My Journey by Rae Hussey – Chapter 1

Winter in Minsk

My heart sank, and my stomach churned at hearing these words.  An invitation?  I had never heard of such a thing.  My travel agent had checked a website for me and found that visas would be issued at the airport on arrival in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. They had not mentioned an invitation and I had not had the wisdom to check the website for myself; I had been limited to a three-week time block between Christmas 1997 and the end of my holidays to make this first visit to Belarus.  There had been one seat only on each of the flights I needed to take when I went to book, so I was sure this was the Lord’s will.  He had kept a seat for me on each of six flights.  Now, I was about to arrive without the required invitation.  I prayed.  When I settled to think, I realised the church that had invited me to visit would know I need an invitation.  They would have arranged it.  It would be there at the airport when I landed.  Why was I worrying?

I had visited the former Soviet Union earlier that year, so was familiar with it’s monolithic airport buildings.  No lights.  No escalators.  No people.  No surprise!  We alighted, and boarded an old bus to be taken to the terminal building.  The bus took us on a journey around corners and through alleyways.  It seemed a long way.  In later years I learned we were travelling around and around the same building, then deposited within site of the plane.  Why?  Who knows?

At the doors we had to wait while a guard was called to unlock them, then we were able to enter.  The doors were locked behind us again and we dragged ourselves and cabin baggage up two flights of stairs to Passport Control.  Fortunately, the businessman directed me.  “Collect a form from that little box.  Look in the bottom of the box.  There will be one in English.  Fill it in.  Stand in that queue.  Good luck.”  He was gone to a different queue.  I smiled when I reached the window.  I hadn’t yet learned that smiling at a border guard is a no-no.  There was no invitation for me.  The official was gracious enough to look twice through the pile of papers she had in front of her before telling me.  “Sit over there.”  I sat and I sat and I sat.

The only encouraging thing about sitting was that it was wasting time.  I knew the Lufthansa plane that had brought me in would depart for Germany soon, so at least I couldn’t be deported that day.  There was only one Lufthansa plane a day from Germany to Belarus and it didn’t stay long on the tarmac.

I found out later that officials had gone to the arrival hall to find the friends who were meeting me.  After long conversations there, and back at Passport Control, they had decided that I would be granted a visa and admitted to the country, but I would have to obtain and present an invitation to the Immigration office in the city.

They would keep my friend’s passport as a guarantee.  As I sat upstairs in the dark empty hall, I worried that my friends would think I hadn’t arrived, and would leave the airport without me.  They were downstairs worrying that I would think they weren’t helping me.

Eventually a border guard called me, and in halting English told me I was welcome.  Downstairs I found my luggage standing alone in the middle of the arrival hall, watched over by the most helpful officer I ever met in Minsk.  He became a helpful ally over the years I lived there.  My friends were waiting patiently and whisked me out into the -20C Minsk winter.

When I was eighteen, I had visited a missionary meeting at Belgrave Heights and had heard Gladys Aylward, a missionary to China, speak.  Those who are old enough might remember her as “The Small Woman”.  She had asked for people who would obey the call of the Lord to go overseas with the Gospel, should that call ever come.  I had responded with a resounding “Yes”.  My heart had been captured and I was prepared to go wherever the Lord should lead.  No call had come.  Obviously there were enough real missionaries.  The Lord didn’t need me.  However, after I had passed fifty, there did come a time, when I was sure I heard the voice of the Lord call me, and this visit to Belarus was the result.

Earlier that year I had visited children’s summer camps around St. Petersburg in Russia.  I had learned that it was possible to take teams of people to run Christian programs in these camps, so I went to visit.  I was spying out the land with a view to taking teams from Melbourne.

At the camp our interpreters were young women from Belarus – a country I had never heard of, I am ashamed to say.  In November, those young women invited me, at their pastor’s invitation, to visit their church in Minsk to advise them on setting up a Christian school.  I was so excited.  The Lord did have a place for me, even if it was only for three weeks.

During those three weeks, I learned much more than I taught.  Of the twenty-one days I was actually in the country, seventeen of them were spent, at least in part, visiting government offices to generate and present the required invitation.  It was a nightmare for me, and even more so for my hosts I suspect.

In between those visits I enjoyed the fellowship of the Belarusian Christians.  I worshipped with them in a big old cold theatre – the only place large enough that they could rent in Minsk.  Their six hundred members inspired me.  It took most people many hours to travel on public transport, through the snow and wind, to get to church.  After a 3 or 4 hours service, they did it all again in reverse.  I shopped in the market, peering under fur covers to view the fruit and vegetables.  I bought bread and milk in the almost empty grocery store and ate more potatoes than I care to remember.  I fell in love with the cheery, hospitable people who opened their homes and hearts to me.

Orphanage holiday program

I had a vision for a Christian school, and in my mind I could see it opening.  We had talked about children’s work and kindergartens and a myriad of other exciting prospects for the church.  I was thrilled that the Lord had made a way for me to visit Belarus, and I prayed that He would continue to expand His church in that country.  Theirs was not an easy task but they were faithful and enthusiastic. 

I never did get an invitation.  My friend did eventually get her passport back, but only after I had left the country.  As I flew out from that dark empty airport, my heart sang.  It had been knitted with the hearts of Christians on the the side of the world, and I knew their vision was now my vision.  I would be praying fervently for them, even if I never saw them again.  I left snow and ice on the ground.  As we rose above the clouds, the sun shone through the window and I remembered the word of the Lord:  “Thy mercy O Lord is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reaches unto the clouds.”  Proverbs 36:5

Little did I know that this was the beginning of a decade of adventure.  In my mind, I had done my job.  It was finished.  But the ways of the Lord are higher than ours, aren’t they?  And His thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts.  He had only taken me on step one of the journey, but He had whetted my appetite to become a part of His great plan for the nations.

– Rae