Francine's smile lit up our day!
Boarding the van, we followed Pastor Mike for the two and a half hour trip past seasonally-bare crop fields, farm machinery dealers, and several tiny towns, then along progressively less smooth and more remote country roads to reach Immanuel Zion Lutheran Church, which emerged as a beacon from the pitch darkness of the countryside. Warm light poured through the stained glass of the sanctuary into the cold, giving us a glimpse of the fullness of nourishment and hospitality that awaited us inside. The members of Pastor Mike’s main congregation had prepared a magnificent spread (below), which they had generously refrained from partaking of until we arrived, even considering our tardiness. We enjoyed great food and conversation with the dozens who had gathered to greet and feed us. Exhausted but satiated, we travelers then separated into pairs and were chauffeured by our host families to our places for the night.
Before retiring, I stood outside and looked up into the night sky for some time. I marveled at the unencumbered view, at the ring of the Milky Way visible to me for the first time in many years. The number of stars was breathtaking. It was indeed a multitude of the heavenly host, precious gems sparkling as brilliantly as had the faces of our “heavenly hosts” who welcomed us with such kindness and grace. Thanks be to God.