Treasures of the Heart
Providing Humanitarian Aid for Orphans, Sick Children, and Children in Need.
Russia, Republic of Georgia, Sri Lanka, India, and Haiti
Contact Us: (409) 898-1937
The Shipping Container
News came from Russia that baby formula was no longer available. The Lord gave Stephanie a bright idea, they could ship it! Word began to spread, "There is a need on the other side of the world". Friends and strangers began collecting all manner of humanitarian aid for 8 orphanages, children’s hospitals, and a boys' prison. All were first fruits, totaling $98,183.70. Such outpourings have become common place.
They had no experience in shipping containers, but as they have learned over the years, God knows it all and provides the man-power to accomplish His plan. Donations of storage buildings, fork lifts, trucks, and labor poured in to inventory, box, weigh, palletize, and load the truck. On June 4, 1999, every crack and crevasse was filled with precious cargo as it was delivered to the Port of Houston.. Cathedral in the Pines budgeted $9,000 from their mission funds to defray the cost of boxes, shipping, and the convoy. To their amazement, the total cost for shipping, boxes, and convoy came to $9,000 with not a penny to spare.
The ship made the journey from Houston to the Port of London in 6 weeks, without a hitch. Earlier in the year, Stephanie had a "chance" meeting in a UK market with a jewel of a guy, Bob Robinson with Mercy Mission. As the need arose, he would pack his 27 - 1/2 foot truck and drive aid to any country needing help. He agreed to join the adventure by picking up the container and keeping it safe on his farm. However, as he was preparing for a trip to a Romanian orphanage, he could not send his passport to the Russian Embassy to obtain a visa. He knew he would have just enough time to get the visa on his return.
Upon his return from Romania, a team of five joined Bob, whom fondly called Bullet Bob, in England for the final loading and inventory. After loading the supplies, they filled the remaining space with aid donated by British businesses. Then, an interesting set of circumstances began to develop...
The Kosovo war resulted in refugees fleeing to England. With the embassies overrun, Bob was unable to get a visa. He planned to get it in Belgium…
Bullet Bob ferried his truck from the east coast of England to Belgium. The remaining five had their own adventure, the Chunnel to France, a few hours sightseeing, the overnight train to Munich, the beautiful castles and churches on the famous Romantic Highway. They planned to meet Bob the next day in Berlin.
A new problem developed. The downtown streets in Belgium were too narrow for Bob's truck. Again, the Russian Embassy was not accessible. So, he planned to get the visa in Berlin...
Unfortunately, the Russian Embassy in Berlin closed for the day at noon. Bob arrived at 12:01. Not a problem, he would get it in Poland...
In Berlin, the team rented a passenger van. The next day, the truck and the van convoyed to the Polish border. Though the truck was held up for a few hours, they kept in touch with their cell phones while touring quaint villages. A highlight was the huge stork nest with their babies on so many roof tops. After the team joined back up, they had no idea where they would stay for the night. As usual, God's provision was wonderful, as He directed them to their excellent accommodations in two new Polish hotels.
Continuing on to the Russian Embassy in Bialystok, Bob, was only able to obtain a Russian visa for Belarus, not Russia. Not to worry though, he would get the Russian visa in Belarus...
When they arrived at the Polish border in Bobrowniki, they were told the truck and the van must go through differentcheckpoints. The team said their goodbye's to Bob and Ellen, expecting to see them soon.
Traveling up the western border of Poland, they were greeted by a very long line at Grodno. A hand knocked on the window. There stood two Men in Black. In broken English, they explained the team could expect a four hour wait to get to the border. However, MIB said they would sell their forward position in line to the team for $300, saving 3 hours.
Realizing they were talking with mafia, but not wanting to spend the night at the border, the price was negotiated down to $150. True to their word, they escorted the two vehicles near the front of the line. It became apparent the line was all mafia, and this was their money making business. An hour later, the passports were stamped as they were sent through the Polish checkpoint.
The Belarusian Customs official, 100 yards down the road, laughed as he looked at their passports. Bob knew just enough Russian to understand five stamps were needed on each passport. Aha! That's the Polish Mafia's their game, they would have to repeat the procedure 4 more times, bribes and all, before all the necessary stamps would be obtained.
Bud, the team's van driver, had a game plan of his own. Much to the Polish Custom's annoyance, he reversed the van, blocking the border crossing. The officials were quite angry and threatening. Bud just smiled, pointing at the passports until they finally put another stamp in. He repeated the procedure, demanding all the stamps. Having stopped their money train, they reluctantly agreed. The Belarusian border official just chuckled, knowing the Polish Mafia had been beaten.
