Monday, February 28, 2022

God Winks in Slave Lake - Part 1

After Ewa and I got married, we lived in Warsaw, Poland.  After almost a year, we went to the Canadian embassy to ask them if, in the event we had children, they could obtain dual citizenship.  We got that answer, but at the same time the embassy told us that immigration law in Canada had changed and if we ever wanted to move back to Canada the ONLY way they would allow Ewa into the country was if she officially immigrated.  

We didn't want to be in a situation where Ewa was not free to travel to Canada, so we decided to change our plans.  We quit our work contract in Warsaw and I went to Canada alone so I could find a job and sponsor Ewa's immigration.  I left Poland in Sept. 1994 and God provided immediate employment for me in Slave Lake, Alberta.

Working at the OSB Plant

While in Slave Lake, I worked at an Oriented Strand-board Plant that made plywood from wood wafers.  I worked 4 12-hour days, had 3 and a half days off and then worked 4 12-hour nights followed by 4 days off.  Some of those shift transitions could be brutal - particularly the first night shift.  

Oriented Strand Board

My initial responsibility there was clean up.  Conveyers carrying bark and other wood waste to the burner never caught everything, or sometimes got plugged or overflowed.  I got to cleanup the messes.  It was heavy, hard work shovelling wet wood waste back into the convey which was sometimes higher than my head.  Late one dark, very cold evening I was taking a short break from this labour when I noticed some very large icicles hanging down the side of the structure.  Considering their size (over 3 feet long) I thought they could be a danger to someone, so I decided to knock them down.  In my tired state, I didn't properly factor how they might fall once I broke them with my shovel.  When they fell, a large piece hit my hardhat, knocked it off and then hit my face.  I needed stitches, but I was told that I was fortunate the injury wasn't worse given the size and weight of the icicle.  God's Protection!

Waferizer
After a couple months doing cleanup, I got informally moved up to the 'Green-End' crew. We were responsible for ensuring the mill had a consistent flow of wood wafers to make the boards.  This involved running machines that debarked the logs coming into the mill, trimming these logs into 2 foot lengths and ensuring those 2 foot lengths were oriented correctly as they were fed into 'waferizers' which turned the logs into wafers.  The debarking and log trimming was mostly an automated process, but making sure the log sections were oriented properly going into the waferizers was manually done, and these logs could be heavy.  We used tools called pickaroons to help move these logs into position.

Pickaroon

Food processors are loud.  Waferizers scream past them in decibels.  One could get very mentally and physically exhausted from the noise and the work in the wee hours of the morning.  I had to be very conscious of the moves, pulls, and yanks I made orienting the wood so I didn't hurt myself.  

One evening I pulled a muscle in my back, but convinced myself I could work through it.  By the time the shift was over, I was hurting in a big way.  This was concerning because the mill tried very hard to avoid lost time injuries and my back felt like it was going to require some time off to heal.  

After arriving home, I was getting ready for bed and found my back pain was so overwhelming that I was struggling to breathe!  I called my Mom for help.  She came and I told her my back was hurting and I couldn't breathe.  She prayed for me right there, and within 30 seconds the pain was entirely gone.  It was amazing!  God healed me!

"The righteous person may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all"  Psalm 34:19
"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble."  Psalm 46:1

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Stamp Collecting and God?

Found - My Old Stamp Collection!

My Mom passed away recently, and as my Dad was cleaning things up in their house, he discovered my old stamp collection - from 40 years ago!  I brought it home and went through it and was rather surprised
at some of the stamps I found.  I'd forgotten that Mom had casually helped me by occasionally purchasing mint stamps at the post office when she went there.  I'd also forgotten that I'd purchased some older stamps myself.  I decided to do some research and see their value now, and the cost and effort it would take to get started at collecting again.

