When I last posted on the Re-birth Story in November, we had left the team of five worshipping at a concert in Keuruu, Finnish style.
It’s now the twenty-first day of their month-long journey and they have already covered 8665km through eleven different countries across Europe. In this last third of their outreach, they will nearly double this amount of land traversed.
Two-thirds of their faith journey are already complete. But on this day they are really down. Not only are the team weary, they are heartsore. Today they left Samuel behind. His journey through Europe with Re-birth has come to an end as he joins his family for a short holiday in Finland before heading back home to Sweden to prepare for university. The bus journey is silent. Nobody is smiling much today ... their hearts are too heavy.
Soon they are on a train heading north to Oulu. Their friend, Tiia, having driven back to Oulu that morning where she attends university, meets them at the station to bid them a last goodbye. Within two and a half hours they arrive in Haparanda, just ovr the Swedish border. It’s dinner time, and they are hungry.
Seated on a hard concrete pavement opposite the bus stop, they discover a polystyrene container with fish, potatoes and carrots. The meal has hardly been touched. They’re uncertain if they should eat it. Could this be provision from God? It doesn’t take long for Davide and Christo to lead the way in devouring what they conclude is a heaven-sent meal. It’s tasty, although Christo thinks it could do with a little more salt. But, one box meal between four growing young men, doesn’t fill too many gaps, and so their appetizer is followed by tinned ravioli spread onto dry white bread. While they eat, they sing in true African harmony (with a touch of Italian) – “I will follow, I will follow Jesus ...” Truly Re-birth are following everywhere He leads, even though at times it has not been easy.
Later, tucked inside their sleeping bags on the quiet pavement, they spend time playing the guitar and singing, making up their own crazy tunes for amusement. A starless midnight blue sky is their only audience in the vacant bus stop. Their silly songs are a balm to their souls and their spirits are lifted. It’s only 7 a.m. when they reach Lulea after a 4.30 a.m. rising. It’s going to be a long day with nine and a half hours standing between them and their train to Stockholm.
They spend their time trying to book tickets online for this train but to no avail. When they finally get on the train that afternoon, they do so hoping they won’t get kicked off because they haven’t booked. It’s an overnight train – reservations only. Would the conductor believe them when they explain that the internet wasn’t working so they couldn’t reserve online? And they were unable to make their bookings at the ticket machine as that method did not allow them the benefit of their EuRail passes – they would have had to pay full price for tickets which on their limited reserves, was not an option. Having previously experienced not being allowed on a night train without reservations, or having to pay a fine due to non-reservation, they just had to trust they would be okay; they had to get on this train. Despite their dilemma, the team remains confident they will be exactly where God needs them to be. Either they would not be allowed on the train ... or they would be kicked off ... or they would have to pay reservation costs, still not have seats and still have to pay a fine ... or they would be made to just pay reservation costs. The penalties were limitless.
Shortly after the four got on the train, the conductor came past. When they explained their booking dilemma, she just replied, “Okay, it’s fine; you can stay on.”
Now usually what would happen is that the fine would be waivered but they would have to pay a reservation cost, but she merely cautioned that they would have to move if someone came to a reserved seat. While the team were worrying about money, God provided them a night train for free. And because the train was fairly empty, they didn’t have to move from their seats. They all got a much needed night’s sleep ... nine hours of it.
How great is God, working all things for good!
The following morning they change trains and head south-west for Copenhagen via Goteborg. From Copenhagen the train island-hops the Danish land masses, crossing the Baltic Sea with the help of sturdy steel bridges. Finally, it’s swallowed inside the belly of a ferry to be carried, like Jonah, over the largest stretch of water before finally being spewed out onto German soil at Puttgarden.
Whilst on the ferry, the smell of coffee permeating the lounge area was not good for the guys. They are all dying for a caffeine fix, but at around two euro a cup, all they can do is to savour the delicious aroma. This is a luxury they cannot afford.
They head for the deck where fresh air is sure to drive away this dark, discouraging temptation.
