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
Email Updates - 2009
Wine Into Water!
by Howard Barlow

"Americani! Americani! Television! Television!" the desk clerk shrieked, as she came bounding up the stairs of Hotel Russia, in Voronezh. She threw our open door wide, as she burst into the room. Terror was on her face, as she ran to the television and turned it on. We all watched, as the twin towers fell. We all watched, as Death laid siege to the city.

The 13 of us, members of the first 3 teams to arrive in Russia, were waiting for our vans to take us to the overnight train to Moscow. Having finished the Russian portion of the Mercy Mission 2001 trip on September 11, we were packed, ready, and rejoicing. While some were being reborn on one side of the world, some were dying on the other. Suddenly, our joy was gone, crushed, but only for a season.

Not really knowing the extent of what was happening, we had to leave for the train. Dr. Natalia, and her husband Uri, met us at the station with tears in their eyes. They were as distraught as we were. Promising to continue to pray for us, and America, they sent us off to Moscow. As we traveled, after a time of prayer, we rejoiced in our fellowship together in the Lord. We arrived in Moscow at 9:00 the next morning.

After waiting for two days, it was apparent the next group, 11 more team members, would not be joining us for the mission trip into the Republic of Georgia. Now what were we going to do? We needed a new plan.

President Putin had closed all flights to the U.S., and had extended all U.S. visas for the duration. We looked at all the possibilities that God had provided. Treasures has made friends all over the region, even in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Republic of Georgia, therefore, we knew we would have sanctuary in any direction God sent us. However, we felt that we should leave Moscow. Several people, familiar with the ongoing politics of the region, told us the city of Moscow might not be safe for long.

The big group was sightseeing in Red Square, while Alison prayed in her room. Stephanie, Donna, and I were in Stephanie's room, seeking the Lord as to His plan. We tried everything we knew to do. British Air had no space available and recommended Aeroflot, who had a flight to London for $900 per person. We had flown Aeroflot in March and believe it or not, we weren't that impressed. We were not going to do that again. Try as we might, none of our plans would come together. We decided to stop planning and instead, to wait upon the Lord. We told Him it didn't matter if He sent a boat, train, or plane we were willing to follow. Two minutes later the phone rang, it was God, He had a plan. Well, He had someone else place the call, but it was His plan.

Unknown to us, Stephanie's brother, Captain Peter Churms, of British Air, was busy on our behalf. Knowing our circumstance, he had purchased 13 tickets to London for the next day at the hysterical price of $300 per ticket (staff rate)! Seems British Air did have seats available, if you knew how to find them. He had looked back at an old email and found all of our names. Peter had even called upon two family friends to help house us while we waited in London for a flight home. Our budget was rescued, and the plan was in motion. We were on our way to becoming refugees in a foreign land. We were going to travel light. Everyone blessed the translators and housekeepers with excess "gifts" that we could not take to Georgia…luggage, and anything we did not have to have. We wanted the boarding to go smoothly, so we limited each of us to one bag and a carry on. It wasn't easy, but we all made it.

We had chartered a van to take us market shopping on the 14th, but given the unusual circumstances, we used it for the ride to the airport. Our flight was at 4:30 pm and the ticket office opened at 3:30. Not knowing if the airport would be empty, or full of Americans trying to get out, we didn't want to take any chances. Half of us left for the airport at 9:30 a.m. Everything was going like clockwork. Everyone wanted to go by the US Embassy, in Moscow, to lay one yellow rose from each of us. Being an hour drive to the airport from Red Square, there was no time to waste. As it turned out, the airport was virtually empty. If security was heightened, you could not see it. The van returned for the second group. They stopped for lunch at McDonald's and made their way to the embassy and on to the airport. The ticket counter opened early, and we were all ticketed just as the second group arrived. Smooth as silk…we were going to London.

Baggage in tow, we headed for the first of 4 checkpoints. Our leadership always goes through the check stations first so we can help the others that come behind. This was the first trip for half of our group and we did not want them to be nervous as they were searched and questioned.

(I must digress. The team had come into Russia on 4 different flights, 3 different days, and 2 different airlines. We were praising God all the luggage made it, all the Bibles made it, and there were no problems going through customs. We were all "waved" through. One big problem…customs had not stamped anyone's declaration. You must declare the amount of money you are bringing into Russia. If you do not, you can be fined twice the amount you brought, and forfeit the money. Otherwise, $1500 is all any individual can take out.)

So, there we were at the airport, we were so smart, we thought of everything. After all, we were 2 hours early for our flight, at the head of the line, waving good-bye to our translators as they left for Moscow. Nothing could go wrong. Then "Murphy" showed up!

Stephanie, Donna, and I had a problem, or shall I say, a BIG problem. The Russian customs lady looked at our declarations and saw the dollar amounts written. Not liking what she saw, through broken English she asked, "Where is your Russian friend?" (They always ask that, even in the markets. It's like they know we aren't one of them.) Remember, we had waved "bye-bye" to all of our Russian friends. She wanted to know why our forms had not been stamped. Not seeing the arrival customs stamp, she wasn't satisfied they were the original documents, even though they were printed in English (those are the ones you get on the airplane coming in). She explained we could only take out $1500 each. Donna started counting out $1,500 to each of our 9 team members, adding what she could to what they already had. As each person received "their portion", the lady cleared them to board the plane. Stefan caught her attention, "Stand there. Open your bags." He looked guilty to me too, but I wasn't going to say so. She also searched him, kind of a scary thing, you know? Maybe he should have been carrying chemo instead of casho.