Learning About Stamps

Philately (the study of stamps), as I discovered at the local stamp store, is pretty involved.  Stamps can be: 

  • Printed on different types of paper.  Did you know that some stamp paper is UV tagged and fluorescent when see under a Ultra-Violet light?
  • Created with different adhesive types.  Older stamps used gum (glue), most newer stamps are self-adhesive, like stickers
  • Separated by:
    • a manual process (like scissors) These are generally very old stamps.
    • perforations (the lines of holes you rip to separate a stamp).  Because there are different types of perforations, there are actually special rulers to determine which type a stamp has.
    • machine cut - with self-adhesive stamps
  • Mint or Used - generally mint stamps are worth more, but there are a bunch of factors that can come into play, like:
    • their 'face value' (the original cost of the stamp) 
    • a used stamp's cancellation mark - some people actually collect these!
    • was there an error in the printing? Scratched plates, missing ink, ink scum, hickies, mis-aligned or missing perforations can cause a stamp's value to skyrocket
  • Older or newer, obviously.  Older stamps were printed using a different type of printing process
    (gravure). This print process meant that older stamps didn't have many colours, and the stamp's design could often be seen embossed through the paper on the gum side of the stamp.  I was surprised to discover I could buy older mint stamps relatively cheaply.  I enjoy the history and nostalgia of the older stamps.  I was shocked to discover in my recent e-bay purchase that the seller had gratuitously included an 1863 Queen Victoria stamp from Nova Scotia and a 1943 Newfoundland airmail stamp - before they were provinces of Canada!
  • Given a 'Scott' number.  This essentially a code that uniquely identifies the stamp in its country of origin and can also make users aware if its an anomalous stamp in some way, depending on the code any predicates it might have.
 All of these classifications for stamps probably shouldn't have surprised me - I'd spent almost a decade of my life as a printing pressman.  Having that printing experience accelerated my interest in collecting again and motivated me to learn more.

Stamps and... God?

How does God figure into stamp collecting?  I got to thinking about this last night and realized there a bunch of interesting parallels.  I'll just highlight a few of the main ones here:

We are all unique and precious in God's sight. 

"Look, I’ve written your names on the backs of my hands...."  Isaiah 49:16a
"Why even the very hairs on your heads are numbered."  Luke 12:6b
Each stamp is unique.  Its place on the printed sheet is actually given a code.  Individual stamps have a personal history for a stamp collector.  Used stamps will have unique cancellation marks that can make them special to collectors.  Similarly, we are all unique and precious in God's sight.  God knows our personal history from before we were born (Psalm 139:13-16).  God has a special purpose for each of us, just like stamps are printed, cancelled, and used for mail delivery all over the world.  The exact same two stamps printed beside each other on a sheet could end up with completely different cancellation marks on opposite sides of the world!

God uses our imperfections to make us better.

"I’ll refine them as silver is refined, test them for purity as gold is tested." Zechariah 13:9
"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." Psalm 56:8
In many cases, stamp imperfections increase the value of the stamp. Missed UV tagging, print plate scratches, ink colour inconsistencies, and mis-placed perforations are all examples of 'mistakes' that end up making a stamp 'better' in the eyes of collectors.  God also uses our foibles, mishaps, issues, and errors, to transform us into something precious and valuable in His eyes.  

Value

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life"  John 3:16
Stamp value attribution can be rather complex.  Whole catalogues are published annually, that attempt to gauge the value of stamps.  Just one stamp in these catalogues can have a plethora of prices depending on different conditions and ways it could be collected - some of these I've mentioned above.  Essentially though, an individual stamp's true value comes down to one simple thing - how much a buyer is willing to pay for that particular stamp.

Our value with God could be judged the same way.  Its not hard compare ourselves to others and estimate our worth to God based on what we've accomplished for him, or how perfect we think we are.  But our real value to God comes down to one thing:  What price was He willing to pay for us?  

The Bible says that our sin separated us from God, and the price for that sin is death.  But it also says that God gave His only Son to 'pay' that price for us and put us back in right standing with Him.  God gave the most valuable thing He had for us!  We must be highly esteemed and valuable in His eyes!!  