Far out at sea, arching over a farm of white rotating wind turbines, a rainbow dips into the ocean ... an iridescent reminder of the depths of God’s love to a world spinning out of control.
After Puttgarden they catch yet another train to Hamburg. They’re still dying for a cup of coffee.
“The Lord can spoil us sometimes,” Kyle tells his friends and so they decide to pray for coffee. Christo is even bold enough to stipulate a price.
“Fifty cents ... we can afford to pay fifty cents, nothing more.” But nowhere in Europe will you find coffee for less than one euro fifty, and even that is cheap – it usually costs two euro or more. Christo also tells his parents over Skype to pray for coffee that’s cheap and offers up his own personal prayer. “Lord, I would really love some coffee. If you could just give me coffee for fifty cents ...”
Inside Hamburg station they find a vending machine selling Jacobs coffee, Christo’s favourite, for ... you guessed it ... fifty cents! God is amazing. He is awesome. And on this night he decided to just spoil four of his children with cheap coffee of the best brand.
And He blesses them with another spoiling ... they can sleep on the train tonight as it is travelling directly to Frankfurt. Almost seven hours just waiting to be filled with sleep.
By 8.30 a.m they reach Saarbrücken, a stone’s throw from France. Within 800 kilometres they will be across France and at Mimi’s house in Nantes. Tonight they will sleep in soft warm beds, have hot showers and a good home cooked meal.
But things don’t always work out according to plan. They are kicked off the train they were taking to Paris. Then they miss the train they were meant to take as it left early. The team have no idea how they are going to get out of Saarbrücken.
Just after ten they are on another train only to be stranded again in Metz forty minutes later. There are no EuRail seats available, no trains today or tomorrow, and the cheapest ticket will cost them 18 euro each. They contemplate hitchhiking, but they have to cross from one side of France to the other – an impossible feat in a day. Davide wonders if they could even do it in two days. And so, once again, they are stuck. But they have to be in Nantes by tomorrow night, Friday, for ministry. They trust that if God needs them to be there, they will get there in time.
The architecture of the surrounding French buildings conjures up a myriad of descriptions ... intricate, quaint, alluring, neat. But the guys don’t seem to notice. They’re preoccupied with finding a way across France. And unless you’ve actually travelled across France, you don’t realise just how big it is. I’ve been there, done that, and contrary to what the eye sees on a map, the country seems to stretch on for ever. And the team hardly have 40 euro left in their pockets.
Anxious for her friends to arrive, Mimi contacts Davide on his cell. She immediately sets about searching the internet and soon calls back with options to get to Nantes, almost for free even though they had been told they had to take the TGV which would cost them dearly. They may just have to spend a euro each on the metro in Paris. Hopefully they will get to Nantes by midday the following day.
Whilst waiting for their 6.50 p.m. train to Reims, they each take some time alone with God.
Davide and Kyle walk up and down the platforms of Reims station, trying to find the best place to sleep where they stand the least chance of getting chased away. Around 10 p.m. they settle on a glass cubicle on the platform.
Kyle slides into his sleeping bag underneath the wooden slatted bench while the other guys start unrolling their sleeping bags. But ten minutes later they are chased away and station security escorts them right out of the building. They find space in a dark alleyway close to the station and settle down for the night; they have to be up early to catch the 5 a.m. train.
It’s September, a new month. By 7 a.m they have made it to Paris where they change trains. Twenty-five minutes later they’re on a different train but that trip only lasts two minutes. After thirty minutes, they’re on the next train.
By 10.40 a.m. they’re alighting in Le Mans. They move through the underpass to catch the next train to the following town ... Nantes. Nearly two hours later the train pulls into Nantes station. After 17 trains during 98 hours of travel, they have finally made it, albeit one day late, and soon they are reunited with their beautiful French friend, Mimi.
I remember with fondness the day I met Mimi with her alluring accent and bubbly personality. We had met Kyle at OM for dinner on their first night at base as parents were invited to join the trainees for this meal. This would be their home for the next six months. Standing in line for our meal, we found ourselves beside a lovely teenage girl with long dark hair. She immediately introduced herself. “I’m Myriam, but you can just call me Mimi.”