The team was now on its way. After making a wrong turn, they found a hotel which they later determined was owned by Belarusian Mafia. The team arrived along side the mafia's busload of prostitutes. They ate quickly and locked themselves in their rooms for the night.
Early the next morning they traveled down the western Belarusian border to Bobrowniki. They inquired of the whereabouts of Bullet Bob, Ellen, and the truck. After hours of negotiating and demands of $1,700, the payment would be made only after speaking to the others. The officials allowed them to make a phone call to Ellen who quickly informed them they had already paid the fees. Stephanie told her they would head out and meet them further down the freeway, far from the border.
Now the team knew the officials were trying to rip them off, so they jumped back in the van and fled, watching angry guards in the distance. Bud decided to take a little side tour to visit the countryside, as they waited for the truck to clear the Polish border. Stephanie reminded him that their international cell phones did not work in Belarus. They headed back to the freeway only to realize they were lost and had no idea where it was. Finding the freeway a couple of hours later, they did not know if the truck was still at the border or if it had cleared and was ahead of them.
Continuing to travel through the countryside, the van was in desperate need of fuel. Finally a gas station was found. Stephanie went to the kiosk window to pay. As she stood there, a car drove up. A lady, dressed in black, got out and walked inside the office. Through the window, Stephanie saw the attendant talking to the lady, so she went inside to politely to inform her she was next in line.
It became obvious the lady was not a customer, as she was collecting money from the cash drawer. Stephanie then realized the attendant was crying and shaking violently. The lady in black turned toward Stephanie. The attendant, seeing Stephanie standing there, pointed outside. Only then did Stephanie realize what was happening.
Five men, dressed in black, stood around an odd colored mustard-green 500 series Mercedes. Having seen several of them at the hotel the night before, she recognized it as a mafia car. What a shock, they were collecting money alright, it was a robbery.
While looking at the lady in black, Stephanie said, "Well God, this is a right mess you’ve got me in here. I need help, and I need it now. Help me know what to do, ‘cause I don’t know what to do". Then she said, "Come on God, we’re getting out of here," as she walked out. Did the lady in black ever see Stephanie standing there?
Not wanting to alarm the team, Stephanie motioned the team to the back of the van. She said the lady would help them when people were gone. The pump for the Mercedes turned on, as the lady came out with her bag of money and got into the car. Once the Mercedes was gassed up, the men got in and drove away. Who is the better target for a cash laden robbery, a Belarusian gas station or a team of American "tourist"? Did the men in black ever see the team standing there?
"By the way," Stephanie said, "that was a gas station robbery by the mafia." They thanked God for their protection and went into the office, where the lady was still shaking. They determined it would cost $13 to fill the van. The attendant indicated she wanted US dollars and would not take the worthless Belarusian money. Stephanie gave her a twenty dollar bill indicating the change was for her. One could visibly see the lady's spirit calm, her tears dry, her tremors subside. God sent them that day to help a lady in need.
God has afforded Stephanie a remarkable life, filled with both joy and sorrow. The robbery was a traumatizing experience, normally she is fearless, but this one was a little much even for her.
After their hair-raising day, the team went to bed exhausted. Stephanie was later awakened by a knock at the door. Opening the door, a man in black greeted her. After the last two days of men dressed in black, that was the last thing Stephanie wanted to see. He made the universal sign for a phone call, his fist to his ear. Following him into the dark, she thought there may be an international phone outside. No, international phone.
They continued through the parking lot, over the freeway. Why was Stephanie following this unknown man in black? Even she could not explain it. They climbed a lookout tower. It looked like a guard tower at the Berlin wall, or perhaps a prison yard, but most certainly, not a phone booth! Fear filled her heart, as no one knew where she was. The remaining team members were asleep in their rooms, and who knew where the truck was? She could have disappeared, never be to seen again. Fortunately, there was an old fashioned black phone, unfortunately, it did not work. At least the man in black was legitimate. She made the journey back, alone, in the dead of night.
Locking the door, she looked around the depressing hotel room as she to cried out to the Lord, "I could have been home with Bob. Whose bright idea was this anyway? Lord, I thought it was you leading us to do this. The babies needed formula and it couldn’t be bought in Russia like the last time. Look at Your many provision for the orphans. I really thought You wanted this. But, if I’m wrong Lord, then I’m sorry. I will stay home with Bob and never leave again. I am sorry to ask for a sign but I just really need to know that You’re still in this thing… so please, send Bullet Bob as a sign".
