Wednesday, February 13, 2008

St. Louis, Circa 1994

My first and only trip to St. Louis was during my junior or senior year in college. I, along with four other foreign students, participated in video project about our college life in America. It was such a big hit we were sent to present it at a international student conference in St. Louis. On that trip, I traveled with great company and had an amazing time. I even played tambourine on stage with a band in a bar! But it was something else that turned that trip into an unforgettable experience.

On the trip with me were Karin, the smartest girl from Denmark, and Ansa, a kind and gentle boy from Africa. Together we were like a walking music video of "We are the World", drawing attention wherever we go. We finished our presentation and immediately skipped out of the conference for sightseeing.

We shared a room in a seedy motel. Before we headed out for a night out, we heard noises like a hard object being banged on the wall, and then screaming and crying. We told the owner at the reception about it. With a thick Indian accent, he told us the phone in that room didn't seem to work, but he promised to try again later.

When we came back, we heard a man complaining to the owner about being hot in the room, AND the phone not working. It dawned on us that's the man in the room across from us. "Brother, let's have a talk," Ansa approached the man, as Karin and I went up to his room to check on his family.

His wife, in her early twenties, had a bruise on her face, and three young children with her. We tried to play with the kids, but they just stared at us with the most vacant eyes I've ever seen. We told her she got options, there are places that she could take the kids to and be safe. She said she'd go stay with her mother.

Ansa returned, with the news that the husband went out for a drink. We returned to our rooms, promised the family help if they wanted.

The next morning, with muffins and orange juice in hand, we knocked on their door. The wife answered, and told us she was just going to stay with her husband. Our hearts sank, knowing she'd get hit again, and there was nothing else we could do.

The drive home was quiet. For the first time in our sheltered life, we experienced the ugliness of the world outside our comfortable college campus. We aged years in the space of a few days.

Regrettably, I've lost touch with both Karin and Ansa. I wonder if they still remember that trip. I pray that in some way, however small, God had used us to extend some comfort and hope to the wife and the children that night. I pray that the family is now doing well, that God's grace and mercy had transformed their lives.

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