Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Of Traveling, Documents, and Stamps

I have not told of many of my travel adventures because they don't always have a devotional point. Some are funny and other stories are just incredible but I generally like to write things that glorify God. But then again I am wanting to get some of these stories down in written form so.... With acknowledgment of the fact that I could do nothing and go nowhere without God's guidance, strength, and protection here is one of my favorite traveling stories.

Back in 1996-7 I lived for a year and a half in Rohan before moving to Gondor. There was much to arrange and figure out. How do I get there? How will I get a visa? Where will I live? With whom will I work? All these needed answering before actually moving to Gondor so I made a lot of trips across the border in 1997. 19 to be exact and after years of therapy I will be much better, thanks for asking. There are various routes to get from Rohan to Gondor and I will simplify the story by describing the routes as follows. The Southern Route involved a 12 hour drive to a border guarded by a lot of young thugs. It was the time of the civil war and the Southern Border was dangerous. The Northern Border was the easiest to cross, the only problem was that I was in Southern Rohan wanting to go to Southern Gondor. North was easy, but way out of the way. The Middle Border was very tough. It was the closest to me and the shortest route to where I was going but the border guards were always tough and then there was the 12,000 foot pass to contend with once you crossed. The Middle Route could be crossed and Minas Tirith reached in as little as six to eight hours if all went well- it only ever went that well once but it did happen! Anyway, so after a long introduction here we are, me going over the pass to Minas Tirith and spending a very nice week in the big city working out housing plans etc. I heard that there was an in-country flight from Capitol of Minas Tirith to the Gap of Rohan- right next to the Middle Border and only an hour away from my home in Rohan. Too good to be true. But even though the flight was infrequent it was going this week so I got a ticket and boarded the plane. It was a little 17 seater with two prop engines and it looked very old so I took a picture of it before I boarded. The pilot saw me take a picture and noticed that I had a decent 35mm camera and he invited me up to the cockpit as soon as we took off. I half stood, half crouched in the doorway of the cockpit for the whole forty-five minute flight. He would veer over to the left and say, 'Look, there is a beautiful mountain lake. Take a picture!' Then he would veer over to the right and he would say, 'Look, there is the mountain pass that the cars go over. Take a picture!' Back and forth over the beautiful mountains of Gondor we traveled. As we approached the airport I took a final picture of the town and the runway and then told him I needed to sit down and fasten my seatbelt. The pilot was puzzled by this. Why? When I did sit down I noticed a couple of things. One, I was the only one on the plane with my seatbelt on, including the pilots. And two, someone had thrown up in the middle of the aisle, probably a result of our veering back and forth over the mountains so I could get my pictures.

When we landed I was stopped at the gate of the airport and told that since I was a foreigner I had to register- even though this was an in-country flight. No big deal. I registered and then started to leave. A soldier came over and told me that I could not leave yet. The Security Forces guy wanted to talk to me. I waited around. Finally, as the last taxi in the parking lot was leaving I ran out and got in. As we began to leave the soldier stopped us and said I could not leave until I talked to the Security Forces guy. He had the gun so I got out and watched the last taxi drive away. This annoyed me so I was not in a very agreeable mood when the Security Forces guy finally got around to talking to me. He searched though my bag. Twice. Three times. He asked me a lot of questions and then he would leave for a while, then come back and asked some more. I was starting to get really fed up when the soldier said, 'Look, he just wants some money. Give him a little money and he will let you go.' That did it. I was determined now. I had saved eight hours by not having to drive and if this guy wanted to hang out with me all day then that was just what we were going to do. The old traveling rule was, 'If you have time you don't need money.' So, I smiled, I talked. I was patient and I told him that there was no way he was getting my money. A funny thing happened at that point. He found a $100 bill and said, 'Oh!' as if this was a big deal. I told him it was my money and it was no big deal. He said that since I was going to Rohan I had to have a certificate for the money. Now, at that time Rohan used these currency declarations but Gondor did not. I told him that I would get one when I got to the border. For a man looking for any excuse to harrass someone this was not good enough. I found an old certificate that I had but interestingly, it had no stamp. In this part of the world a document without a stamp is no document at all. Well, we went round and round about this and then went to his Security Headquarters where we went round and round about this for an hour and a half more. Finally, when he realized I would not give him anything and he was thoroughly fed up with me he put a stamp on my Rohan Certificate and let me go. I walked into town found a taxi and went to the border to go home. Once at the border the usual gang searched my bag again. As they searched and harassed me- they were never nice at the Middle Border- I noticed that my camera was gone. It was a large, 35mm Pentax in a black bag about the size of a loaf of bread. It was not in my bag. I told the guys that that Security Guy must have stolen it. They actually felt sorry for me and let me go. I went home and tossed my bag on the bed and told my wife what happened. Then I went and unpacked my bag and there was the camera! It was a miracle but what kind of miracle was it? Were the guards and myself at the border blinded from seeing it or is the Security Guy wondering what happened to the camera he stole? I don't know.

Two weeks later I was back in Minas Tirith. There was no flight to the Gap of Rohan so I took a taxi to the Southern Border Crossing. At that time there were around 30 to 40 armed thugs with a bad attitude waiting to harass anyone wanting to cross. I got out of the taxi and was surrounded by these guys- mostly young kids in their late teens. They took my passport and handed it around and then they asked if I had any dollars. I replied that I had $200 on me at the time. They told me I had to give it to them and I refused. They said I had to have a Certificate for the money. I told them that Gondor didn't use these Certificates but they replied that that was not their problem. If I did not have a Certificate then I had to give up my money. Just then I remembered that I had the same bag as I had had two weeks previously. I took out the old Certificate from my bag and said, 'Look, I have a Certificate for the money!' They said, 'No, that is a Rohan Certificate. You need a Certificate from Gondor.' I told them to look at the stamp. When they looked at the stamp that the Security Guy had stamped my document with two weeks before they broke out laughing. The stamp clearly said 'Gondor' on it! They called their Commanding Officer over and told him I had beaten them at their own game. They let me go and I said a quiet 'thank you' to God for the way he guided me through the weird wild circumstances that is Middle Earth.


Paul Burleson said...


What a joy to read. On this Saturday morning sitting at my computer drinking a cup of coffee I decided to catch up on my blog reading. Am I glad I did.

I've had the privilage of knowing Arthur Blessett [The one who carries the Cross around the world.] for many years now. He'd tell stories of God's doings that would seem incredible to the listeners. But they happened.

I told my wife your story is of that caliber. It's just God's doings and your telling of it the way you do made it as facinating as any I've read or heard. Thanks for sharing and do if often if the Lord permits.

Strider said...

Hey Paul, You are very gracious as ever. Thanks for coming by.

Bryan Riley said...


Just a note to send my love and prayers. You are an amazing hero of the faith and I appreciate your heart. Let it not grow cold even in the face of ignorant and rash words. Be reminded of the gifts that are in you - and fan them into flame for the glory of the Lord and His Kingdom.

Thanks for representing well His Kingdom and His heart to see people go.

Strider said...

Thanks for the encouraging words Bryan.