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In a lower-class Chicago high-rise, Ricardo Alvarez jabbed the switchblade into his desktop, gouging out splintered chunks of pine and flicking them onto the floor. He hoped his mother would come into his room at any second, see what he was doing, and start yelling at him.
He gripped the switchblade tighter. Let her yell. It would give him an excuse to scream and curse right back at her. She had just informed him that she was going to marry the crew-cut, nonsmiling Special Forces soldier she had been dating.
At the thought of it, Ricardo plunged the knife again, prying loose a silver-dollar-sized piece of wood. She was nothing but a cheap barfly, Ricardo decided. He might as well be an orphan. She had never cared about his feelings. Never. She knew he couldn’t stand the sight of the jarhead jerk she was dating—but did it matter? No! Not to her.
He snarled as he twisted the blade back and forth in the top of the desk.
He’d heard them talking through the thin wall that separated his bedroom from the living room. He’d heard Mitchum—that was the Green Beret’s name—talk about the fact that he was being transferred to Germany. He’d heard the louse ask his mother if Germany was okay with her. “Sure,” she’d said, with a drunken giggle.
Ricardo raised the knife high above his head. Did anybody think to ask what he thought about going to Germany? Did anybody care at all what a sixteen-year-old guy with friends of his own felt about being jerked halfway around the world with a mother who stayed drunk and a stepfather he couldn’t stand? He thrust the knife into the desk, wishing this time that the blade were striking something besides unfeeling wood.
At 11:30 P.M., Jordan Rau stood in the dark, staring out the living room window of his family’s fifth-floor Munich apartment at the empty, mist-shrouded streets below. It was late and he was tired, but the nagging frustrations in his mind kept him from going to bed.
For the first time in weeks, he was wondering if he had done the right thing. This particular evening, like many others during the last month and a half, had been a miserable one for his family, filled with arguments, shouts, and short tempers. His wife and children had finally marched off to their bedrooms to be left alone.
What’s wrong with them? Jordan asked himself as he glimpsed the dark outlines of Grunwalder Stadium, four blocks away. Why can’t they be reasonable?
Evidently he was the only one who could understand the logic of moving here from Chattanooga. After all, the financial incentives were too significant to pass up: The mission board was guaranteeing them a monthly salary that was a full 50 percent more than he had been paid by his church in Tennessee. Not to mention the generous medical benefits package—no small consideration, in light of their son’s epilepsy.
Despite his annoyance, a tiny smile came to his lips as he thought about Chase. The seventeen-year-old had, against all odds, found his first girlfriend—here, in Germany. Her name was Heather Anne Moseley, and she was a classmate at the Department of Defense high school for American military dependents. This friendship alone was enough to justify the move, as far as Jordan was concerned. For the first time in many years, his son—his pride and joy—was taking an active interest in life, an interest that was perhaps strong enough to pull him beyond the reclusiveness and caution that the epilepsy had forced on him since childhood.
Then Jordan thought of Susan, his wife—and frowned again. She didn’t share his enjoyment of Chase’s budding romance, or of anything else related to the move. Since the day the letter came from the mission board announcing the opportunity for this overseas project, she had planted her heels in opposition. Again, Jordan replayed their conversation—the same conversation that had consistently surfaced, with minor variations, since he began talking about the possibility of making the move:
“Why do we have to move so far away?” she would demand. “Is it just the high salary? Is that the reason? If it is, I’ll get a full-time job. We can use my paycheck to pay back the bank loan. We don’t have to go all the way to Germany just to recover from our debt!”
At this point in the exchange, Jordan usually became annoyed. Susan insistently played up their financial difficulties, tacitly declaring that Jordan’s only motivation was “money.” True, the debt was bothersome, but that was hardly—
“And another thing,” she would continue. “If it were just the two of us, maybe I could handle the move. But doesn’t it matter to you that Chase is just now, after nine years, starting to feel comfortable with his peers in Chattanooga? Doesn’t it matter to you that we have a thirteen-year-old daughter who needs her friends right now? And doesn’t it matter to you that your church doesn’t want to give you up as their pastor?”
Jordan sighed. On and on it went. Susan just couldn’t seem to understand the opportunities opening up in this part of the world for their denomination. The emotional insecurities that she felt for herself and for the children were blinding her. She wasn’t comprehending the importance that the denomination was attaching to their specially selected five-family team: a team set up, along with four other joint teams specializing in various Eastern European languages, to staff the new seminary their denomination was building in Leipzig, Germany.
She couldn’t grasp anything of the vision, not even when he tried to describe it for her. Whenever he tried to be persuasive, she would badger him with her simplistic, timeworn phrases that were always shrouded in a cloak of religious respectability:
“Jordan, I just can’t see that this move is God’s will. I know it’s something you want; but are you sure it’s something He wants? Have you even prayed about it?”
