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My Agonizing Question That Refused To Be Answered

Children, please come here; I need to talk to you. When you attend 8th grade, you will read of this day in your history books. But today, I need you to just bake Christmas cookies. I must focus on other matters. The dough is prepared for you in the refrigerator.

So, while the world held its collective breath, my three children made Christmas cookies.

T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland J. Żołnierkiewicz    

T-55A on the streets during Martial law in Poland J. Żołnierkiewicz 


December 13, 1981, Warsaw, Poland - The day that stays with me forever.
Ringgg. There Grażina stood, ringing the bell at our front gate. Bizarre. What brought her here so early on this December Sunday morning? The shocking answer walked in the door with her. 

Standing in our tiny hallway, Larry’s assistant announced in a nervous, high-pitched voice: Stan Wojenny has been declared! The military controls everything; the entire country stands halted! (Stan Wojenny, English translation: Martial Law)

The Polish population feared this dreaded collision. For month’s political strikes, student protests, and street riots marked the landscape of this nation seeking freedom over Communism. December 13th the surge shifted. “Enough!” The Soviet Union issued an ultimatum to General Jaruzelski, Poland’s leader: “Bring your people under submission or we will do it for you.” 

Now, Soviet tanks lined the Polish-Soviet border. They waited impatiently to give the Polish military one final chance with Martial Law to restore order. The clock ticked like a time bomb. If the government failed, the Kremlin and Leonid Brezhnev sat poised to succeed. 

I collapsed onto the foot of our stairs, as three wide-eyed little people hovered around me. Feeling like a pawn trapped on an international board of chess, I uttered, “Well, my parents were right. They always said something like this would happen.” 

Then a sickening question shoved its way to the forefront of my thinking: 
“Where is Larry? At a time like this, where is Larry?"
Larry departed the previous day, driving through Poland, through Czechoslovakia, into Austria and the free West, to attend a required directors’ conference in Vienna.

Dramatic events now placed the children and me behind the Iron Curtain in a country on the brink of war with the Soviet Union. Closed international borders separated us from Larry. I wondered, “What on earth should I do?”

“If in danger, call Roy.” The predetermined crisis management plan kicked in. I lifted the receiver to telephone our colleague Roy to receive further instructions from him. 

Instantly, I heard the sickening sound of silence. Dead. All phone lines turned off across the entire country with one simple flip of a switch. Further reality descended on Debby: no contact with Roy across town; no contact with Larry across the border; no contact with my family across the ocean.

Bolting to my kitchen table, I turned on our shortwave radio, which sat in the window nearby. Normally, the top of the hour provided a brief five minutes of news from the outside world. But this was not normal. Would the news come through? My heart raced. 

With shaking fingers, I adjusted the dial. The crackling static caused near panic of a jammed broadcast. But then  – it came through! Grabbing the only item available, paper napkins (see below), I feverishly jotted down sketchy notes from the words of the foreign correspondent of the BBC. I felt like I listened to the voice of my best friend.

His reporting removed all doubt: 
Martial Law has been declared in the nation of Poland, and all contact with the outside world is severed. The Soviet military sits poised for intervention on the border between the two nations. Thirty five million citizens are given 48 hours to return to their legal place of registration; a mandatory curfew is enforced. All borders are closed; all international flights and international trains are cancelled.

Blog.Martial Law Napkin 5.jpg

Hastily, I collected water in the bathtub in the event our water was turned off. Then, I moved through my mental checklist for preparedness:
•    Gasoline stored in canisters in the garage should gasoline be denied
•    Dollars hidden in the freezer if banks closed
•    Extra batteries on hand for the shortwave radio to guarantee five minutes of uncensored news, every hour on the hour 

Yet, no amount of preparedness could answer the nagging, recurring question: “Where is Larry?”

I desperately needed to be alone with The Lord. My missionary manual contained no chapter on Stan Wojenny, but I knew my Bible did. The Soviet Union would have to wait while I talked to Jesus.

The cry of my heart and the question on my mind turned to Psalm 91. In the margin I wrote: Where is Larry? 1st Day of Martial Law, Dec. 13, 1981. The Ancient Words spoke their supernatural peace to this missionary wife’s heart:

Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him; 
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 
He will call upon me, and I will answer him; 
I will be with him in trouble, 
I will deliver him and honor him. 
With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.

Larry’s whereabouts remained a mystery, but God’s whereabouts remained Rock Solid. His protection surrounded Larry in the mysterious unknown; His presence surrounded the children and me right here at Ulica Dembińskiego 4B, Warsaw, Poland. My faith, though being tested in fire, found solid footing in His Word.

Now what…? Life consumed my attention. 

The day progressed. My children baked cookies; I listened on the hour to the BBC’s five-minute updates. From time to time, I stared at the scene out my window. The slant of the anemic winter sun offered no warmth. Sub zero December temperatures made the landscape appear frozen in time.

Our street stood deathly quiet. The cheerful sounds of neighbors’ greetings - gone. The screeching sounds of trams and buses on their routine routes – gone. The laughing sounds of children jostling and dragging sleds to the nearest hill – gone. Gone - all of it.  Fear hung a foreboding curtain of silence as thick as the frozen layer of ice on the streets. My Żoliborz neighborhood mirrored the paralyzing anxiety that gripped this nation. 

Eventually, Roy came. I still don’t know how he managed, but he did. He came to check on us. 

Together we contemplated: What would happen when darkness fell? What would tomorrow hold? How long would this last? Would the Soviet tanks roll in or would they stay at the border? 

And no, we could not dodge the question: “Where is Larry?” Is he safe or is he in danger? When will we see him? How will we even talk to him with the phones lines cut? Questions without answers stared us in the face. 

Having established contact, our friend set out again to care for his own family. He promised to return in the next couple of days.

Routine offers comfort in the middle of a crisis. I busied myself with the thought of making dinner for the children. As darkness fell, I couldn’t resist one more gaze out the living room curtain before going to the kitchen….

Gasp! What is that?! 

Shock and disbelief gripped my entire being. The brake lights belonged to our car! On the dark frozen street in front of our house stood our automobile and its driver. Fireworks of thanksgiving set off in my soul, and a waterfall of relief washed over my heart.

Questions of confusion exploded, but only one question mattered. "Where is Larry?" Larry is safely back home to us! Because he loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble… 

To be continued…