"So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger?"  Roman 8:31-34

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Living in Europe

Full Circle With God

It seems to me there are some Biblical accounts where God does what I'd call 'a circle of completion.'  He gives a person a dream, a starting place, or a 'state of being', then a whole bunch of activities and change happen, and in the end the people involved find themselves returning full-circle.  Some examples I can think of are Jacob and Bethel, Joseph and his dreams, Job and his life, Joshua and Jericho.  There are some situations in Ewa's and my life where we've seen this, too.  Here's one of them...

After Ewa and I got married, we lived in Warsaw, Poland for a year.  We worked for the Polish Baptist Union Publishing House during that time.  Part of the employment agreement with them was they would provide us a place to live.  That place ended up being a new, rather large apartment at their seminary in a suburb of Warsaw called Radosc (radosc means 'joy' in Polish).  Living there for that year was something of a 'full circle moment' for Ewa.  Here's why:

Building a Seminary

Previous to us getting married, Ewa had worked as a liaison between the North Carolina Southern Baptists and the Polish Baptist Union on a project.  That project involved building that seminary!  When she was originally asked to become the liaison, she was very concerned about how involved she might become with the project and wondered if taking the position was the right thing for her to do.  As the day of the decision loomed, she had a dream on night that two ministers she was acquainted with from the States had arrived in Warsaw on the train specifically to visit her with a message.  She woke up struck at the clarity of this dream and curious because she thought they were back Stateside at the time.  Later that day, out of the blue a phone call came from this pair of ministers saying they were at the Warsaw train station!  They asked if Ewa could come and meet with them as they had a message for her.  The message was to encourage her with taking this opportunity - God would support her in it.

Ewa worked on the project for a gruelling 3.5 years.  The work involved travelling to North Carolina in the winters to recruit and prepare construction teams that would come over to Poland in the warmer months.  When these teams came to Poland, she worked as their translator and guide.  The weekdays were spent working with the teams on the Seminary construction.  On the weekends she took the teams to see various churches and cities around Poland.  She had considerable time and effort (literally blood, sweat, and tears) invested in that Seminary construction partnership and project.

Even the land the seminary was built on had an interesting story.  Before WWII the land had been owned by a Jewish family.  During the war they had been protected and hidden by Polish Baptist Christians.  After the war, they gifted this land to the Polish Baptist Union as a token of appreciation.  However, the Union couldn't possess the land until after communism fell in Poland, which was why construction didn't start on the seminary until the early 1990s.   

Living at the Seminary

Our first year of marriage living at the seminary was poignant for us.  Ewa got to enjoy some of the 'fruit of her labour' in living there.  Because our apartment was so large, we were able to host lots of guests. I had Polish language lessons in the evenings there, learning better Polish grammar.  Ewa blew an electrical fuse in the complex installing a light fixture (220 volt system over there).  We bought our first clothes washer, our first piece of furniture, and our first TV in that apartment. We had a 2km one way walk through a forest to the bus stop for work each day.  I carried that new TV from that bus stop all the way back to the apartment the evening we bought it - what a workout!  God had provided our first living space for us in a special way.  It was a provision that closed a circle in completing a busy, fulfilling chapter in Ewa's life.

90s Europe Trip - The Bad Passport
90s Europe Trip - The Engagement Ring
90s Europe Trip - Vienna

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

90s Europe Trip - Vienna

My second overseas trip was to Europe.  Many of my friends had already been to or lived in Europe in some form or fashion and I had heard all of their stories and was itching to get there myself.  I had several reasons for going:

