Although traveling in a strange country is a wonderful experience for a tourist, learning to live there is quite another story. We often start by thinking that Americans do things the “right” way and that these “foreigners” are the ones who don’t understand. Even though we rationalize the error of this logic, sometimes it takes our spirits longer to catch on. I was no exception. Sweden did seem strange. The people spoke differently, ate different foods (cold cuts for breakfast?), and thought differently than I did. Their schedules were unusual to me, and they often felt there was only one way to do things — their way. For a while, nothing felt quite normal.
In addition to the daily routine of the Swedish culture, other dynamics also affected my adjustments to the country. For one thing, the Swedes exhibited jealousy of Americans, and even Swedish Christians weren’t exempt from those feelings. We have so many material possessions in our country, and though we take much for granted, we’re constantly being evaluated by those with less.
An added tension was that my arrival in Sweden occurred at the height of the Vietnam War. As unpopular as it was in the States, sentiments toward this conflict were even more antagonistic in my newfound home. The combination of jealousy of our material wealth and hostility toward our involvement in Southeast Asia were attitudes I hadn’t anticipated. Though these weren’t major obstacles to my work, they were definitely factors I had to learn to deal with. Suffice it to say that adjustments came quickly, and before I realized it, I began to feel like I belonged. I soon became “one of them,” eating their food, sleeping on their schedule, and even thinking and laughing as they did. Yes, I was finally in Sweden, and it felt good.
The first five months of my stay seemed to fly by. I lived with the young Christian traveling group and helped them schedule their work time at the house. We all chipped in with the chores of cleaning, cooking, doing laundry, and generally taking care of things. We also traveled through Sweden and spoke in churches and schools. It was a good time for all of us, and we worked well together, sharing alike in this adventure of ministry.
In January 1973, I sensed the Lord telling me that this phase of my time was up and that he had other plans for me. But I had no idea what these “plans” were. Keeping an open mind and spirit, I attended a weeklong conference, where I met the Ekebjars. Goran and Marianne Ekebjar were a delightful couple with five energetic youngsters. In the course of conversation, they invited me to come and live with them and help out with the children. The other purpose of this transition was that their town of Falun was a college town, and they felt a real need for someone to work with the ministry to these students. Responding to God’s previous nudging, I accepted their generous invitation, made the necessary arrangements, and headed to Falun. What a welcome as I arrived there just in time to see the World Championship Ski Jump competition. I was thrilled.
The months went by, and I spent a lot of time teaching those college kids. It was interesting to see the progression of God’s plans for me and how he provided not only funds, but also people to live and work with. Already the journey from classical saxophonist to nomadic helper had been an unusual one, but somehow I knew that this was only the beginning. The point came when I had to deal with the stark reality of finances. My accounting showed that most of my money had gone out and not a lot had come in. My funds were drying up. That’s why what happened next seemed so preposterous.
In February I was talking to the Lord, and he spoke clearly to me. He instructed me to go and buy an outfit. Now that didn’t make any sense at all. I didn’t need an outfit, nor did I want one. Yet I sensed so strongly his saying “Go buy an outfit” that there was nothing to do but obey him. So I went shopping. To my surprise, I found a pants suit that was absolutely fabulous —the pants cost ten dollars and the top cost only eight. That would have been a great price, except that I only had ten dollars. In fact, I only had ten dollars to my name, and no money had come in for quite a while. Why was I to spend my last ten dollars, plus eight I didn’t have, on a suit I didn’t want or need? I didn’t know the answer. But that day, in obedience to God, I stepped out, swallowed hard, and told the lady to hem the pants, with the promise that I’d be back the next day to pick up and pay for the suit.
I was sweating. I needed eight dollars. I’d made a commitment, and there was no proof that God would come through. When I got home, I went to the mailbox and found that two Christmas cards had arrived. (This was February.) I opened one, and it contained five dollars. Nervously I opened the other. Three crisp one-dollar bills fell out. I’ve never been so excited. God had spoken and God had provided. Needless to say, I wore that outfit with pride.
As exciting as the pants suit episode was, it didn’t take long for me to realize that I was now out of money. God had shown me that he could provide, and I was sure that if I’d just pray and ask, he would take care of my needs. It was nice to have the process figured out, confident of his care for me. Yet, I prayed and nothing was coming in. I prayed more, and the mailbox was still empty. I figured I’d better turn up the burners. I began to pray and pray hard. I fasted, I interceded, I studied, I commanded, I pounded heaven’s gates, I rebuked the devil. I prayed every prayer I could possible think of. And God didn’t move. It felt terrible. During this time, I continued to teach and share and relate, but inside I was cringing. For two months I had prayed, and for two months God was deathly silent. What was happening?
The time was fast approaching for me to return to the states. Goran Ekebjar would be driving me to Stockholm on May 1, and from there I’d need to take a train to Germany, my point of departure for the United States. I had my plane ticket but needed $120 for the train fare. For two months, God hadn’t provided as much as $1.20. Was He going to provide $120 now?
It was about a week before I was to leave Sweden, and I was walking through town on my way to the young adults meeting. Snow was up to my elbows, but the clear sky was a magnificent blue. Somehow, after all the stress of worrying about money, I felt a strange peace that God would provide. My heart was excited. As I rounded a bend and crossed the street, God spoke almost audibly and said, “Sue, you have not chosen me. I have chosen you.” I froze in my tracks. He repeated the declaration, and I knew he was about to reveal himself. He then said, “You have misused my money, my people, and me.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. How could I have been misusing God’s money when I hadn’t had any for two months? Once more he admonished, “You have misused my money, my people, and me.”
I was scared, and awe began to overtake me. As I crouched before the Lord, I asked him to explain, and he did. He said that I had demanded money from him and expected money to come in to support me, but my attitude was haughty. I had presumed that just because I was in a ministry, God’s people ought to send me money. What I hadn’t considered was that those people work hard for their money. My attitude was one of coveting and expecting them to pay my way. And there God showed me the condition of my heart. I truly had misused my friends and God and his money.
I felt dirty. I felt as if soot were forming in my mouth. I felt black, and I cried out, “Oh God, what can I do?”
He then gently whispered, “You can ask me to forgive you.”
I hesitated. Surely there was more to do, I thought. Surely God would require some type of a payback for my lousy attitude.
But I spoke, “Lord, would you forgive me?”
“Yes,” he replied.
That was all. God was gone, and I was free. I flew to my session and praised God from the depths of my soul. It didn’t matter to me if God provided the $120 or if I ever got out of Sweden. I was free, free inside, and man, was I happy!
The night before I was to leave to drive to Stockholm and board the train, the Ekebjars had a party for me. Some of my friends came, among them a couple I had briefly met early in January. I hadn’t gotten to know them very well, but I had attended one night of the men’s Bible studies Stig was teaching in their church.
We all chatted and reminisced, hugged and said our good-byes. As everyone began to leave, this couple slipped an envelope into my hand and said something that still thrills my heart when I think of it.
“Sue,” Stig began, “God spoke to my wife and me and told us to offer you this gift. But the strangest thing is that he told us in January, when we first met you. Then he told us to wait. We feel like we are supposed to give it to you now.”
I thanked them, and after everyone left, I raced into the bathroom and opened the envelope, and there was — you guessed it — $120!
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
— 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NIV)
“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