The Journey series
This week's Mustard Seed begins in Athens. I had a ticket and a three-day wait for the Magic bus that would take me to London. I also had just over two hundred US dollars. I knew Freddy Laker's Skytrain would get me from London to New York for ninety-nine of those dollars. I could only trust God that the balance of my funds would see me from New York to Vancouver and cover any essential incidentals.
I must admit my trust in God arose more through necessity than faith. Not wishing to strain God too greatly, I decided to eschew restaurants and hostels. The more money I had in my pocket when I reached New York, the better God's chance of getting me home. My faith was not getting any stronger as I wandered the streets of Athens that evening.
As it grew darker and colder, I noticed an orange flickering glow in the distance. As I approached, I saw it rose from an oil drum. Several men stood about it. I waved at them as I approached. "Kalispera," I said.
"What do you want?" they responded.
"May I share your fire?"
They shuffled over to make room for me. I gleaned from snippets of English that they were unemployed seamen. A bit later on I heard "Abdul," "Lebanon," and "radio officer."
"Are you speaking of Abdul whose friend died in Lebanon?" I asked.
It turned out they were. They all knew Abdul. When they found out I was the one who helped him travel from Istanbul to Athens the whole conversation switched to English. It turned out there was quite a community of homeless African sailors in Athens. I was invited to stay with these men in their cave until my Magic Bus departure. There was plenty of fruit, vegetables, and salted fish to share. Men came and went as ships arrived and departed. My second visit to Athens was much different from my first. The circumstances were much better for the first, but the people were far better in the second.
At the appointed time, I rendezvoused with the Magic Bus, presented my scrap-of-paper ticket, and boarded. I put my bag in the overhead rack and sat. A girl a little older than me arrived a little later and asked to sit beside me. She was so loaded down with bags that she obviously needed help. As I was busy hoisting her backpack and satchel into the overhead rack she snuck into the window seat. She tucked one shopping bag under her seat and another between her feet. I didn't think it fair, but I wasn't about to start our three-and-a-half day journey with a spat.
I soon learned that she was returning to London from a visit with her mother who had retired in Greece for the better weather and lower cost of living. Liz was a regular round-trip passenger on the Magic Bus. The two bags stowed by her feet were full of sandwiches and pastries. We got out to stretch our legs and mingle with the other passengers whenever the drivers stopped, and her two sacks contained more than enough to feed us both for the whole trip. Liz fed and entertained me the entire way. She also provided detailed instructions to get to Gatwick airport from where the Magic Bus dropped us off, and tips for catching the Skytrain to New York.
Liz handed me a parcel of food as we said goodbye. I boarded the bus to Victoria Station where I would catch the Gatwick Express train. Once at the airport I rushed over to line up for my Skytrain ticket. Even though the booth wouldn't open for hours, the line was already long. Without Liz's warning I would have arrived later to a sold out flight.
Once I safely had my ticket I relaxed enough that I could sit and think. I realized I had been so busy following my plan to get to New York that I hadn't worried about the New York to Vancouver leg of my return home. Past New York I had no plan – and, pre-internet, no means of finding the information I needed to make any plan. I decided worrying wouldn't help – I'd just leave that part up to God. It was only then that I began to recognize how great a role God's providence had played in my journey ever since I fled Iran.
Next week: North America.
Peter T Elliott