Susie's Journey Preview

Susie Book #2

On Their Way

The icy wind tugged Susie’s long hair out of its ribbon, and whipped it against her tear streaked face. She tucked the wayward strands carelessly under her hat, and pulled her coat a little bit tighter around her slim figure. She grasped the ship’s rail. The cold steel felt solid beneath her hands.

And yet, as she stood there watching the angry waves push her farther and farther away from the tiny speck of land called Germany, she could feel herself slowly sinking. Her grip tightened.

It made no sense to expect the rail to keep her wobbling heart from slipping into the black sea of doubt that was tormenting her, but still she clung, desperately trying to hold on to the buoyant faith of her childhood.

Why had God allowed this to happen? Why hadn’t He intervened? She had been so sure that He had everything under control and would work out the perfect future in Canada for her and for those she loved.

She thought back to the thrill of that day, just about a week ago, when she had set her foot down on the deck of the Rykow. Leaving Russia and crossing the Baltic Sea to Germany, meant leaving trials and persecution behind, and starting their journey toward a rich new life in Canada.

Sensing the importance of that first step, she had wanted to stop right there and sing, or pray, or do something to celebrate the magnitude of the moment, but the throng was propelling her forward.

It was at that precise second that she felt a hand enfold hers and give a meaningful squeeze. As she turned and look back into Josh’s sparkling blue eyes she felt excitement serge through her. It was fitting that she start this journey hand in hand with Josh Remple.

The Remples and the Pletts had always done things together, and this venture across the waters was to be one more move to permanently seal the bond. But it was more than that. Josh Remple had progressed to a position beyond a mere family friend. The teasing blond tormenter whom she had been hard pressed to tolerate as a child had grown into a gallant and attractive young man.

He had been there for her when she had gone through her worst trial. He had come to her rescue when she had needed him the most. Yes, it was fitting that he should walk beside her, holding her hand as they stepped forward toward their destiny.

Even Papa knew that she and Josh were meant for each other. Susie’s tears dried in the wind as she let her thoughts continue to drift back to that first day on the water.

“Come, Susie,” Papa urged. “There will be time enough for hand holding in the future. For the present, we must make room for the other passengers. We must also find out where we are to eat and sleep, and then, when that is accomplished, you shall have the whole long voyage to Canada to spend with your young man.” Susie felt her face flush, but Josh just winked at her and fell back with his family.

Little David caught sight of his big sister and reached out to her. Susie automatically turned to take him from her tired mother’s arms, but Mama shook her head and clung possessively to her baby.

Katja was holding onto Cornush and Johann, but it looked more like the younger boys were trying to protect their deaf sister from the world. Susie smiled at the thought of her fourteen year old sister needing help. Katja had become a capable young lady in the years she had been away in the Molotchna at the school for the deaf. Susie was glad Papa had been able to obtain the papers necessary to bring his handicap daughter to Canada. Having a younger sister was special. She loved her four brothers, but, at this point in time, three of them were more like responsibilities than friends.

Aaron was the only brother she could really talk to, but at thirteen he was beginning to think he was Papa’s right-hand man and almost looked down on his older sister. Right now he was pushing forward with Papa. Friends and strangers were everywhere on the deck around them, and everyone who could walk was carrying a bundle in his arms or on his back. Papa shoved and questioned until he knew where they would be sleeping and where they would go to eat.

The young ladies from their group had been asked to help in the dining room in exchange for better conditions on the ship, and Susie was eager to do her part.

As the food was being prepared for the first meal of their journey, Susie stopped and stared as a man took a block of something soft, and started slicing it on a big machine. The inside was pure white and full of tiny holes. She had never seen anything quite like it before. She just had to ask. “What is that thing you’re slicing? Is it Cheese?”

The man laughed. “No, my dear lady, this is bread. I suppose you’re used to the hard black bread of Russia but I’m sure you’ll learn to like this white kind just as well.” The bread was fluffy and delicious, a promise of the good life that awaited them.

After a hardy meal and plenty of laughter and excited planning, Papa herded the family to their sleeping quarters. Susie climbed into the upper bunk and lay there quietly, letting her senses absorb everything about this voyage. She imagined herself in a giant cradle being rocked by the rough but watery hands of the waves. She could almost feel their annoyance with their endless job as they pushed her to and fro, slapping the big cradle impatiently instead of rocking it gently; roaring noisily instead of humming a soft melody.

But this was no cradle. The strange metallic odors and the steady whining drone reminded her that more than the waves were moving the ship. The engine that propelled them forward was even more powerful than the waves.