  1. My main motivation for the trip was to go to Poland and meet the family of my girl friend, Ewa.  I needed to know if I could live in Poland as I was considering marrying her.  Consequently getting exposure to the culture and language was pretty important to me.
  2. I wanted to spend some time with a great friend of mine, Kevin,  in Holland.  I had met him in Texas, and he had been working and living in Holland for close to a year and I wanted to catch up with him.
  3. I had some graphic arts film negatives to deliver to an organization in Austria.  They were translating some Christian discipleship tracts into various eastern European languages and the art work for these tracts was on the film I was delivering.
  4. I wanted to accompany a professor of mine and visit our mutual friend Janis, in his home country, Latvia.  I had worked and gone to school with him in Texas for a while and I wanted to see him in his home country.
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.  2 Thessalonians 2:16,17

My trip lasted from the middle of December 1993 to April 1994.  In February, Ewa and I travelled by bus from Poland through the Czech Republic to Vienna, Austria.  I was delivering the graphic arts film for translations to an organization called Operation Mobilization in Spillern, a suburb of Vienna.  We had also arranged stay there for a week.  It ended up being quite cold that particular week and we were mostly using public transportation to get around.  I was glad I had packed the warm clothes I did, but we'd still return to our dorms with numb hands and feet. 

In a square in Vienna
Several things happened on that trip that were memorable and highlighted God's faithfulness to me...

The Couple from Brazil

Unfortunately, I'm having to recall these details from memory because several years of my journals were lost to mold and mildew in storage.  As I mentioned above, one of the main reasons for this trip was to discover if Ewa was to be my 'forever partner.'  I had proposed to her earlier on the trip on New Year's Eve, but life happens and I was beginning to question if getting married then was a good idea .  One of the reasons for my hesitation was Ewa is almost 7 years older than me.  

While Spillern we met some of the staff working with the Operation Mobilization office there.  We had an engaging discussion with a married couple that were from Brazil - and it turned out she was also older than he was.  Unfortunately I don't remember their names now, but they invited us over for dinner one evening, and shared their story with us.  Hearing the story of how they met and their encouragement, I felt God encouraging me that this relationship with Ewa would have His blessing and work out.  God provided the confirmation I needed on that significant life decision!

Ewa's Surprises

Ewa had come with me on this trip because she hadn't been to Austria before and she had time available.  I had limited contact with the people at the Spillern OM office before arriving, so we weren't sure what to expect.  Ewa knew no one.  My only acquaintance there was my contact, and as it turned out, I didn't know him as well as I thought I did.

We finally met my contact in the middle of our week there (he did a lot of travelling).  In talking with him, we discovered that the name I knew him by, 'Charles', was actually a pseudonym (for safety and anonymity) because he spent most of his time smuggling Christian literature into communist countries.  This was a bit of a surprise to me, but immediately reminded me of Brother Andrew and one of my favourite books - God's Smuggler.

Charles then proceeded to ask Ewa if she knew any pastors in Poland.  Ewa actually knew quite a few pastors in Poland because of her previous years working as a liaison between the Polish Baptist Union and the Southern Baptists of North Carolina.  It turned out that Ewa and Charles knew several of the same Polish pastors.  He asked Ewa if she remember times when a truck would arrive in the middle of the night at her church in Czestohowa with a 'delivery', which she recalled.  He said 'I helped drive those trucks to that church!'  Talking further, we discovered that Ewa's first Bible, and much of the edible provisions that she received from that church during her time at college in Czestohowa were from those truck deliveries from the OM office in Austria!  This was very encouraging 'devine appointment' for both Charles and Ewa.  God's provision of encouragement.
Ewa

Even back then, Austria was expensive and we were both on budgets.  Ewa was quite concerned about how much money she had left.  Towards the env of our week there, Ewa came back to her room after we had been out and found a note with money for her on her bed.  She was so happy and thankful for this, God's provision again.  We were so encourage in our trip to Vienna.