When we heard a few days later that Mimi was ill in hospital, desperately missing her family and thinking of going back home, we rushed to her side with a bottle of Lucozade energy drink, a box of Merci chocolates, some love and a prayer. I like to think that little bit of parental love swayed Mimi to continue with her MDT training. I know she’s glad she did because she made a family of lifetime friends, closer than sisters and brothers, during her time in South Africa.
Mimi’s sister is with her and in true female style the first order of the day is to take the guys sightseeing and window shopping. Nantes is a beautiful place; postcard buildings surround the paved square that’s buzzing with people enjoying the overfilled street cafes.
After the sights, Mimi treats the Re-birth guys to lunch at a nearby Creperie. It’s so good for the boys to taste proper food again ... and cappuccino. Christo is in heaven.
Back home at Mimi’s house, the team relive their MDT days as they spend time in praise and worship. With Kyle on a child’s guitar, Mimi using two plastic toy rings as drums, Davide squeezing a toy cow that makes more of an oink than a moo, and Christo whistling along, they make a joyful noise to the Lord. “Blessed be the name of the Lord ...”
The following afternoon, Mimi drives the Re-birth guys to her church. They are sharing with Mimi’s youth group and then doing outreach after the service.
No one speaks in English – this is going to be fun!
Mimi acts as translator between the group of about ten young adults and the team. Kyle is the first to talk about Re-birth. They all have a good giggle when Mimi starts to translate Kyle ... in English!
Mimi’s older sister is married to an American named Joel. They are the youth leaders for this little group. For the benefit of the Re-birth team, Joel is sharing in English as he explains about the evangelism packs and questionnaires they have for the outreach. One of the youth translates his words for the benefit of the French.
It is just starting to get dark as they head out of the suburbs toward the city. It’s 9 p.m.
Standing on a pavement in the dark, illuminated only by nearby street and shop lights, Joel’s translator encourages the group before they head out, first in French and then in English, not to be discouraged by people’s refusal but to remain persistent to spread the Gospel.
So many senses are stirred inside me as I watch the videos that document the Re-birth journey. There is so much I would love to share with you. And so, whilst Mimi’s youth group and the Re-birth team set about to do street evangelism, using the tools provided earlier by Joel, the writer in me cannot help but take some time out to describe their mission field.
An incredible fountain sits proudly in the middle of the square, illuminated by purple lights. Eight robed women, seated at different heights on concrete taborets, line the inner edge of the round concrete pond. Water sprays out of their hands and falls into the pool below. Behind them stands a higher concrete fountain with water cascading endlessly from its edges. Rising from the middle of that fountain, another robed woman stands elevated on a pedestal, right hand raised to heaven. She bears a similarity to another famous stone lady who stands for justice and liberty for all. From the pedestal beneath her feet, water spouts out of carved mouths in four opposing directions – north, east, south and west. The purple water feature, backdropped by lemon colour illuminated buildings, is an amazing sight to see.
People mill about ... some on foot, some riding bicycles, and others, seated beneath canvas umbrellas or on the edge of the fountain, chat endlessly. The air hums with the language of love as families and friends enjoy the start of the weekend.
Nearby, grey concrete pavements come to life with paintings done by street artists. Hanging baskets, overflowing with vibrant blooms, decorate the walls of adjoining streets where no vehicles are permitted to go.
Could you see it all? Did it look anything like this?
Despite the beauty and buzz of their surrounds, with the language barrier the night of street evangelism is difficult and quite frustrating for Re-birth. Nobody, except Mimi and her family, seem to speak any English. The team wonder why they are here.
Saturday afternoon is spent with some of the youth again, playing sports in a verdant park. Amongst other things, carted along to the field are a plastic rugby ball; baseball bat and ball; rackets; coloured skittles; and a volleyball and net. They certainly have something for everyone to do for the afternoon.
