An angel in Russia

Bruce and Sue Kaul never aspired to be world travelers, but on April 4, 2005, they found themselves on a wild ride to Stavropol, Russia, a city near the border of Chechnya, the republic that had been fighting with Russia for independence.

They traveled despite the fact that the U.S. State Department had included this part of Russia on its “not-safe-to-travel” list, despite Sue’s desire to stay close to her rural Wisconsin home, and despite Bruce’s habit of becoming nervous on plane rides.

They traveled to southwestern Russia because they were convinced that God wanted them to adopt two young boys. But first this couple with two grown children and one in high school had to meet the boys at an orphanage. After they landed in Moscow, a guide took them to a smaller airport where they would catch a plane to Stavropol.

From the start, the trip was stressful. First, they climbed on the wrong shuttle bus at the airport. “Stavropol?” Bruce asked a Russian man on the bus. “Nyet!” answered the man, and Bruce and Sue had to push their way out of the jammed bus. “Amerikanski!” mumbled some annoyed Russians as the couple exited the bus and made it to the correct one in the nick of time.

“We felt lost and vulnerable, not to mention hungry and tired after 30 hours of traveling and no sleep,” Sue recalls.

And the tiny Russian plane they boarded did nothing to lift their growing fears. They stood on the tarmac staring at the dilapidated aircraft as its engines fired. Both felt sick from the mist of burning fuel oil. On the way to her seat, Sue tripped on a ripped piece of carpet and peered at the metal body of the plane through holes in the floor covering. Stuffing erupted from the seat cushions. That’s when Sue started to worry. Would the plane make it to Stavropol?

It did: the plane landed at 11 p.m. Russian time, after the pilot made an announcement in Russian that Bruce and Sue could not understand. But the Russian passengers groaned, so the couple knew something bad had happened, but what? They sat in their seats for 45 minutes, on a pitch-black runway. Where were the airport building’s lights, they wondered. Finally, they were allowed off the plane.

“We were shocked to see military men carrying machine guns,” Sue said. “They had lined up, creating a corridor for us to walk through. I was terrified.”

The only light this exhausted Midwestern couple saw came from the headlights of military trucks, fire engines and ambulances. There they were, in the dark of night facing machine guns in a foreign country with thousands of dollars (adoption payments) strapped to their bodies. They were not allowed to collect their luggage, so they stood in a dark parking lot until all the Russian business travelers had driven away in their cars.

Where was the Alex, the man who was supposed to meet them? After what seemed like an eternity to the anxious couple, someone tapped Bruce on the shoulder and they nearly jumped out of their skin. It was Alex. He couldn’t speak English, but the Kauls later learned that Chechnya fighters had threatened to bomb the airport, which explained why the airport was black and the plane was surrounded by soldiers.

When Alex left the couple at their hotel room on the thirteenth floor, he pointed to his watch. “Six,” he said in heavy Russian accent. “We see boys.”

The trauma of the travel and the night was too much for Sue. When she remembered that they would have to travel twice to Russia before they could adopt the boys, she fell apart, crying on the hotel bed. How could she make this trip again? Not only that, she had doubts about the adoption. They hadn’t even seen the children yet. “I felt so out of control and helpless,” she said.

Bruce began to pray, expressing the couple’s fears, thanking God for bringing them there safely, and asking for renewed faith and peace. Sue finally fell asleep to her husband’s voice. Two hours later, the alarm rang. It was 6 a.m.

“Are you ready to meet your kids?” Bruce asked as he stood by the window.

“I don’t know,” Sue told him.

She was still in bed when Bruce opened the curtains to a sight that Sue will never forget. From where she was lying, Sue glanced at an angel perfectly framed by the window.

“It looked like a painting hanging in the sky, especially for me,” she said. Against a background of fading twilight, the marble angel rested on a high column, its wings outspread, its arms lifting a cross to the sky.

“You’re supposed to be here,” God was telling Sue. “You’re going to be fine. Get out of bed and do what I want you to do.”

A sense of being protected by God washed over Sue and Bruce as they looked at that angel. “It was like God said to me, ‘Even though you are far away from everything familiar, Sue, I’m still here. Even though nothing around you seems dependable, I’m still with you.’”

Most statutes in Russian hail from the Communist or World War II eras, with plenty of Stalin figures and war memorials. Angels and crosses, not so much. They knew God had placed them in that hotel room to reassure them.

The airport incident wasn’t the end of their trials in Russia, but nothing overwhelmed the couple after seeing that angel. Even discovering that the boys had a 14-year-old sister didn’t push Sue and Bruce to doubt God’s plan. And when they faced a decision about adopting the girl, their faith didn’t waver, even though they didn’t have the $8,000 fee. “We knew God would take care of it,” Sue said.

On that morning in the hotel room, God had given them the peace and renewed faith that Bruce had prayed for.

“When my world fell apart in that Russian hotel room, it forced me to give complete control to God,” Sue said. “When times are tough, and I forget God is in control, I remember that angel.”

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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