The dog-eared business card

Here I am, standing in the main square of a town in the Middle East after an arduous journey — to be honest, one of the last places in the world I wanted to go.

In fact, from the day five months earlier when God had surprised me by suddenly putting this place in my mind as I prayed for guidance— a pretty unmistakable call — I had done my best to suggest other places to serve him. But in the end here I was. On a very short visit with one aim: to ask God to show me how this call was real. So, you could say I was being obedient, but this was cold obedience.

This amazing God we serve! He was so ready for this. He had a series of strangers there for me to meet who were perfect for answering my various questions. But his master stroke was Ahmed. A Muslim. Arriving in the town I didn’t know a soul, but I had a dog-eared business card that someone, knowing where I was going, had thrust in my hand, saying, “Look, this tour guide was a very decent person. You could talk to him.” So, on the off-chance, I walked over to an ancient building where some tour guides were hanging around waiting for customers.

I enquired, showing the card, “Do you know this man?” “Oh,” said one, “You won’t find him. He doesn’t live in this city any more. It’s too dangerous for him to come here now.”

With that I went into a café, uttering a quick prayer, “What now?” As I was coming out later, the same tour guide ran towards me: “Madam! Ahmed is looking for you!” So not long afterwards I met the man on the business card after all, and we chatted as he showed me around. Sure enough, he now lived over the border, and he asked if I would like to go and stay with his family — him, his wife and five kids — during my visit. I was starting to sense that God was behind this meeting, but not how much.

Ahmed phoned his wife Shafiah and asked her to bring their car to collect us. Unlike her husband, she was born on the other side and had a pass allowing her to cross. When Shafiah arrived with their 5-month-old baby, we set off for their home across the border. It was a tense crossing, and as border guards ordered the car to pull over, a heavily-armed young female soldier stepped forward, but she caught sight of the very sweet baby boy — incredibly, nobody’s ID was checked.

That night, after a delicious dinner cooked by Shafiah, the kids were in bed, and we settled down for coffee. Ahmed and Shafiah became solemn. “We want to tell you something,” Ahmed began. “We believe it’s a miracle that you are here. You know I’m not allowed to cross the border. It’s serious. The police said if I’m caught, I will be prevented from returning here to our family home. But this morning as I woke up, I heard a voice saying, ‘You need to go over to M— A— today.’ I told Shafiah and we agreed it couldn’t be done. But twice more I was sure I heard God urging me to go. So I went. You know the rest.”

I told them how I was reluctant to come and work in this part of the world, and had asked God — just that morning — to show me some sign.

The circumstances of getting to know this hospitable family, more than any of the other people I met, meant that I left after my three-day visit with a heart full of gratitude to God, awe of his sovereign power and mysterious ways of working, and the beginnings of a love for this place and its people that he had nurtured. And when I returned there long-term, God continued to bless me with divine appointments.

My advice to anyone wrestling with whether a call is real: go there with your tiny mustard seed of faith, and say, “Okay, Lord. Show me.”

— Polly

[All names changed for security reasons]