Worship that evening is interesting ... the words on the screen are French, the singing from the congregation is French, yet the tunes are universally familiar and so the Re-birth team sing along in the language nobody seems to speak ... English. “Tu es saint, Tu es saint, Tu es saint, Je desire te voir ... As we sing Holy, Holy, Holy ...”
Later in the service, Davide introduces the team and they share with their brothers and sisters in Christ about the Re-birth movement. They have gotten used to working with a translator and they speak in short sentences broken with pauses for the translator to do her thing.
Kyle tells the youth that Re-birth live for three core things... Faith, Hope and Love. He starts by posing the question, “Faith ... what is faith?” After a moment’s silence he explains. “An undying trust in something.” Kyle speaks briefly about faith and how having faith in the wrong things leaves us feeling discouraged or empty.
Christo is next to talk about Hope. He shares that the story of Jesus is what gives us hope, and this is the hope that we should take outside to the world. But the world is broken, and it seems hopeless at times ...
They show some of the video footage and pictures they’ve taken along the way ... playing with the gypsy children in Romania who live near the dumps ... and how just spending time having fun with the children brought them some moments of hope.
“But,” Christo says, “it’s not always in rural areas like this where you find hopelessness.” He tells of the man he met in the city – good job, nice suit, money – but a few months earlier his wife and child had left him. He felt hopeless, and Christo was able to share with this man how the Good News had given him hope too. It was amazing how what Christo shared with this man gave him hope ... he wanted to hear more and gave Christo his email address.
Finally, Nathanial shares about Love. “The main thing missing for people today is someone to love and someone to love them.” He shares a personal testimony where he realised that nobody can give you a greater love than God can give you. And as Christians, if we want to be known as God’s disciples and followers, we need to show this love to one another ... that is how people will recognise us, by the love we have for God and the people around us.
Davide takes to the stage to wrap up. He challenges the youth that we need to get back to the roots of the early Christians – those that were together with Jesus. We have to start to be a community of people that live by faith in Jesus, that give hope to the people around us as Jesus brought hope to us, that are able to show unconditional love just as Jesus gave unconditional love to us. The central concept of God is love; what He gave to our lives is hope.
The youth group is so moved by the words of the team and their vision, that they take a collection for them. Down to their last ten euro, God has once again supplied ... over a hundred euro. And this at a time when the team were worrying how Davide would get back home to Modena once they returned to Italy as his Inter Rail pass was not valid in his home country.
It’s nearly midnight as the team and Mimi sit in the car outside church reflecting on the evening. Mimi shares how her best friend, Leo, who comes from a Christian family although he himself is not a Christian, told her how glad he was that the Re-birth team had come and how he is interested in finding out more about Christianity. She also shared that many of the youth, Christian and non-Christian, had been deeply touched by Re-birth. Today had been all about showing love to people.
All too soon their time to leave France has come, and as her father drives the team to the train station on Sunday afternoon, Mimi cries all the way. She’s not prepared to say goodbye to her best friends in the world whom she has come to love so much. Her mascara is smudged and her tissue soaked. Still, amidst the tears, she manages to bear a smile and a laugh.
Back in a train station ... back to a normal day for the Re-birth team.
Dad and daughter escort the team all the way to their platform, making the most of the remaining time together.
Finally, separated by glass as the guys are seated on their train bound for Le Mans then Paris, Mimi stands forlorn beside her father – inconsolable.
Back in Paris, people crawl like ants through this busy station. They are everywhere ... thousands of them. How the team managed not to lose each other is yet another of God’s miracles along this journey. Before heading to their next train an hour later, they step outside to catch a breath of fresh air where they manage to spot about two inches of the Eiffel Tower in the far distance.
The end of the line comes at ten-thirty that night in Amiens. They are headed for Belgium where they feel God wants them. Once again, they have no place to sleep. They rest for an hour on the cold metal chairs in the main station, but soon have to leave and brave the darkness of yet another unknown, foreign city.
