Location: Between Paris France and Bruges, Belgium
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 1 Kings 19:11-13
Let’s revisit 2012. Allow me to set the scene. In September 2012, I moved to France to attend university. Before this I had only traveled outside of the USA briefly and only under the ever-watchful eyes of my parents. Now, for the first time ever, I was out on my own and my first break had arrived and I had found a group of friends and we were looking for an adventure.
The first leg of our journey would take place in Paris, France - along with the rest of our class. But after leaving Paris, we were on our own. The first stop on our amazing adventure was Belgium. Now, for most people, Belgium does not strike a chord in the realm of exciting adventure, but we loved every minute we spent there. However, for some reason or another all of my past attempts to go to Belgium, have been troublesome ordeals. This trend was set on my first visit. Allow me to explain.
My story begins in Fontainebleau, a town just outside Paris. My friends and I went the train station to buy our tickets to Bruges. Our first mistake was buying tickets on the day of departure, but we got lucky. Sadly, that’s where our luck ran out. Because we had no idea what we were doing, we missed our first train to Paris. Since this was the first of three trains, it meant that we had missed all other trains as well -- not a quality start to our 12-day vacation.
We quipped about our own ignorance, paid the penalty fee to rebook our tickets and then waited for the next train to Paris. This time we made an additional effort to be on time. The first train ride was a success, as was our transfer and second train to Brussels. We were feeling good. Travel isn’t that hard, right? The answer to that question is more of a shoulder shrug rather than words. Travel may not be all that difficult, but unforeseen circumstances can flip your plans with amazing speed.
My travel buddies and I were now on our way from Brussels to Bruges. It was about 7 pm and we were finally getting close. After our train stopped, we just had to find our hostel and call it a night. These were our expectations; after all we had no reason to think any differently. But we were wrong. About fifteen miles outside of Brussels our train stopped in the middle of a dark field. I looked out the window and I knew this was not Bruges. Something was wrong.
Fortunately, several informative announcements were made over the train’s speaker. Unfortunately, the announcements were all in Flemish. The the only thing we managed to understand was the newly disgruntled attitude of every other passenger in the train. We sat, bewildered, looking for an explanation. Eventually, somebody in our group noticed an old man waving at us; we ignored him at first, but finally went over. He evidently spoke very little English but felt inclined to explain
the situation to us. He strained his eyes, in search of the right words, and then said, “The train burns.” I couldn’t help thinking that this was going to be a more interesting train ride than we had bargained for.
Upon seeing the look of terror in our eyes, the old man rethought his statement. Again, he spoke with a thick accent, “The train station burns.” He smiled and nodded his head, perhaps in approval of his success. We later discovered that there had been an electrical fire at the next station. This fire had fried the whole system, making it impossible to stop there. Hearing that the train station was burning was only slightly better news. Yes, we were no longer sitting in a burning metal tube; we were just sitting in a regular metal tube, unable to move forwards or backwards.
We sat with the old man and a woman who I presumed to be his wife, joking around as well as people can when they don’t understand a word each other is saying.
After several hours the Belgian fire brigade came and picked us up. In traditional Belgian fashion, they replenished our spirits with free Belgian waffles. It was enough to make us laugh after what had been a rather discouraging day. The firemen dropped us off in Aalst, the closest town. As we walked off the train we found the old man and, in the best way we could, thanked him for all he had done. He may not have thought that he did much, but the fact that he was present had helped. My group stopped at the first hotel we found and called it a night.
Looking back, I was glad we took the time to talk to the man. Although he didn’t do much to improve our situation, he helped us to understand it. Four little words, “The train station burns,” gave us enough understanding to wait it out. Like that man, God doesn’t always give us a complete presentation on how to improve our situation. Sometimes our cries for help don’t get answered with God telling us how to get out of trouble. Many times, God answers by giving us little hint so we can begin to understand what’s going on.
Although this isn’t a story about God manifesting himself to me, it reminds me of 1 Kings 19:11-13. Of all the big things that happened that day, none of them were about how we gained an understanding of where we were at any given time. The only indication came through four simple words spoken in broken English. Four simple words in a still, small voice made the difference between complete confusion and relative understanding. What a difference it can make when we listen to the little voice.