Within five minutes, Bullet Bob’s voice boomed in the hallway. She cried with relief saying, "Now God, that was too hard of a test". He spoke to her spirit, "Stephanie, it will get harder, but, I promise, I will make a way where there is no way". She heartily greeted Bullet Bob and Ellen. Even though it was 1 a.m., she and Ellen stayed up video taping all that had happened while it was fresh on their minds.
For the first time, Stephanie understood Peter when he walked on the water. Peter was literally experiencing the power of faith in God in action. Suddenly he feared and he began to sink. That always puzzled her, how could Peter fear when he had just been through an amazing experience with God? He should have had NO doubts whatsoever. She understood with trust comes confidence, peace, and joy; with fear comes doubt, anxiety, and tears. The second you take your eyes off Jesus, you sink. It is only in His power and His strength we are able to do anything.
The next morning the reunited team ate breakfast and discussed the lack of Bob's Russian visa. It was now Saturday and the Russian Embassy would not be open until Monday. Stephanie shared with them what the Lord had spoken to her spirit, "Stephanie, it will get harder, but, I promise, I will make a way where there is no way". she said. She though they should trust God and head for the border and trusting Him regarding the absence of Bob's visa. Bob said, "I’m with you Stef; let’s pack ‘em up and roll ‘em out". All agreed and headed for the Russian border.
God's Smuggler, Brother Andrew, once said in a similar instance, "Father, You can give sight to blind eyes, now, blind seeing eyes." Did the lady in black ever see Stephanie standing in front of her? Did the men in black ever see the team standing next to them at the pump?
God did it then for Brother Andrew, He did it this time for Stephanie, He did it this time for the team, and He did it this time for Brother Bullet Bob. At seven different checkpoints, Bob handed over his passport without a visa. At all seven points, he was passed through. Did they see an empty passport or did they see a visa? The law required a visa for them to approved him. Each guard approved him. What did the guards see when they opened his passport?
Russian law required a visa when checking into a hotel. However, the clerk took his passport and checked him in. What did she see when she opened the passport?
Because of the many delays, Bud and his wife, Jan, returned to Berlin to drop off the van as they traveled back to America. They are truly an amazing couple, who built and are operating a new orphanage in Haiti, Children of the Promise. http://childrenofthepromise.org/default.htm
Paul Lossau, an American living in Russia, met them at the hotel. Burt and Stephanie journeyed onto Vladimir where they faced down Russian Customs regarding all their "red tape" concerning the shipping container. Dishearten by the bureaucracy, Bullet Bob was threatening to head his Mercy Mission truck to a Ukrainian orphanage where he knew they would welcome his cargo.
Finally, they met with General Mushroom (really). General Mushroom said that he could not help. Paul and his interpreter, Sergei, were about to leave. Realizing someone had to do something, Stephanie pounded her fist on his desk three times and yelled, "NO, NO, NO"! The General jumped up onto his feet in shock.
Stephanie demanded, "You are the one, the only one who can make this decision. You are the Chief, the one in authority, the highest in command, and you and only you can decide to help us and I expect you to do it". Mushroom responded, "But the paperwork is not ready". All of the conversations were accomplished through the interpreter.
She looked at Paul, saying in a loud voice, "Sergei, don’t interpret this. Paul, I’m going to tell you off. Go along with everything. Now start interpreting Sergey". Continuing to glare at Paul, she hollered, "Am I to understand that your paper work is not ready?"
Paul hung his head and indicated yes. "When might I expect this to be completed?"
"Three weeks." he answered. She turned to the General and asked, "Is this acceptable to you?"
"Da, da, da," he quickly replied, firmly nodding his head.
Returning to Paul, she said, "Then I expect this to be accomplished within three weeks, and NO later". Paul agreed.
General Mushroom was pleased and said the truckload of supplies could be stored in his warehouse. He also agreed to release it within three days of receiving the paperwork.
Stephanie stood and said, "Then that is acceptable and to this I will agree". She quickly left before the General called her bluff. God gives boldness where need.
One thing the General failed to mention was storage fees, which amounted to nearly $8,000. Paul agreed to pay this unexpected expense.
The container arrived in Russia in July, with a planned release date well before the next team's scheduled September trip. To the disappointment of the team, bureaucracy still stood in the way for the September release.
By then, a Christmas release was hoped for. But it was not to be, Christmas came and went. Then word came, it would be released the first week in January. Hurriedly, at the end of December, Howard, Donna, Harold, Kirk, and Stephanie obtained their Russian visas and purchased their tickets, departing January 6.
Sure enough, the supplies had been released in time for the team's arrival on January 7th.
Oh, by the way, did you know Russia celebrates Christmas on January 7th?
© 2004 Howard K. Barlow, Sr.
“All material herein is exclusively the property of the author and is not to be used without written permission from the author.”