Huddling on the other side of the first station, the team waited. They kept easing back over, one at a time to see what was going on. We had to tell them to stay away, worried she may think we were trying to pass them money. With all others satisfying the limit, we were left with $10,800 unaccounted for orphan money. She counted it into little stacks and said, "I give you customs voucher for next time you come to Russia." "We're not leaving that money." "Yes, the money stays." The clock is ticking.

Treasures has a policy, we are a team. If any one of us, Stephanie, Donna, or I (Yeah right, like they will stay with me. I see that happening.) has to stay, all 3 stay. Seems as if the tactic was to divide and conquer. Her plan wasn't working. Stephanie, Donna, and I were going to stay with the orphan money. It was not leaving our sight.

Gary, a Treasures board member, and Stefan, had made the trip alone several times before. Bob knew where to find Peter in London. We felt secure sending the team on to London without us. We would see them in a day or two. Stephanie was sending her husband off without her, we were sending our son without us…but we were not leaving that orphan money. Priorities, you know.

Donna had made us a little Outlook address book with all our Russian friends' addresses, cell phone numbers, home and business numbers.

The listings were filled with government officials, doctors, and orphanage directors with all the new numbers scribbled on the first page. She put it down on the counter and said, "I think it is time to call President Putin's office." Our "new friend" thumbed through the book, she gave a jeering laugh as she pushed it toward us and said, "Call Putin! Everyone would like to call him. Go, board the plane." Realizing diplomacy was not working, nor was Stephanie's gift of persuasion, as she tried to reason with her about the orphans' need of the money, the three of us looked this hard-hearted obstacle square in the eye, "You are not keeping the money. We are not getting on the plane. We are taking the money and going back to Moscow." "You not leave?" "NO! WE NOT LEAVE!" I think she got the message. Shoving the money to us, she barked, "Take your money, go to Moscow."

We did! We picked up our orphan money and went to British Airways to tell them we were not going to make the flight. As we stood in line at the ticket counter, the customs lady came over, "Go buy traveler check. Take them with you", she said, in a noticeably softer tone, as she pointed at the bank window next to the customs area. "Come back only to me at Green Light." Is this the same person? Is this heart of stone turning into a heart of flesh? Are you beginning to see the Plan?

We hated the thought of paying the fee for travelers' checks, but that would be cheaper than a taxi, hotel, and the return trip when we had solved the problem. We waited in the bank line, 8 people deep, for what seemed like forever. Donna told Stephanie, "I'm not going to cry now. But just wait until we get to the other side."

The customs lady walked over near Stephanie and Donna to see how we were progressing. Ever the negotiator, Stephanie was lavishing praise on the lady for her good heart, and for offering the suggestion. Stephanie tried to give her a small gift of gratitude, but of course, she could not accept the "bribe". She turned and went back to her station. Something was going on in her heart, perhaps she knew what and why, perhaps not. God's plan was at work.

The clock had been ticking, now it was just about ticked out. Finally, it was our turn at the window. We placed our orphan money through the little slot. The teller took it, placed it in the counting machine, and yes, it was $10,800. While we filled out the paperwork (there is always paperwork in Russia), she randomly selected bills to place under a special light to find the watermark. She moved to the next machine, feeding each bill into the small slot (the clock was moving so fast now the hands were waving bye-bye to us). The machine immediately rejected each bill. She turned and handed several bills to the next teller to feed through her machine. They were rejected again. "Is not real money", she said, tapping the bills with her finger. She pushed the stack back through the little slot.

(Sidebar: Russians fear counterfeited money, so we always go to our bank and get new, as in the "big head", uncirculated $100 bills. The bank ordered new sequentially numbered bills. They came straight off the Brinks truck. We were carrying a large amount of money. Remember, we were going into Georgia to complete the mission. We had water, electricity, livestock, furniture, and much more to purchase, plus our living expenses for two weeks.

"Wait a minute, what happened to the Plan, God? Who gets the money?" Man, it sure seems like a plan can go south in a heartbeat. "Now what?" "That's not My plan."

"I would like to speak to a supervisor", I said. "Is not possible", said the stone-faced teller. This was customer service at its finest hour. We took our counterfeit orphan money and headed back to British Airways. I told Stephanie and Donna, "Wait, if it is not real money, then we can take it with us." While they waited in yet another line, I headed for the customs lady. As I approached her, she asked, "Where are your women?" "Over at British Airways. The bank lady said the money is not real." "I know, I saw what she did. Get your women, take your money and go." My mama didn't raise a fool. I shouted to "my women", "Let's go!" Donna had tears in her eyes as she cleared customs. "No tears!" customs lady said. Stephanie blessed her and her family, thanking her profusely.

We had 30 minutes left to clear security x-ray, British Airways' check-in, passport control, and boarding x-ray for carry-on's before the flight departed. On a good day it could take as much as an hour to maneuver the remaining obstacles. At each station, we explained we had arrived 5 hours early…we were not just dragging in. But guess what, we had time to buy a snack and go to the restroom!

By this time, the team thought we would surely miss the plane. Wrong! The cabin door was closed behind us, as we boarded. The clock ran out, but with CASH in hand, we beat the clock! Bud Collier would be proud of us. (You gotta be really old to catch that one.) Reaching the rear cabin (aka "cheap seats"), victoriously, we declared, "Our God Reigns!" to the cheers of our team and the rest of the passengers that had heard of our plight.

Jesus didn't want us to pay the 1% bank fee. He was saving it for the kids. For only a moment, He made our money counterfeit. It's as though, once again, He blinded seeing eyes. God did have a plan, a very specific plan.

The lesson we keep learning, over and over, is we don't need a plan. We only have to wait upon the Lord, and His plan is revealed. And you know what? His vision is always much bigger than ours.

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