by Suzanne Behr
I had only been attending Church of the Holy Spirit for a year when I received a church email, asking if anyone wanted to go on a short-term mission trip to Turkey. I immediately typed a note saying, “Count me in!” and hit Send. I was afraid someone with a faster internet service might get ahead of my bits and bytes back to the church! I didn’t have to pray about it, think about it or talk about it. My spirit simply leapt inside me and I grabbed the opportunity. As it turned out, I was the only one.
Our team comprised Father Christopher and his family, me and three members of Christopher’s former parish in South Carolina. Excitement built within our eight-person team as we met together, talked via conference calls and emailed back and forth. Finally, the day arrived in June 2014 for five of us to head to the airport and take off. I was so excited and honored to be a part of this team. We were to fly to Istanbul over a 20-hour period from Tulsa to Chicago to Frankfurt to Istanbul. Our bags were packed, our hearts were packed, as Father Christopher’s family and I boarded the first leg of our trip in Tulsa.
A half hour later we got off the same plane at the same gate in Tulsa and were running, along with everyone else, to the counter to negotiate and rebook our tickets. Chicago cancelled our flight due to weather – although my iPhone clearly showed there was no bad weather in the Chicago. Ugh. What a way to start a missions trip! It seemed the enemy was already after us before we even left the ground. Three hours later we boarded a different carrier for Atlanta with promises of forthcoming international tickets and slept overnight there. But the next morning didn’t go any better. The partner airline staff said they had no bookings for us! We couldn’t believe our ears and our hearts sank deep and fast. It was only after hours of more waiting and intense arbitration with the ticket agents that we finally received seat assignments to Germany and Turkey. It was an exasperating ordeal and we arrived a whole day late, but we arrived and were ready to do the Lord’s bidding.
You know, sometimes half the battle is the arriving part. We get discouraged, weary, or even lazy so we don’t show up. We never arrive at our ultimate destination and therefore miss the main event because we struggled with the off-road “pre-show” – the arriving part, the getting there, the journey. We got discouraged and gave up. We missed the real event, the Lord’s glory, simply because we weren’t present to see it. It was a sunny beautiful day and I was happy we arrived.
During the 12 days we were there, we ministered in two churches, sharing our lives, preaching and praying for them. It was a humbling experience because you felt like they knew more about God’s true kingdom than you did. The last day of our trip was a very long one. We finally had dinner at 10 pm. By the time we got back to the youth hostel and went to bed, it was past midnight. I rested for two hours before getting up at 2 am to catch a taxi to the Istanbul airport with Grace and Stephanie. It was a tiring two weeks, but I felt good. We were on our way home after a wonderful time of ministry and touring.
We zipped through security with no problems, but as soon as I entered the expansive lobby, I felt very sick. I told Grace and Stephanie to go on without me. I needed to get a Coke or something. I got my Coke and walked around the shops but that didn’t help. I could feel my body nose-diving into severe pain at a breakneck speed. Sick to my stomach, nauseated, weak and in acute pain, I dragged my feet over to the gate and boarded. We had a four hour flight to Frankfurt, Germany. I sat down in an aisle seat and told Grace and Stephanie to give me their … barf bags. It was all I could do to hang on for two hours, closing my eyes, clenching my stomach and wincing in pain. But at the halfway mark I could no longer hold it in – I threw up, and threw up explosively. At least my aim was pretty good. Most of it caught the bag. I double bagged it with Stephanie’s bag and hid it from the flight attendant who had told me earlier if I was sick she would remove me from the plane.
We landed in Frankfurt and I was in terrible shape. I told the girls to head to the gate without me. I would be in the bathroom and didn’t know if I could make the next leg of our journey to Chicago. I began to think I would have to call my friends in Köln to come and get me. I needed a doctor. As I staggered in the direction of the next gate, I remembered I had two sleeping pills on me for travel. Ah! I thought if I could take those pills and if they could knock me out for nine hours, I’d be OK to make it to the States. Still bent over in pain, I quickened my shuffle step and barely caught the plane as they were boarding. I sat down in the large middle section, on the aisle. Thank God – I was on the aisle!
I took a sleeping pill and dozed in and out for three hours. I felt myself coming awake so I took the second pill. Three hours later I was fully awake. I closed my eyes and concentrated on not throwing up. I held on for about an hour, before I lost it again. But whispered: Thank you God for barf bags! The pain was excruciating, not just knots in my stomach but like tiny creatures on march attacking my intestines. I hid the bag from the attendant.
We landed in Chicago and it was all I could do to slide my feet against the floor to get to the gate and sit down. I closed my eyes again to block out any disturbances from sight, sound, and smell. I needed to concentrate on not vomiting. The layover was four hours long and felt like four hundred. My stomach hurt so badly I was physically making strange facial twitches, which I’m sure attracted stares from those around me but I didn’t care; I had my eyes closed and couldn’t see them.
We boarded the plane to Tulsa and I continued to keep my eyes shut – and make funny faces. Two hours later we landed on the tarmac and all I could think of was getting home and crawling into bed. I dragged my body down the airport hallway and slid through the exit door where my sister was waiting. I scuffled hunched over toward her and said in a hoarse voice: “I’m really sick, take me home.”
It took weeks for my doctor to figure out I had a very nasty strain of E. coli, which is resistant to almost all known antibiotics. If left untreated, it can result in organ failure and death. I lost 10 lbs in three weeks. It was the worst diet I ever went on. There were times when I thought: “Is this how I will feel the rest of my life?” There are only two antibiotics that have been successful against this specific strain. One is administered through a hospital IV; the other is Macrobid, a pill. I started Macrobid and after another four weeks, I finally began to believe I was going to recover. Praise God, I was going to live!
So people have wondered: Are you still glad you went to Turkey and would you go again?! Absolutely. I got to be a part of the main event – to encourage the saints in Turkey who needed to know the Church around the world sees them, loves them, and honors them. I was able to add my light to theirs in a very dark country and make it burn brighter. The pre-show event (cancelled flights) and post-show event (getting really sick) were just distractions from the main event – sharing the love of God.
Whatever season of life you find yourself in at this moment, don’t allow the pre-show and post-show events to scare you away from the main event – God’s glorious will.
Don’t let the hardships of pre and post journeys stop you from arriving at your destiny. Instead, let’s determine that any struggle before or after the main event is in reality a diversion, meant to keep us from participating in the ultimate performance of a lifetime, on center stage.
Suzanne Behr is currently the R&D Manager at Sercel-GRC in Tulsa, OK. She holds an MBA and MS Degree in Engineering, as well as a Certificate in Theology and Ministry from Princeton. She has written and led Bible studies for most of her life and founded and directed a college women’s mentoring program for five years. She is an active member at Church of the Holy Spirit Anglican. Suzanne is originally from NY, but has lived in Tulsa for many years now. She is most passionate about making God’s Word relevant to young adults and today’s culture.