Just before he went to sleep, Johann had been pretending to be a captain, steering a great ship, but Papa had warned him of the great responsibility of being in control of all that power. Susie wondered if the Captain of this ship ever worried about his responsibility. Was he ever afraid that he might go the wrong direction or hit something in the dark?

Probably not. What a silly thing to be thinking of anyway.

Below, and around her the sound of fussing little boys and tired parents had given way to a chorus of steady rhythmic breathing. She should be sleeping now, too. She wanted to wake up before dawn tomorrow, to watch the sun creep up over the waving mirror of water. She closed her eyes and tried to slow her racing mind.

Her thoughts drifted toward Josh. Was he still awake, too? He seemed to be able to take all these new experiences in stride, cocking his head sideways, flipping his straw blond hair back out of his eyes, and grinning at her exuberance. He was probably sound asleep by now. He had said that he enjoyed the swaying of the ship and the rumble of the engine; he said it made him sleepy. Maybe she should try to concentrate on the rhythm of movement. She needed to get to sleep. Rock and sway, rock and sway, rock and sway.

Susie was finally beginning to get drowsy when the harmony of sound and movement was shattered by a horrible screeching thud. She grasped the bed rail franticly as the ship lurched and then became still. The roar of the engine went dead and all was quiet for a second before a chorus of screams broke the silence.

“Papa, Papa!” she called franticly. Papa was up instantly.

“There is no need to panic,” He spoke calmly. “Wait here quietly, while I find out what has happened.”

The whole family had awakened from the jolt, but most of them quieted as Papa spoke. Even David, who had begun a loud wail, toned it down considerably at the sound of his Papa’s voice. Mama picked him up and began humming to him.

As Papa walked out into the corridor, and disappeared into the darkness, Susie turned her attention to her little brothers. They were trying so hard to be brave, but she could feel a shivering little body pushing itself close to her. She put an arm around Johann and then noticed a pair of large fear filled eyes watching her. She reached out her other arm and pulled Cornush to her side. She held them close.

Then she turned to her sister. Katja had been trying to get someone to explain what had happened, but with all the excitement going on, everyone was ignoring her. Now Susie leaned her face in close as she spoke,

“We don’t know any more than you do, Katja, except that there was a big bang and the engines stopped, but you probably felt it happening, didn’t you?” Katja nodded. She looked petrified. Aaron reached out and put a comforting arm around his deaf sister.

Just then Papa came back. They all rushed to him. Papa reached out silently, deliberately to each of his children and placed them in a tight semi-circle around him. They all quieted, expectantly. He looked at them for a long moment before he spoke. “We have hit a rock. It has done damage. No one knows for sure if we shall remain afloat or if we shall sink.”

His mustache tilted downward as he bit his upper lip. “Listen carefully, my children. I have one important question to ask of each of you.” He paused and then with a quiver in his voice, he asked gently, “If the Lord wills that we should die this night, are you prepared? Do you know for sure that there is nothing standing between you and the Lord Jesus?

“Tonight we may begin a journey we had not expected to embark upon quite so soon. Our destination would be a country far more pleasant than Canada, but only those with clean hearts will be allowed in. The doctor doing the medical examination will check only one thing. He will check your heart.” He asked the question one more time. “Are you sure your heart is ready for that checkup?”

He patted the younger boys lovingly on the head and then shooed them away. “Go back to your bunks now, and consider what I have asked.” He turned and stepped away from them.

Susie did not want to think about dying. She wanted Papa to hold them close and tell them that everything would be all right.

She climbed back onto her bunk but Papa’s question hung there, waiting to be answered. Papa should know she was ready. Why had he looked at her that way? No one, especially Papa could have forgotten how she had made things right before they left Moscow. Everyone in the whole group of Mennonite families had heard her confess her awful lie, and had listened with interest as Josh explained his part in it.

But everything had been confessed and cleared up, and God had allowed her to leave Russia with her family.

So why was He letting this happen now? Maybe the others needed to get things right with God, but she had gone through that already. Papa must have been saying what he did for the sake of her brothers.

Yes, she could hear Aaron leaving his bunk and going to talk to Papa. They were whispering together, and then Aaron was praying. Aaron had been rather sassy to Mama and Papa lately. He probably needed to confess and tell Papa he was sorry. Well, she was glad for him.

After a few minutes Katja climbed over her and dropped down from her bunk to join Aaron and Papa. Katja didn’t know how to whisper. She could only talk in that loud funny voice that sounded like she was being thumped on the back with each syllable. “Papa, how can I make my heart clean?”

Susie was stunned. Had Katja never been taught how to become a Christian? She had been away at the school for the deaf since she was a little girl but surely the teachers there would have told her how to take Jesus as her Savior. The school was run by Christians, but maybe Katja had missed hearing what she needed to hear.

