He was the first person I saw when I got off the old, creaky bus in Istanbul. I was captivated. His blonde hair fell just above his calm, blue eyes and he stood, tall, with an air of confidence I found reassuring. I forced myself to turn away. I couldn’t allow myself to develop an infatuation this early in the game. I had just begun my commitment to Operation Mobilization and I was about to board a ship that would sail me around the globe for the next 2 years. The world was literally at my feet waiting to be discovered. Mystery was in the air and I had a God given calling to fulfill. No need to get sidetracked by a handsome face.
Nervously, I entered the training center at “Hotel Family” and found my way to the conference room where all the new recruits would be meeting for 2 weeks of pre-ship training. I found the chair with my name tag on it and sat down. I looked around, mesmerized by all the different people surrounding me. Koreans, Germans, Indians, Papa New Guineans, South Africans…25 nations together in one room; together for the next 2 years. As people started to congregate together, I noticed at least 20 South Africans. It seemed like they all knew each other already. They were so loud; laughing and joking and making a scene. Frankly, they were getting on my nerves.
Why do they have to be so loud? Oh, he’s one of them. Another reason to stay away.
On our first night at the venue, the leaders organized a social hour. It was time to get to know people a little better. I was standing by the drink table getting coffee when he approached me. My mouth dried up and my tongue stiffened. No words would come out. Fortunately, that didn’t matter. He did all the talking… and talking…and talking. When he was finished explaining the world to me, he walked away without ever asking my name. It was apparent that he had no interest in who I was. Just as well. There was no way I wanted to get involved with a “talker.” No. I definitely needed a “listener.”
After two weeks of classroom lectures and water safety training, we loaded the busses and headed to the ship. At first sight, the “Doulos” seemed too small to be home to 300 people. It looked like an over sized, dilapidated yacht. I wondered how it even stayed afloat in rough seas.
Oh wow…He and I are going to be in close quarters. I need to keep busy, stay focused.
Once we boarded, the chaos of ship’s life took over my world. Breakfast at 7, devotions at 8, work at 9, dinner at 5, community events in the evenings and curfew at 11 (if you could manage to stay up that late). We only had 1 day off per week for sight-seeing or rest. All of my time was accounted for. It was a good thing.
Despite my busy schedule, I saw him and thought of him constantly. Our direct interaction was very limited though. I couldn’t understand how this stranger had gotten into my head.Was I caught up in his appearance? Nothing else made sense. I didn’t know much about him. I felt like a little school girl. He wasn’t even my age. I was more than three years older than him. What could we possibly have in common? We grew up in different hemispheres and English wasn’t his first language. Would he even be able to understand me if I spoke to him? I had to refocus. I prayed and prayed that God would help me to turn my attention solely to ship’s life. I was there to work and be involved in ministry not to get lost in a fantasy world with someone who didn’t know I existed.
Three months passed and nothing changed. One day in Mid-November while I was in the Galley helping prepare lunch for the ship’s company, I began earnestly asking the Lord why I couldn’t get victory over my obsession with this stranger. That day God finally answered my prayer.
The Lord’s voice resonated in my heart, “Jennifer, he will be your husband one day. Stop praying against it and start praying for it.”
I stood still; shocked by this unmistakeable answer to my prayer.
What Lord? Did I hear you correctly? He is going to be my what? Wait a minute Lord…I don’t even know him and he doesn’t even care to know me! In fact, I don’t even like him! He’s annoying and talks too much! His doctrine is off! He’s a South African!
And my objections went on.
I retreated to my cabin and got on my knees in prayer. I asked the Lord to confirm, through His word, what he had spoken into my heart. I opened up my Bible and began reading. Habbakuk 2:3 jumped off the page. Little did I know that this verse would become the bastion I would hold onto during many times of doubt over the next year:
“For the vision is yet for the appointed time. It hastens toward the goal and will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; it will certainly come, it will not delay.”
I began crying. Confounded, I asked the Lord for another confirmation. As if to put my doubt in its proper place, God led me to Isaiah 37:26:
“Have you not heard? Long ago I ordained it; from ancient times I planned it and now I have brought it to pass.”
There! It was sealed. I needed to accept it in faith. That day, in my cabin, I decided to believe. Wouter would be my husband and, one day, our shallow exchanges would turn into a deep, profound bond.
When I returned to work I chose to wash the dishes; a mindless task that would allow me time to think. Since romantic relationships were prohibited during our first year on board, there wasn’t much else I could do. I had 9 months to go before my first year was over. Here I sat with this major revelation and could do nothing with it. I couldn’t tell him about it. He would think I was delirious. I didn’t have a close enough friend to confide in yet either so I decided to quietly cherish my new little secret.
The next time I saw him, I was working behind the food line during the ship’s lunch hour. I was busily refilling trays of food when I looked up and saw him standing right in front of me. I expected to feel something new toward him; to look right past those blue eyes directly into his soul and create a connection. No words necessary. Then, we would secretly fall in love and wait patiently for our first year on board to end and rejoice when we could finally sail off into the sunset together.
