A word of explanation.
Meeting Dali has been one of the more tangible miracles in my life, at the time unquestionably supernatural and ever since one of the clearest evidences of God’s intimate interest in the details of my life.
Growing up I had my own ideas of how I would meet the love of my life. Based on a vague understanding of how my parents had met, I imagined that I would meet my future husband at university, that we would exchange glances across a crowded room, fall in love, get married and live happily ever after. Consistent with this picture I managed to “fall in love” with the first eligible bachelor who crossed my path at university – before I was even a full-time student. The ins and outs, ups and downs and emotional turmoil of that unfortunate relationship are a story in themselves but suffice it to say that it was that particular relationship which showed me that I needed God to be the author of any romance in my life and that I needed to wait on His timing and choice.
Let me backtrack a bit.
I became a Christian when I was almost eleven years old. I have heard that many of those who end up in full-time Christian ministry have committed their lives to Christ by about this age. Maybe that is true. I think it has been for me. From a very early age I wanted to enter full-time mission work. The problem was that I was still just a child. I would have to grow up first. In those early years I was inspired by what I read about life for Christians behind the Iron Curtain and I was fascinated in particular by the idea of smuggling Bibles and Christian literature behind borders for those hungry for God’s Word. Pretty soon I wanted to become a Bible smuggler. Little did I suspect that God was already planning how to smuggle a young Slovak student past the doorposts of my heart.
It was while I was at university that the Iron Curtain finally fell. As students of German we followed the story of the fall of the Berlin wall closely. I was certainly fascinated. The following summer I was planning to work in Germany in a town not far from the border of Czechoslovakia and considered visiting but was dissuaded by my mother who thought I might get in easily enough but then find it difficult to leave. In view of later circumstances she must have had some kind of sixth sense in this.
Meanwhile God was setting up a meeting that would change my life forever. I graduated from university in 1992. I was planning a move to France to work as a language assistant at Limoges University for the next year or so and I had looked forward to a restful summer at home. But as I completed my finals and began to get ready to leave Durham I was overcome with restlessness and a yearning to go abroad again. I resisted it, reasoning that I needed time at home before an extended period in France. But the longing grew and became more and more persistent. Finally as I sat at my graduation dinner with my parents the pressure to do something about it overpowered me. I got up from the table, excused myself and went off to find the nearest pay phone to make a long-distance phone call to friends in Germany to see if I could still come and work for them even at this late date. Yes, I would be welcome. The next day I booked my plane ticket and a couple of weeks later I was off for another adventure in Germany.
I had worked for this particular family before. In fact it was while working for this family a year earlier that I had finally handed over the area of relationships and marriage to God for good. This was a loving and godly family who ran a small fruit and vegetable business in the South of Germany. I had soaked in the cleansing and loving atmosphere of their home for several months the previous year after the bitter end of my previous relationship. I loved being there. It was a beautiful place, a very small town with neat, clean streets, quaint timber houses and surrounded by vineyards. The work was hard but fulfilling and my days were varied and joyful. So it was good to be going back albeit for a shorter time.
You never do step into the same river twice. Going back left something missing for me. I couldn’t recreate the joy and fulfillment I had felt the previous summer. They were the same people, it was the same work but I was somehow different. As the weeks passed I became aware of a different kind of longing in my heart. Something was truly missing. I was yearning for something I didn’t have and for the first time ever it felt like the yearning was legitimate. Something had awoken in me and it felt okay to pray for it. So I did. Only later could I see that God was preparing my heart for the events of the next few short days.
So it was that Dali walked into my life. It was a sunny summer morning and I was working on laundry when I became aware that the boss was talking to a visitor down in the yard. I grumbled inwardly a bit when I realized the visitor would be staying for lunch and that it would break up our peaceful mealtime routine. Then Dali walked into the room. I had never met anyone with so many questions. He seemed fascinated by me, by the idea of an English girl on her own somewhere in Germany and he literally interrogated me. I found out that he had been studying at a Bible school at Lake Constance, a place which had been my own very first contact with Germany and which I loved with all my heart. There was no small talk but we plunged straight into in-depth conversation, which continued right through lunch, perhaps to the astonishment and maybe dismay of everyone else present.
Our conversation continued every time we met over the next few days and we seemed to meet often. Dali spoke little German and the family spoke little English so I was often needed as a go-between. But we didn’t need an excuse to talk. It became my greatest pleasure each day. Dali arrived on a Thursday and by Saturday it felt like we were old friends. After the morning’s work at the market we spent some time clearing up in order to be ready for the next day’s Sabbath. Then a group of us went up into the vineyards to hang out and enjoy the last rays of sunshine of what had been a beautiful day. It was the perfect setting for falling in love. And without even realizing it I was falling.
The next day Dali attended church with me. I had to interpret but found I could not once I discovered that the sermon was about Christian marriage. (Don’t tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor). After church we were invited to the house of a couple who were planning to join the mission field shortly. As we walked later the wife told me all about how she and her husband had met. In the back of my mind it felt like pieces of a puzzle were being put together and quite rapidly at that. That evening Dali and I walked in the vineyards together and Dali told me more about himself, his life, his struggles and his dreams. I found myself wishing to stand by his side and support him, to simply be his friend.
The following day we were back at work and in our spare moments we both continued to seek out each other’s company and conversation. Later that evening, as we sat together at the Bible study, one of the girls in the group asked if she could take a picture of the two of us. It struck me that she would look at that picture later and know we were a couple. I pushed the thought out of my mind and dismissed it as nonsense. But by the next morning this nonsense had taken a strong hold on my mind and heart. I was so angry with myself. Hadn’t I already settled this issue of romance with God? I was going to wait on Him and meanwhile not get emotionally tangled with anyone. After lunch I went to my room to settle this thing once and for all and attempt to free myself from the feelings that were rapidly developing in me. As I sat and poured my heart out to God, my gaze fell upon a Christian magazine someone had just lent me. On the front cover was the headline “ How to discover God’s will”. This seemed like an appropriate time to read the article. As I read I realized that I wasn’t even considering that Dali might be part of God’s plan for my life and that my feelings might not be completely out of line with God’s intentions. I had simply dismissed the whole thing without asking God about it. There and then I asked God to either release me from the growing feelings or to confirm it quickly.
The rest of that day seemed to drag and at the end of the workday I finally escaped back to my flat, intending to spend the evening by myself. But I was restless and couldn’t settle so I walked back to the house. On the way there I met a friend coming from the house who told me that it was a good thing I was going back because nobody else was there to keep Dali company. And so it was that on day five of Dali’s stay in Beutelsbach he and I found ourselves keeping each other company and thus whiling away the long evening hours.
Don’t ask me to repeat the conversation we had that evening. I don’t actually remember the details much, only that I asked Dali for his address in Czechoslovakia so that I could write to him. I had a deep inner conviction that I would come and see him in his home country some time. “ No” was the answer I got. He didn’t like long-distance relationships and was a hopeless letter writer. But something else was being written between the lines of our conversation. Something was sparking in the atmosphere between us and without exchanging words we were both aware that more was being said or felt than had been spoken. “Let’s go for a walk” was Dali’s suggestion and so we went. We walked through the winding streets of Beutelsbach and wound our way from talking about friendships to dating and marriage until we finally found ourselves talking about our own marriage. I started the walk single and ended it engaged head and heart to Dali. Before we reached home, we sat on a small stone bench by the village church and prayed together for the first time ever. I got up from that bench with the utter conviction that I was now walking by the side of my future husband. And I was head over heels in love.
Five more short days together and then, for now, we went our separate ways, our futures inextricably bound.
And so it began.