Just beneath the station they find an open, illuminated area, almost like an underground parking, where they are able to sleep. The smell of urine emanating from one side tells them that many homeless before them have also discovered this haven. The further down the area they move, the worse the trapped smell becomes. They move back toward the wide open entrance they had entered where the reek is a little less potent. They are more on the eye here, but at least they have a little more fresh air to blow away the stench. Kyle encourages the guys to pray, that they’ve been fine all along and they’ll be fine now too.
Soon their brightly coloured sleeping bags – lime green, fluorescent orange, red and black – are stretched out on the cold concrete floor beside a corrugated iron wall.
By 5.45 the next morning, they are packed up and ready to get back upstairs to the station. They have made it through the night. Tonight they’ll sleep in beds again in neighbouring Belgium thanks to their newfound South African OM friends, Johann and Winnie Jordaan, whom they had met at the Go Conference near Amsterdam.
But they’re only on the move again two and a half hours later. The train is full and they have to stand, however it’s a mere two minute ride before they have to get off again.
When they get to Brussels later that morning, they are astounded by the amount of homeless people of all nations in this city – a problem caused by strange governmental laws.
After contacting Johan, the guys take a train to Zaventen and walk from the station to the OM offices where they will spend the night. The building, which used to be an old paper factory, is beautiful ... crazy cool as Kyle says.
Later that afternoon they spend time sharing testimonies at Govert’s house with fellow missionaries – musicians who play the blues and do prison ministry. Their jamming session takes place on hand drums, guitars, banjos, harmonicas and accompanied by singing. Govert, a former drug addict, shares his testimony of how God changed his life.
Their second last day of Re-birth Europe is spent offering practical help at the OM base in Zaventen and that afternoon, before leaving for Switzerland heading back to Italy, Johan, Winnie and their young daughter, share communion with Re-birth. What a fitting end to their journey – remembering the one that this trip was all about. Johan and Winnie spend time counselling the team about their futures and also praying for their future wives. They give them some money for their journey.
This all resulted in Re-birth narrowly missing their train, but God had a purpose for that too. Davide got to share with group of girls on a train in Italy, a train they would not have been on had they not missed their train from Brussels. And, they got to Modena at 8 p.m. on the last day of their journey (refer to my first blog on Faith, for the significance of that time).
Over 15,000 km through 14 different countries, this has been an amazing journey for the team ... one where their faith has been so stretched, but where they have personally experienced God’s faithfulness and guidance over and over. This was a journey that would set the foundation for their futures in missions. They have learnt to forsake all and trust in Him (Faith); to hold on prayerfully expectant (Hope) and to leave behind overwhelming vindicating evidence (Love).
And, once back in Italy they find they still have over a hundred euro left. They donate this money to some of the missionaries they met along their journey.
Thank you for taking this journey with me. I know the blogs have been far longer than the acceptable norm, but I do trust that the time you’ve invested in this armchair travel has been worth your while. Perhaps you’ve even discovered an exciting new setting for your next book?
Is it all over now? No ... for Re-birth the journey has only just begun. Plans are currently underway for an April outreach through India, and a team being taken to Romania to help build houses for the gypsies in July.
Part 1 of the documentary DVD is freely available for viewing on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tM0Iescrs3U It’s extremely inspiring and well worth the watch. From this link you’ll see more of Re-birth’s videos as well as an animation video explaining what Re-birth is all about.
MARION UECKERMANN’s writing passion was sparked in 2001 when she moved to Ireland with her husband and two sons. Since then Marion has been honing her skills and has published some devotional articles in Winners at Work and The One Year Book of Joy and Laughter (published August 2011), as well as inspirational poetry online and in a poetry journal. She has written her first Christian Women’s novel (unpublished) and is currently working on the sequel as well as a Historical Romance novel. Marion now lives in Pretoria East, South Africa in an empty nest with her husband and a crazy black ‘Scottie’. Marion is a member of the Christian Writers of South Africa and can be contacted via email on marionu(at)telkomsa(dot)net.