International Ministries

Then a cloud overshadowed them...

April 17, 2010 Journal
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Today is Ash Sunday.  Yesterday was Ash Saturday.  Odds are good that Ash Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are all on the way.                                        

"Ash Sunday"--what is that?  Ash Wednesday again?  So soon?  What's up with that?

I am aware that Lent is past and that today is already the second Sunday after Easter, so this is not about turning the clock back. 

Actually, it's about stopping the clock.  For millions of people.

Last Wednesday, April 14, another volcano in Iceland erupted.  When the first eruption began, in March, it was an interesting phenomenon--at least, "interesting" to those living outside of Iceland.  This time is different.  The explosive mixing of intensely hot lava and glacial water has blown volcanic ash literally miles into the air.  From "interesting," Iceland's volcanoes have become big news.  Make that, BIG news. 

Who knows?  If this goes on long enough, we may actually get comfortable looking at words like Eyjafjallajokull, the name of the volcano.  We might even learn how to say it!  (Putting a word like that in front of you is, I know, a dirty trick.  What sound are you supposed to make when you look at THAT??  To find out, I did what anyone would do these days, I Googled it!  That led me to a clip from ABC's Good Morning America, where a woman from Iceland [by way of New York] explained it is simply EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl.  At least, that's what the ABC tech folks put on the screen.  But, listening carefully, I'm pretty sure she actually said AY-ya-fyat-la-yo-kutl.  What can I say?  I have Viking blood in my veins!!)

Within a day, aviation authorities in the U.K. and Europe began to stop air travel, as the ash, floating high above the earth, where the jetliner traffic lanes operate, threatened to start causing airplanes to fall out of the sky.  Since Wednesday, April 15, the cloud of ash has been spreading across everything north of the Mediterranean, bringing air travel throughout Europe to a screeching halt.  (The screeching?  That would be the people, not the planes!)

As you might guess, I'm retelling this story because I turn out to be part of it.  A tiny part.  A very fortunate part.  But, with all that, a part.

Cathy and I had made plans with friends to add some vacation time to the end of my trip to Prague for the semi-annual meetings of the board of the International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS).  She might be less than a quarter Irish but, her Irish heritage is very dear to her.  So we were going to meet in Dublin today to begin a "roots" trip.  She is still in Philly; I am still at IBTS in Prague.  Ireland is off.

I am a displaced person, a refugee.  Well, maybe not.  I may be dis-located from the place (more importantly, from the person) I had in mind for today.  But Cathy is safe at home and I am the guest of wonderful people in a beautiful and fascinating setting.  I would bet that almost all of the real refugees on this planet (and millions of people who are right in their own homes tonight!) would give anything to be in my place.

Still, this is the kind of experience that gets one to thinking (how could it be otherwise in a setting like this?).  Two passages from the New Testament came to mind quickly as this situation developed.

The first provides the title of this journal.  The evangelist Mark tells us, in 9:7, that as Peter, James and John were watching the spectacle of Jesus' transfiguration, a cloud overshadowed them.  The most crucial part of the whole passage turns out to be a voice from the cloud:  "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!" (NRSV).  That was a message the disciples desperately needed to hear, since recently they had been not listening to Jesus, but trying to teach him the right way to carry out his Messianic mission (8:32).

As I looked overhead it occurred to me to wonder whether there might be "a voice from the cloud" speaking to me. 

I think I did hear a little something, almost immediately.  I'm still listening.  After all, it has been only a little over 24 hours since my departure from Prague would have occurred, and only a couple of days since I knew the flight would be canceled.  It is early yet.

But this has already gotten long.  So I will simply say that, Lord willing, I'll write again soon, with news from the cloud!

Thanks for every form of support by which you make this journey possible--even when it is paused!

Stan, in Prague