since the church and seminary in most countries depend on our Synod helping in this way, it has been the only way to deliver funds, since the postal and banking service cannot be trusted.

My message, then, is that we need to remember these men in our prayers, and ask God to send His holy angels with these men to protect them on these trips. Over the years, the seminary in Russia and those in Africa and Madagascar, all around the world, have been able to grow and survive because of this arrangement. Please recall them in your prayers. Thank God that there are still men who are prepared to stay in small, unheated accommodations in order to take the Word of God to others. In Russia, for instance, there are some places where these accommodations have electricity only four hours a day. One winter when Kurt had to teach there, he said the only way to get warm was to go to bed.

Because Kurt could speak Russian, the students loved it when he was scheduled to teach. Very likely they had no idea what he went through to get to them, but it was a special time for them all.