Turning away from the window, he rubbed his face in irritation. Susan and her narrow-minded evangelical upbringing... She couldn’t seem to outgrow it, not even after all these years. To Susan, God’s will was a black-and-white immutable fact, unique for each individual, and something that could be unmistakably determined if a person only prayed hard enough for long enough. But if Jordan had learned anything during his time in seminary, it was that God’s purposes for man were not so easily understood or defined. Of course, he knew Susan wasn’t completely at fault for her lack of religious sophistication. She had only inherited the naive tenets that her parents had drummed into her since birth. For her, Christianity wasn’t something to be critically analyzed and sifted. It was rather a whole list of beliefs that had to be accepted in their entirety without serious or creative questioning. In a way, though, he knew that this was what had drawn him to Susan in the first place: She was like an easy-believing child, sweet and unpretentious. Yet, as he had learned through twenty years of marriage, her simple way of thinking could also lend itself to unreasonableness and stubbornness.
Jordan stretched his six-foot-four, 245-pound frame and turned toward the bedroom. He realized that people like Susan sometimes had to be pushed against their wills like children, until they saw the light. That’s what he had to keep doing, he decided. He knew this move was right. He’d just have to maintain his course until Susan was as convinced as he was.
Lying in bed alone, trying in vain to fall asleep, Susan Rau felt swallowed by an unshakable emptiness swirling around her. Like tireless animals of prey, the difficulties of her uprooted life continued to stalk her, denying her the rest she so badly needed.
Since the day her family stepped from the plane at the Munich airport, nothing had gone right for them.
It had taken an unexpected seven weeks to find a place to live. The large number of East Germans now moving freely into the West was creating a severe housing shortage. Their mission board had somehow missed this detail.
Jordan had not been allowed to collect their car or any of their household goods from customs until they had first acquired a permanent address and a residence permit. Before finding their apartment, they were forced to live out of their suitcases at a German Gasthaus twenty-three miles outside of Munich. Susan had felt isolated—trapped.
Chase was late in starting his senior year at the American Department of Defense high school in Munich. He was struggling to adjust and to catch up.
Their daughter, Donica, also starting late, was not adjusting to the German school she was attending. Chase was allowed to attend the American school simply because it was his senior year. Donica, however, was put in the German school system because she was younger, and because it was already costing $500 a month to send Chase to the DOD school. But trying to learn German by total immersion and trying to make new friends with the German students was more of an emotional struggle for Donica than she could handle. Normally a bubbly optimist, she was becoming withdrawn and silent.
Susan found herself in a constant battle with loneliness and depression. Uprooted from her friends and relatives in the States, she longed to lean on Jordan for the emotional support that could perhaps help make a difference in her situation. But because of his responsibilities, he was less able now than at any time in their twenty years of marriage to give her the attention she needed.
Jordan’s language classes at the Goethe Institute lasted three hours a day. Then there was homework, ongoing arrangements with the mission board, telephone conversations with other team members, planning sessions, and a host of other activities that seemed to constantly pull him away.
The four other families who were on the German-language mission team with the Raus had planned to join them in Munich for language training. But due to the severity of the housing shortage, the mission board chose at the last moment to settle the other families in Nurnberg, an hour and a half to the north. Thus, Susan was deprived of even the minimal companionship that could have been provided by another missionary wife.
The weather in Munich had been miserable. The Alps were normally in view to the south of the city, but the Raus had scarcely been able to see and enjoy them. The dense fog and clouds just wouldn’t seem to go away.
Susan was sure that if the attractive salary weren’t such a lure for him, Jordan—despite his never-say-die optimism—would have already packed it in.
“God,” she moaned into her pillow, “is this really Your will?” She grabbed the bedspread in her fingers and squeezed. “I don’t think I can...”
It was no use. Prayer didn’t seem effective anymore. She should have been comforted by pouring out her soul to God, but everything seemed so confusing right now.
Jordan seemed to regard her faith as something primitive. She remembered quoting a verse to him from 1 Peter, about casting all your cares on God. “Honey,” Jordan replied, “Peter was a fisherman, an uneducated man with limited resources. He was only speaking out of a desperate sense of his own need. But we can’t expect God to be our beast of burden. Day-to-day pressures and pains are our responsibility, not God’s. They’re common to everyone. Have you ever known a Christian who didn’t face any struggles? No, of course not. And that proves my point.”
Rolling onto her side, she stared up at the ceiling. Maybe Jordan was right. He seemed so self-assured, so determined. So utterly confident that being in Germany was right for them.
Maybe she was the problem. Maybe she just needed to grit her teeth and keep going, like Jordan. It seemed to work for him, all right. But would it work for her?
She heard the bedroom door opening, followed by the sound of Jordan’s bustling movements to get ready for bed. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, feigning sleep. She didn’t want to talk anymore tonight. She wouldn’t know what to say, anyway.