We never would have expected him to follow us into the rundown apartment building. We’d only met him the day before, and even then we only spoke for a little while. People didn’t follow groups into this building. Groups didn’t go into this building. We never would have expected it.
I recently returned from a mission trip to Prague in the Czech Republic. While there, we were running kids camps for the Roma people (better known as “gypsies”). These people live in very poor conditions and are often subjected to a high amount of prejudice and persecution from those around them. Speak of the Roma to many in Europe and you’ll hear them called lazy. Thieves. Dirty. I heard this many times in my brief travel there. The prejudice is so deep and ingrained it doesn’t even register as a prejudice anymore.
So I was not expecting what happened the first day.
The Roma community where we were working was tucked into a corner on the outskirts of town, but the camp we were running had a walking path touched the edge of their area.
I’m not sure when he showed up, but about half way through the “Cupid Shuffle” (yes, the “Cupid Shuffle”) I saw an older Czech man taking pictures. I was instantly curious.
A Czech man taking pictures of Roma kids? Everything I’d been told in preparation for our work said this was unusual. Not to mention that he looked to be over 70 and was wielding an iPhone with more skill than a teenager.
Disappearing, he returned shortly with a high-end camera to take pictures. One of our team went over with a translator and struck up a conversation. It turned out he was impressed. He wasn’t expecting a group of people, let alone foreigners as we were, to be outside playing with Roma children. As he told us, people just don’t do that. At the best of times, the Roma don’t exist in that community. He left as we started to pack up.
I thought that was the end of the story.
Except when we came back the next day to a steady, cold rain, we found him waiting for us. This elderly Czech man was so impressed by our service that he came back for more, waiting for us in the rain. That same rain was a problem, though.
We had to change our own plans and move inside their old, run-down apartment complex. I was really caught off guard when this man—a man whose culture considered these people less than human—didn’t just follow us into the building, but instead he led the way in. Smiling.
God worked in amazing ways on this trip, and I could write for a month about them, but this one has really stuck with me. I think it’s for this reason:
Expect the unexpected when serving God.
Quite honestly, God loves to impress by catching us off guard. We expected to go work with the Roma and for all of our stories to come from them. I never would have guessed that by simply being there, a Czech would be caught up and whisked away with us. There he was, a disillusioned Catholic, and there we were, serving God and loving on some kids who receive little but derision, and he got swept up in what God was doing.
This man was outside of our plans, but not God’s.
I wish I knew if, or more accurately what, God started inside his heart through our presence, but it’s not for me to know. What I do know is this: God likes to surprise us with what He has planned.
This trip gave me a new understanding of waiting on the Lord. Often I’ve viewed it as God saying, “Wait one more year, and then I’ll give you what you want.” Now, I see things differently: Serve and live life for Christ, and wait for the Lord to do something unexpected that will amaze you.
Expect the unexpected, and hold on tight.
How has God surprised you?
Photo credit: arjun karkhanis