I am sharing a story I’ve rarely shared. This event was, in fact, supernatural and the only explanation is that God truly wanted to give me a specific word and a peace that was directly from Him. It was certainly more than a grand coincidence. But when we discuss anything supernatural or miraculous, it’s important to ask a few questions: Does this story line up with the character of God? If it doesn’t, it can certainly be discounted as fraud. The next question is, Is the person telling the story credible/Do they have a reason to make it up? Those who know me would vouch for my credibility and I don’t believe I need to make up any stories to bolster God’s name or His reputation. Besides, as you’ll read, I wasn’t even smart enough to be able to make up this story, ha!
On with the story….
It was January 1997. I was a newly minted Christ-follower with a fresh diploma from SMU. In just a few days, I was heading to Walldorf, Germany for a four-month mission trip. But before I left for my pilgrimage, I journeyed back to my hometown of Belton, Texas to visit my parents one last time. While I was in Belton, I phoned the church I attended as a child. I asked if their Sunday School department had any extra supplies I could take with me to serve the children I would be working with in Germany.
I was told by the church secretary that they did have supplies that I could take with me. When I arrived at the church, I was directed to the stickers, books and magazines that were all boxed up and ready to go. Perfect, since my mind was racing on to the next 100 things to do on my list before the trip. I could be in and out of the church in five minutes, tops. I went to an office to retrieve the box when I was met by a friendly, familiar face, the minister of education for the church, Charlie Robinson.
Charlie greeted me as I moved to pick up the box and head out the door (again, my mind was on to the list of things I had to do before leaving the country). He said in his friendly voice, “Before you leave, do you have a minute to come into my office? I want to ask you about your trip.” Even though I was deep in to-dos, no one can resist an invitation to spend time with Charlie.
I went into Charlie’s office and took a seat across from his desk. I could tell when he started asking me questions, I should settle in and forget my five-minute in-and-out goal. But getting the opportunity to sit across from this wise, Godly man who was sincerely interested in what God was doing in my life was a privilege that I was more than willing to make time for. Charlie asked about the details of my trip and then he asked if I had any specific prayer requests for the trip. It was then that I gave voice to a fear that I’d been keeping to myself as the trip neared. I told Charlie that the closer I came to leaving, the more afraid I was of flying over the ocean and leaving my family for four months. I was getting quite anxious about being so far away for so long. I was getting a little panicky, shall we say.
Charlie listened and then said, “Have you ever heard of Jehovah Shammah?” Uh, no. No, I had not heard of Jehovah Shammah and that seemed a little weird. Then Charlie said, “Jehovah Shammah is a name for God that means ‘God is there.’ When I had to be separated from my mom in her elderly years and couldn’t watch over her, I knew God was there – Jehovah Shammah. When we had to take our daughter to college and she would no longer be under our roof, I knew God was with her – Jehovah Shammah.” (See Ezekiel 48:35)
Charlie went on to explain that even though I didn’t know one person in Germany, God was there. He made it clear that there was no where I could go that God wouldn’t be there with me. While his words were comforting, again, I thought it was a little weird because I had never heard God referred to by that name before. And let’s be honest, Jehovah Shammah is an odd term in new ears.
A few days passed, and I boarded the plane for my four-month mission trip. I thought about what Charlie told me about Jehovah Shammah and I was comforted at the thought of God being there in the unknown space I was about to call my temporary home. I arrived in Germany on a Friday and by Sunday morning I was headed to the church where I would be serving.
I entered the small church and was introduced in whirlwind fashion to the members. I was jet-lagged and every one of my senses were overwhelmed. When it was time for the church service to begin, the music started and we sang the same songs I’d been singing at my church in Dallas. Those songs were so rooted to my church experience, but instead of being comforted by their familiarity, I became extremely anxious. I thought I was about to have a full-blown panic attack. I kept thinking about how far I was from everything and everyone I loved, and those songs were a stinging reminder. I began to wonder why I traveled this far and agreed to be there for so long. I was sitting by a young woman I befriended upon my arrival in Germany and thought, “Great, I’ve known my oldest friend here for 48 hours.”
I just wanted to go home. I just wanted familiar faces. Had I made a terrible mistake that I was going to have to pay for over the next 121 days? The anxiety continued to absolutely rule my thoughts and it was taking everything I had not to burst into tears. As my anxiety level was nearing full LOSE IT status, the only thing that kept me together was thinking about what a terrible first impression that would be. It was about that time that the music stopped, and we were asked to take our seats. I sat down, lowered my gaze to my hands and fought to keep the tears at bay. Then, I remember making the conscious decision to lift my head, look forward and focus all of my efforts onto holding back tears for the next 45 minutes of the sermon.
I took a deep breath and as I lifted my eyes to look at the pastor, I could not believe what I saw hanging above him. Just above his head was a bright red banner trimmed in glittery gold and silver with big letters that read, “Jehovah Shammah.” My eyes widened. I wanted to make sure what I was seeing was real. Yes, there it was, an actual banner hanging in the church for all to see, but for me to receive.
And that was it. No more anxiety, no more struggling to hold back tears, no more wishing for home. I knew at once that I was right where I was supposed to be and God. Was. There. He gave me a literal sign to tell me He was with me.
I suppose I was so busy meeting people when I’d entered the church that I hadn’t noticed the large banners displayed along the front of the sanctuary. There were seven banners in all, each proclaiming a compound name of Jehovah (I didn’t even know that was a thing). And the odd-numbered display was centered by the Jehovah Shammah banner right above the pastor. This was more than serendipity, coincidence, kismet or chance. This was a literal sign from God.
This story from 1997 has remained a highlight of my life and I’m as excited about it now as I was back in Walldorf, Germany. Oh, and remember that young woman I was sitting next to as I lamented her being my oldest friend while only knowing her for 48 hours (I can be a little dramatic)? A few years later she was the maid of honor in my wedding.
God is good and God is there. Jehovah Shammah.
Dear Lord, thank You for always being there – no matter where “there” is. You are ever-present and with us for every mountain-top experience and through every tear-drenched valley. Lord, if there is someone who needs to know You are with them, I pray You would make Yourself known with a banner, or whatever would speak to that individual to let them know You see them and You love them dearly. Amen.
Want to learn more?
Below are the seven compound names of Jehovah. While I had not heard of them as a young Christian, after the event above, I made sure to learn more about these names. Together, the names reveal God as the supplier of all of our needs.
The Seven Compound Names of Jehovah
Jehovah Jireh “The Lord will provide a sacrifice” (Gen 22:14)
Jehovah Rapha “The Lord our Healer” (Exodus 15:26)
Jehovah Nissi “The Lord our Banner” (Exodos 17:15)
Jehovah Shalom “The Lord our Peace” (Judges 6:24)
Jehovah Raah “The Lord our Shepherd” (Psalms 23:1)
Jehovah Tsidkenu “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6)
Jehovah Shammah “The Lord is There” (Ezekiel 48:35)