Instead, when I looked into his eyes, he asked me to go get him a banana. Surprisingly, he didn’t ask nicely or choose gentle words as though he was talking to his beautiful future beloved. Actually, he didn’t even say “please.” I brought him the only banana I could find and when I handed it to him, he shoved it back over the counter and said, “I can’t eat that. It’s not even ripe!” He didn’t say, “Thank you,” or “I love you.” He just walked away. This impersonal abrupt exchange left me angry, hurt and confused…all over a green banana.
I endured many, many more months of similar encounters with my future “husband” and with every run-in, I found myself liking him less and doubting the Lord more. Did God really tell me what I thought he told me? My faith was being tested. Will I believe my circumstances or will I believe the Lord? The battlefield in my mind became a war-zone of doubt. Not only was Wouter consistently cold towards me, but I heard through a friend, that he was interested in someone else. Clearly the Lord had not let Wouter in on our little secret. My heart was breaking.
I had to do something. I wanted to talk to him; to tell him everything that I knew about our future and ask him to stop looking past me. Or maybe I should just forget him and move on. Maybe this whole thing was something I conjured up in my vulnerable little mind. After all, I was far away from home, I didn’t know anyone onboard. Maybe this fantasy offered me some sense of security, and it was just an illusion of deep connection. Once again I was confused. I retreated to my cabin for some alone time. I needed wisdom before I made any big mistakes. Thankfully, the Lord gave me insight. He used Exodus 14:14 to remind me that He was the author of this story; not me:
“The Lord will fight for you; You need only be still.”
And I remained silent.
After that, a huge burden had been lifted. I no longer felt pressure to build a bridge between us or establish a connection with him. Instead, I relinquished everything into the Lord’s hands. I felt so confident God would work things out in His timing that I no longer cared how Wouter behaved toward me. I wasn’t even worried about him dating someone else. I knew the Lord would fight for me and, well…He always wins.
In the weeks that followed, by God’s grace, I began seeing things in Wouter that I admired. He was a deeply passionate person; someone others trusted and confided in. My affections were growing and I was falling in love. It was a miracle.
After many long months, the waiting was starting to wear me down and I longed to see God’s promise fulfilled. One afternoon when I was feeling particularly discouraged and impatient, I saw a poster hanging up near my cabin door. It was a picture of a beautiful landscape ripe with flowers glistening from the rain. Under the picture was a verse from the book of Isaiah: “The parched ground shall become a pool and the thirsty land, springs of water.”
I knew our time was coming.
On the afternoon of my one year anniversary Wouter approached me outside on the ship’s deck. I was caught off guard. He asked me to meet him in the dining room later that night. I nonchalantly agreed though inside every muscle in my body was clenched and my heart was racing. Was this going to be the conversation I had been waiting for all year? I wouldn’t allow myself to hope.
At 8 p.m., I finished work in the Galley and was sitting at the staff table with my co-workers. Wouter walked in and joined us. Gradually everyone left and it was just him and I. It was awkward. Silence lingered and created an uneasy tension. 5 minutes passed; no words were spoken. What in the world was going on here?
Don’t waste my time Wouter! I’ve been tortured enough, say what you want to say or I’m out of here.
Just as I was about to get up, he started talking.
“Jennifer, this past year has been a huge struggle for me and I don’t know what you think about it, but I want to get to know you better. I’m not interested in dating or just having a ‘girlfriend,’ if you are not willing to get married to me eventually, then we can’t go forward. Please go think about it. Take your time and really pray about whether or not this is what you want.”
Umm…Did I just get a marriage proposal?
I mean, I did.
Wouter Roos, in many ways a total stranger to me, just told me that he wanted to marry me in a kind of indirect way! I was dumbstruck. Most girls would have left the table at that point. But…I wasn’t “most girls” and for the last year, God had been preparing me for a conversation like this one. I wasn’t surprised by his approach. I was thankful for it. To me, it was the long-awaited fulfillment of a promise God gave me a year ago. Faith finally met sight and I was overwhelmed, not by how wonderful Wouter was, but by how amazing God was.
Somehow it wasn’t about us. It was about Him.
Finally, in late September of 2004, when the ship was in St Nazair, France, we had our first date. We left the ship hand in hand and walked to a little beach. We sat by the shore and shared story after story about the struggles we both faced over the past months. Most of all we celebrated the fact that we knew, beyond any doubt, that we were meant to be together. With that kind of security we could withstand our differences; big or small. We were committed to each other based on a calling…not a whim.
As we sat by the shore on that warm, clear evening we toasted to our future. I hoped for a soft kiss under the sinking sun. I trembled in anticipation.
Wouter looked into my eyes, “Do you want to know when you’ll get your first kiss?” he asked.
Now please. And make it quick! I’ve been waiting a long time for this, buddy!
I maintained my composure.
“Yes.” I said softly.
He whispered, “On our wedding day.”
*Happy 8th Wedding Anniversary to the man who made me wait for him! I love you!