Psalms 91:1-2 (NIV)
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the
will rest in the shadow of the
I will say to the LORD, “He is my refuge
and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
The word of the day while traveling from Pamukkale, Turkey to Thessaloniki, Greece was, “Refuge.” It’s as if God said, “Meditate on this today as you travel. Find the ways that I provide refuge.”
What does it mean to find refuge? A place of refuge is a safe haven. It offers protection from outside elements, a place where you can rest and let your guard down. As I travel, I am experiencing all the ways that God provides refuge.
Some are real, tangible locations like a hotel or flat with a comfortable bed and a door that I can close to the outside world. Once inside, I have a safe place to find rest, pursue private prayer, connect with those I love.
Other forms of refuge for me include familiar places, such as airports, or the metro (Istanbul’s version of a Vancouver Sky Train).
I find refuge in the pages of my book, the ink in my pen, the Scripture I read, the songs I sing in my heart as the bus moves me closer to the heart of Macedonia.
Refuge is the address of the next resting place. I find refuge in the kind taxi driver who will only say good bye after he has pointed out exactly which door to walk through in order to find the flat above.
Refuge while you move is just as much a state of mind as a physical circumstance. It’s the thing that allows you keep your footing even as the world turns around you. It’s the thing that brings peace in the midst of the unknown.
Only once in my entire sojourn through Turkey have I felt a sense of impending danger. For the most part, I have been left in peace.
I was an oddity in Turkey, for sure. It’s uncommon to see a woman traveling on her own, although it’s not unheard of, especially in popular tourist destinations where tolerance for differences is quite high. That said, I was immediately recognizable as different, no matter where I went. For the most part, fellow travelers kept their distance. We would greet each other with a respectful nod, or slight smile, and that was the end of it. Occasionally, I experienced the unimpressed glare of a man who likely wondered why I was out in the world without guidance.
At the border crossing between Turkey and Greece, all passengers disembark the bus twice: Once to go through passport control at the Turkish border, and again to go through customs on the Greek side of the border.
But, at the second border crossing, in the moment where the flags changed from red and gold to blue and white, in the moment I was breathing a sigh of relief because I had crossed over from Muslim to Christian territory, I felt a sudden, urgent need to pray for protection. Something dangerous was coming and I heard God say, “You are not safe here.”
The threat to safety came in the form of an angry young man who had obvious disdain for myself and one other woman waiting on the platform. He was not riding the bus with us, thankfully, but as he walked past I could tell that this is someone who would react badly if he felt provoked. He passed us by, taking his anger with him, and a few moments later we were back on the bus, back in our place of refuge.
It was a long journey by bus from Istanbul to Thessaloniki. There are quicker, more convenient ways to travel, no doubt.
When I first started dreaming about this trip, I envisioned following in the footsteps of Paul. Traveling overland was part of that journey. I have learned there are no short cuts when it comes to God’s direction, grace and timing. He will lay out the course for you if you let him.
Back on the bus I silently asked, “Jesus, what are you doing right now?” His answer: “Keeping you safe.”