My senior year of college, I studied in Poland. This was a year and a half before the Berlin Wall fell, and the uprisings had started. It was a rough place for this pampered American girl to visit. It was hard to get food. Things were scary. But God was watching out for me.
In June 1988, I graduated from the University of Florida at the Polish university campus. The plan was then to travel by train (my request) to meet my family in Oslo, Norway, for a vacation. Norway was our ancestral homeland, and we had planned this trip for a long time.
I got on the train, with about 10 suitcases, and had a long layover in West Berlin. Once again, I had requested that layover, so I could have one last day in the city that had become one of my favorite stomping grounds.
By the time I boarded the train for Malmo, Sweden, where I would transfer to the Oslo-bound train, I was exhausted. My physical appearance betrayed the long travels I had taken, and the even longer year of upheaval I had lived through. I was so tired I slept through the Baltic Sea crossing, which I had really wanted to see. I was awakened by a knock on the door and opened my eyes to see a tall, blond man in uniform, asking for my passport.
The Swedish border guard actually laughed when he saw my pristine passport photo, my current bedraggled appearance, and the stamp that indicated I had been living in Poland. He was probably more than a little amazed I had a private first-class cabin on the train. I was not used to traveling first class and didn’t have a dime to my name, but that cabin was my mom’s graduation “touch” on my travel arrangements.
The train went a little farther and then we stopped in Malmo. It was to be a short transfer to the train that would take me to Oslo, and I was ready to bring this journey to an end. However, as I stepped onto the train platform and hauled out my 10 suitcases, I learned that the station was closing for the evening. There would be no Oslo-bound train until the morning.
One of the station conductors suggested in broken English that I take a taxi to a hotel. I explained that I had no money and that I was supposed to meet my family in Oslo. My travel had been pre-paid and one of my Polish friend’s family had packed food for my trip. But I had calculated reaching Oslo late that evening. I wasn’t prepared for a stop in Malmo.
I told the conductor I would just stay in the train station overnight. It wouldn’t be the first time I had done something like that during my travels.
But he wasn’t having it. He said the station was to shut down completely, doors locked, no passengers left inside.
I looked at him and shrugged. “What can I do?”
He must have been a dad, by the kindly way he looked at me. I could only guess he must have thought about what if his daughter were in this situation.
He told me I could stay overnight inside the station. But for my security, I would have to sleep in the glass conductor’s box out on the platform. He let me fill up my water bottle, and then he and his colleague locked me in the box and told me they would be back at 5 a.m.
So, that’s how I spent the night in a glass box in Sweden.
People who have heard this story have typically reacted in horror. But really, it wasn’t that bad. I had spent so many worse nights during my adventures abroad. This was a clean train station in what appeared to be a safe city. I felt safe in that box. I sat in the conductor’s swivel chair, put my head on the little desk, and went to sleep.
At 5 a.m. the conductors returned and let me out. The station was open then, so I could move into the lobby and wait there for the train. I was hungry. But I had no money for food. A man from Czechoslovakia sat next to me. He spoke English really well. He traveled to Sweden often on business. He showed me where I could buy breakfast but I told him I was without currency. He said, “Just a minute” and went over to the kiosk and bought me breakfast.
Then he reached into his overnight bag, brought out some cheese sandwiches, and handed them to me for the train ride to Oslo. Anyone who knows my love of cheese would guess this man was either an angel, or God had already prepared him with extra cheese sandwiches to share with me. Either way, I will forever remember that man and be grateful.
When I arrived in Oslo, hours later, I just about crawled into the hotel where my mom had reserved a room for me. My family wasn’t due to arrive until the next day, but the room was already paid for. It was a 5-star hotel used by the tour company we were going to travel with. I must have looked a sight. The reservation clerk seemed to think I was lost. I don’t blame her.
As she studied my passport and stared at my face, I said, “I know. I’ve been traveling a long time.”
Finally, she seemed convinced and she gave me my room key. I ordered room service: a cheeseburger with all the fixings, and a large Coke. I still remember the price: $16. It went on the room tab. I figured I’d apologize to my mom the next day, and pay her back later. An hour later, I was sound asleep beneath a downy comforter.
When I look back on that trip, and so many other moments like it, I can only say, from the depths of my heart, “Thank You, God, for Your protection, provision, and love. You are so good.”