This past week I spent a day at a retreat center in southern Michigan. I always enjoy walking the wooded trails linking this retreat center with an abbey. The last time I had been at the retreat center was June, and I discovered that significant logging had been done in the woods over the summer.
Now there were many muddy trails, and the main trail was no longer marked. I made my way to the abbey, trying to keep track of the turns I made. Have you ever noticed that trails look very different when you are going in the opposite direction, especially when you are in the woods? After I turned back, I tried various trails, but none of them led back to the retreat center. I was furious at myself because I have always been pretty good at directions.
After 30 minutes, I gave up, walked back toward the abbey and found a fortyish looking man who had been bow hunting. I asked if he was familiar with the area. He said no, but he was willing to ask for directions at the abbey and drive me back to the retreat center. Then he added, “I know you may not feel comfortable driving with me because you don’t even know me, so it’s up to you.” I know the rule: don’t ride with strangers. For some reason, however, I felt safe with him, so I agreed to drive with him a quarter mile to the abbey to get directions.
I offered my hand and said, “M name is Laurie Haller.” He replied, “I’m Kerry Hostetler.” My jaw dropped, and I asked, “Are you a Mennonite? You have a Mennonite last name!” He replied, “As a matter of fact, I am. At least I was. I grew up in a Mennonite church in Colon but now attend a Bible church.” I said, “I grew up as a Mennonite, too, in Pennsylvania!” “Well, I’ll be!” he exclaimed. “I have a sister who lives in Ephrata. Is that near where you grew up?” I explained that I was a pastor who had been ordained in the Mennonite church but was now a United Methodist, and his face lit up with a great big smile.
At this point, we found an employee of the abbey, Larry, who knew Kerry because of his work on some of their buildings. Larry said, “You’re both Mennonites! Why, I’m going to a Mennonite/Amish fish fry on Friday night! Good people!” “What’s your last name?” Larry asked. “My maiden name was Hartzel.” “Oh my!” they both said. “There are Hartzels around here, too.” Hartzel is also a Mennonite name.
I asked Larry if I would be safe riding back to the retreat center with Kerry, but I already knew it was okay. On the way, Kerry said he had been divorced 10 years ago, knowing that it was frowned upon by the Mennonites he knew. But he has remarried, has a wonderful wife and is a faithful churchgoer. When we arrived at the retreat center, Kerry asked, “What’s your name again?” I said, “Laurie,” with my best eastern Pennsylvania accent. He laughed out loud and said, “Hey! That’s how people pronounce ‘Laurie’ in Pennsylvania. They can’t say it that way in Michigan.” I said, “You’re right. My husband tries so hard, but it usually comes out sounding like, ‘Lori.’”
I asked Kerry to wait while I ran inside. I handed him a business card, tried to explain what my job is and thanked him profusely. He said simply, “My pleasure.” We shook hands once more, and Kerry drove away.
I’ll probably never see Kerry again, but I am convinced he was an angel sent to help me get back on track in my spiritual life, which is why I went to the retreat center in the first place. God led me to Kerry that day and was asking me to trust him, despite my natural reservations. In the same way, I believe God has been calling me lately to trust in other areas of my life, despite my resistance. Even though the path is not always clear, and I seem to get lost a lot, God does have a plan and a purpose for me.
Do you ever feel lost, even in the midst of good and fruitful ministry? Do you ever get off the trail? Do you ever lose sight of the landmarks? Do you ever doubt how God is working in your life? Remember to trust and watch for angels.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6