Sunday, February 6, 2022

90s Europe Trip - The Bad Passport

My second overseas trip was to Europe.  Many of my friends had already been to or lived in Europe in some form or fashion.  I had heard their stories and was itching to get there myself.  I had several reasons for going:

  1. My main motivation for the trip was to go to Poland and meet the family of my girl friend, Ewa.  I needed to know if I could live in Poland as I was considering marrying her.  Consequently getting exposure to the culture and language was pretty important to me.
  2. I wanted to spend some time with a great friend of mine, Kevin,  in Holland.  I had met him in Texas, and he had been working and living in Holland for close to a year and I wanted to catch up with him.
  3. I had some graphic arts film negatives to deliver to an organization in Austria.  They were translating some Christian discipleship tracts into various eastern European languages and the art work for these tracts was on the film I was delivering.
  4. I wanted to accompany a professor of mine and visit our mutual friend Janis, in his home country, Latvia.  I had worked and gone to school with him in Texas for a while and I wanted to see him in his home country.
The Lord will keep you from all harm - He will watch over your life;  the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.  Psalm 121:7-8  

Canadian Embassy - Warsaw

My trip lasted from the middle of December 1993 to April 1994.  I spent the Christmas holidays with Ewa's family and had a great time with them.  In the middle of January, we travelled to Warsaw so I could get Visas for my other trips.  At that time I needed Visa's for my stay in Latvia as well as a transit visa for my passage through the Czech Republic to Austria.  However, when I stopped at the Canadian Embassy in Warsaw to ask a question, they examined my passport and asked me (really, they politely confiscated my passport and told me) to get a new one.  It turned out that the lamination on the ID page of my passport was coming off.  

They said passport could look faked because of the delamination and as a result it could get confiscated at a boarder crossing.  Suddenly our time in Warsaw got much busier.  I had to get a new passport photos, a new passport, a new Polish Visa, and then get my Visa's for the other countries - all in a week. This was rather frustrating as it cost extra money and time to do all of this.  

Looking back, I can definitely see that God was looking out for me(!) in getting that passport fixed.  It would have been terrible to ride on a bus for several hours only to be turned away at a border crossing because the main page of my passport was delaminating.  In retrospect, I was also very grateful to have several extra days in my schedule, and Ewa's availability and help as a translator and guide to deal with that situation.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

90s Europe Trip - The Engagement Ring

 My second overseas trip was to Europe.  Many of my friends had already been to or lived in Europe in some form or fashion and I had heard all of their stories and was itching to get there myself.  I had several reasons for going:

  1. My main motivation for the trip was to go to Poland and meet the family of my girl friend, Ewa.  I needed to know if I could live in Poland as I was considering marrying her.  Consequently getting exposure to the culture and language was pretty important to me.
  2. I wanted to spend some time with a great friend of mine, Kevin,  in Holland.  I had met him in Texas, and he had been working and living in Holland for close to a year and I wanted to catch up with him.
  3. I had some graphic arts film negatives to deliver to an organization in Austria.  They were translating some Christian discipleship tracts into various eastern European languages and the art work for these tracts was on the film I was delivering.
  4. I wanted to accompany a professor of mine and visit our mutual friend Janis, in his home country, Latvia.  I had worked and gone to school with him in Texas for a while and I wanted to see him in his home country.
What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.  
Luke 12:6-7

God Cares

I proposed to Ewa on New Years Eve during this trip. We were in a little town called Krynica nestled in the Polish mountains.  Later, we bought an engagement ring together in Wroclaw - you can see the ring in picture.  Ewa was concerned because she knew that people would ask to see the engagement ring, and she had a rather large wart on the middle finger beside her ring finger.  

I don't remember exactly how our conversation went surrounding this concern, but Ewa and I agreed to pray about this wart and ask God to remove it.  We prayed and then moved on to other things.  

God definitely heard that prayer, as within 2-3 weeks the wart on Ewa's finger was completely gone!  

God is our healer and He cares about our concerns!


Airline Ticket Scam

Our Dream Ewa and I had a belated honeymoon once she landed in Canada with 'landed immigrant' status in early May, 1996.  I picked h...