That happened a lot with her. With all the wonderful progress Katja had made, it was easy to forget that unless she was able to watch the speaker’s mouth closely, she didn’t have any idea what was being said. If they turned to look at someone else or if she got distracted for a minute she would loose the whole point of the conversation. The workers at the school probably thought she had already made a commitment to the Lord.

She had come back to her family shortly after they had arrived in Moscow to wait for their passports, and had been with Susie most of the time since then, but there had been so much else going on that Susie never once thought to ask her sister if she had Jesus living in her heart.

What if Papa hadn’t said anything, and the ship had sunk, and Katja would not be able to meet them in Heaven? That thought was more frightening than the thought of dying. And worst of all, she knew that it would be her fault for not speaking to her sister and showing her the way.

She got down from her bunk, knelt beside Katja and wrapped her arm around her sister. Papa’s words were barely audible, but Katja had her face right up to his and was watching his lips closely. “Jesus has been waiting for you, Katja. He loves you so much that He has already done everything He could for you. He has taken the punishment for everything you ever did wrong. Now, what you have to do is be sorry for all those things, and tell Him so. Then if you ask Him, He will come into your heart and make it all new with clean thoughts, and He will help you change your life to do what is right. Would you like to do that?

Katja nodded and then raised her hands toward Heaven and started signing to her new Heavenly Father. Well, if Jesus could understand German and Russian and even English, Susie knew He would have no trouble understanding her sister’s sign language.

When Katja was finished she turned to smile at Susie. Susie gave her a hug and then pulled back to let Katja watch her speak. “Katja, I’m so sorry that I never thought to ask if you were a Christian. I feel so bad about that.”

Katja shook her head vigorously and expelled a loud “No!” Then, with a grin she finished, “feeling bad is over; now I feel good. You must feel good too.” Susie laughed at her, and the fear of sinking melted away beneath the warmth of Katja’s new found joy.

Before the girls could go back to their bunks Johann and Cornush had joined them at Mama’s and Papa’s bed. They all got tangled up in one big hug and then Papa smiled at his family and said, “Do you know, my children, it has been over an hour since the crash, and we have not sunk, but events of much greater importance have been taking place. Sometimes our Heavenly Father places rocks in our path for a reason. But we can be sure that he is also at the helm of our ship, looking after every detail of our voyage. Now, to your bunks again, children. Sleep peacefully; I believe there is nothing more to fear.”

Susie thought it would be difficult to settle herself down, but the ship seemed to be floating peacefully now, gently rocking and lulling her to sleep.

Papa and Mama were already up when she awoke the next morning. Papa was in the corridor talking to Brother Remple. She climbed down to find out what was going on. “What’s happening, Papa?”

Papa stopped speaking as soon as he saw that she was up. He turned to her and explained, “Our ship is in need of repair. It is being towed back to Leningrad.”

Back to Leningrad! Back to Russia! Back to where they had waited for days and had eaten the rottenest food she had ever eaten in her whole life! They had been so sure that their time in Russia was over for good. “But what are we going to do when we get there Papa? I don’t want to stay in that awful place again.”

Brother Remple sympathized with her. “Yes, Susie, we are all very upset about going back to Leningrad . . .” Papa put up a finger.

“No, do not continue,” He turned and took Susie’s hand. “We must not allow ourselves to become angry, or discouraged, or even dissatisfied. We must, instead, remember who it is that controls our direction and our destiny. Would it be right to be angry with our Maker?”

Susie shook her head slowly, “No, Papa, but it’s just that we thought we were away from that dreadful place.”

“And if God wills that we go back there?”

Brother Remple spoke up first. “Surely, Cornelius, you don’t believe any of us could be happy about this situation. You expect the impossible from your daughter.”

Papa smiled slightly, “No, my friend, I do not expect the impossible of Susie, ‘for with God, all things are possible’, and I know that God is with my daughter, and so for her it is not impossible.” His eyes twinkled. “I believe the same verse applies to you as well.”

Brother Remple laughed uncomfortably, “Now you are sounding like Brother Plett, the evangelist.”

Papa wrapped his arm over Brother Remple’s shoulder and spoke warmly “My dear friend, every day, and for as long as I live, I will be Brother Plett, the evangelist. Now, let us stop complaining about what God has allowed, and start rejoicing over the work it has accomplished. Last night one more of my children met the master.”

Susie watched as the lines on Brother Remple’s face softened and began to glow with the same joy they had all felt last night. She had almost forgotten the wonder of it, but now it came flooding back to her. Katja had given her life to Jesus. And if going back to Leningrad was the price it cost to place her deaf sister in God’s family, then she would go back joyfully.

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