I’ve found you can’t count on Captain Ukraine to come to your rescue – not even when you are being chased by four angry men. While Beth was visiting her mom in east Tennessee, I was using the time to visit as many of the regional church plant coordinators as possible. As such, I took a bus down to a crime infested, mob controlled town of Uman, where I was to be picked up by a Ukrainian colleague to begin a four-province tour of the southern and western regions of Ukraine.
My friend was about 15 minutes late in getting to the bus station and as I was waiting, I saw a young, Korean man (just a boy really) being held up in a “Dropped Wallet” scam. Even though the boy was sharp enough not to fall for the scam and had not touched the wallet, it didn’t make a difference to these thugs. They had him pinned up against one of the buses, with his hands high in the air. Three worthless scoundrels surrounded him while another kept a look-out. As I saw the look of fright on this young man’s face and his eyes as big as apricots, some deep paternal instinct kicked in and I wasn’t able to remain indifferent.
What happened in the next few moments remains a blur… charging, shouting, grabbing the boy from their midst, shoulder blocking, pushing him onto his bus… it all happened so very quickly, efficiently and effectively. When it was all over, I looked back at the stunned expressions on the faces of the four villains and knew my adventure was only beginning. Faced with fight or flight, I chose flight and for the next 10 minutes we played cat and mouse. It ended cordially enough when I was finally cornered by one of the thugs who wasn’t quite so brave when the odds were one on one.
He summoned his boss who had a much clearer head and hadn’t been at the scene of the crime. After a few minutes of engaging in “self-defense witnessing”, the boss concluded, “Alright, let’s do it this way. You don’t interfere in our business and we won’t interfere in yours.” In reply I said, “Sorry Andre! I can’t agree to that! You can’t do those things in front of me. I can’t act differently (than I did) because Christ lives in me!” Andre, the boss, let out a small exasperated sigh, “O.k., we won’t do anything in your sight. You can come out of the terminal, nobody will touch you.”
Of course, I’ve thought about all the ways I might have done this differently, but in this instance, I see the grace and sovereignty of God in so many ways and I remain convinced that God orchestrated this entire event for His glory. Was it for the benefit of the Jewish man by whom I sat on the bus for three hours having a time of significant and meaningful conversation? Was it for the benefit of the Korean boy who was able to scramble onto the relative safety of his bus? Was it for the benefit of the mafia leader that needed someone to tell him he was going to hell unless he repented and turned away from his sin? Was it for my benefit, so that I would have practice in trusting God in difficult circumstances? Or was it for your benefit as a prayer warrior, to encourage you to pray for missionaries more faithfully? Only God knows the answer to these questions, and I’m o.k. with that.
To be honest, I don’t like asking our prayer partners to pray for our safety when we travel. It seems so mundane. Yet after these events, I’ve changed my tune a bit. After all, it is impossible to send out a prayer update when you’re being chased by four angry men.