And it was Rolf and Elena, on a trip to Russia in 1966, who had our closest call yet. With increased travel into Russia, smuggling of all sorts was also on the increase, and the guard at the border had been trebled. The papers were full of stories of arrests, fines, imprisonments. This time Rolf and Elena were carrying a particularly large cargo of Bibles in the Opel station wagon. Corrie and I prayed with them all night long before they left.
"Remember," I said, "that these people getting caught are depending on their own cleverness. Their motives are probably another disadvantage. Hatred and greed are heavy loads. Your motive, on the other hand, is love. And instead of priding yourselves on your cunning, you recognize how weak you are ... so weak that you must depend totally upon the Spirit of God...."
As Rolf recounted it to us later, our premonitions of trouble were correct. As they neared the border they saw not one but six security officers waiting for them. He told Elena to start praying that God would confuse these men's thinking. "And don't stop until they're through, Elena."
They pulled up to the stop line. "Dah zvi dahnya!" Said Rolf heartily. He jumped out of the car and went around to hold the door for Elena.
In his hand one of the officers held a piece of paper. Rolf and Elena were chatting casually about what an unusual honeymoon they were having, visiting a number of East European countries.
"This is not the first time either," said the officer holding the paper. And then he read off one by one the cities Rolf and I had visited on our last trip to Russia.
This really shook Rolf.
The inspection seemed to last for hours. Two officers poked into every corner of the station wagon on the inside, while three others spent their time on the outside ... the motor, the tires, the hubcaps. They rolled windows up and down to see if they stuck halfway. They thumped the paneling.
"Confuse their thinking....."
And all the while, one officer took no part in the inspection but spent his entire time scrutinizing the faces of Rolf and Elena. It was a masterful game of psychological war. The officer was depending on that too-casual laugh, that darting glance, that bead of perspiration, to tell him what he needed to know.
"Let me give you a hand," said Rolf to one of the men as he was struggling to take the camping tent out of the wagon. He volunteered to open glove compartments, take out spare tires, lift the tops off air and oil filters. And all the while Elena was praying.
At the end of an interminable time the inspection stopped for lack of anywhere else to look. The man who had held the piece of paper walked up to Rolf. "You were in Russia just a few weeks ago. Tell me, why is it that you take these frequent trips into our country?"
Rolf was leaning into the rear of the wagon, folding up the tent. He gave the canvas a resounding slap. "Well," he said, "my friend and I had such a wonderful time in your country that I decided to bring my bride here too. But there's another reason. We have a love for the Russian people. A special love."
The officer stared at Rolf as though he would like to climb inside his mind. But they had found nothing in the car. So he gave Rolf back his papers and with obvious reluctance signaled the barrier bar open.
Rolf and Elena could hardly believe what had happened. As they drove away from the border, they were laughing and crying both at once. For safe and secure in their wagon were hundreds of Bibles. The officers had been within millimeters of them. Certainly they were hidden no better than even an amateur adventurer could contrive. What was the difference?
Rolf and Elena knew.
Open Doors, Brother Andrew with John & Elizabeth Sherrill, The Narrow Road, Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, 2001, p. 316-318.
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