Conference Blues

Conference Blues

That summer of 2008 we had responsibility for organizing three big conferences. One was for all those members in our group who were working with Hindus. The second was a leadership training conference for our leaders from all over the world. The third was the annual conference for our folks in Turkey. All three were to be held in the same hotel in late July and would overlap with one another.
 
I began work on finding a hotel more than a year in advance, and soon, through a Christian travel agent, found one at a good price. We signed the contract and everything looked like it was ready.
 
However, in early July, the month the conferences were scheduled, the travel agent called and said that they were having trouble with the hotel, should we switch to another place?
 
Finding an available hotel in high tourist season to take three large groups was unlikely. It was a certainty that the prices would be considerably higher and beside all that, all of our people had been given the address of this hotel and some had already left on long trips, expecting to stay there at the end of their travel. A change at such a late date just didn’t seem feasible.
The travel agent and I decided to check out the hotel ourselves, making the nine hour drive during the night, arriving in time for breakfast.
 
What we saw did not look good. The boiled eggs still had chicken manure on the shells; although the plates had been washed, many still had the remains of grease and food from the previous night’s meal on them. The water in the swimming pool was murky. The place in general did not look clean.
 
We talked with the owner and he assured us it would be in better shape when we came for the conferences, so we decided to stick with it.
 
The day before the conference was to start, Barbara and I took a bus down to the hotel. This particular bus did not allow cell phones to be used, but at rest stops I kept getting calls from people arriving at the airport who could not find the drivers assigned to pick them up and transport them to the hotel.
 
I felt really bad about this, but could do nothing. Fortunately these early arrivers were experienced and godly types who eventually found their own way to the hotel.
 
When we arrived, the hotel was, if anything, worse than before. It was supposedly a three star hotel, but had, in my opinion, become a “no star” hotel.
 
I found some of the employees who would work with me and in two days we were able to move it up at least two stars. The dishwasher got fixed, the food improved, the pool got cleaned, air conditioners were repaired and extra beds were found.
 
We bought fans for the meeting rooms as the promised air conditioning was woefully inadequate, and did what was necessary to clean things up, including buying air fresheners.
At one point I had to go down to the laundry room myself and find sheets and pillows for some of our arrivals, and for several days I worked until 1 or 2 am to get everyone settled.
The difficulty with the transportation company not finding the incoming attendees at the airport continued. There was obviously some spiritual warfare involved.
 
In one case, I sent one of our Hindu workers, an Indian himself, to meet someone he knew. He is quite dark, so he stood out in the crowd, and also held a sign, but still he and the new arrival did not find each other. Similar incidences happened a number of times.
All my work to make the hotel more habitable took place while the leadership training conference was going on. In addition to this work I was expected to attend this conference and also was scheduled to do some of the teaching.
I was glad that after all the effort of making improvements in the hotel’s initial condition, that everything seemed to be going more smoothly. I had no idea that events were soon going to take us on a drastic turn for the worse.
 
At the end of the first conference, some attendees left and others arrived for the next two conferences.
The difficulties with transportation continued. In addition, we found out that the hotel had overbooked and some of our people had no place to stay, so we put them up temporarily in nearby hotels.
On Friday evening, two days into the simultaneous running of the second and third conferences, the hotel owner called me to his office.
“Your travel agent owes me money from a different deal and you will either pay the agent’s bill, or we will put you out on the street!” he said with a smile—but the intensity of his demand was clear from the sweat beads on his forehead.
I felt the heat of anger rising in my chest. After all that I’d done for the hotel to make these conferences a success, this threat was the opposite of what I wanted to hear. I managed, however, to keep my voice calm. “What my travel agent does with you in another deal has nothing to do with our conferences,” I said, “You have to work this out with him.”
The hotel owner frowned, sweat glistening on his forehead, “No, either you pay his bill to me, or I’ll put you out. I have my own bills to pay and I need that money now!” It was obvious that he was under great pressure and speaking out of fear.
I called my travel agent. He confirmed that he hadn’t paid his bill for other customers, explaining that it was because of all the complaints that he’d had from those he had sent there.
His plan was to send a commission down to prove that the hotel was not up to three star standards and hoped that their findings would free him from his contract. “Just sit tight and nothing will happen,” he said.
Several of our leaders met with me. We prayed about it and talked more with the hotel owner. He wouldn’t budge an inch on his demand and got even more angry and belligerent.
It seems that he had already passed along the postdated check he had from the travel agent, and if that check bounced, he would be in big trouble. There was probably some mafia connection mixed in, a common factor in this business. That would certainly explain the fear he had which, in turn, displayed itself as anger towards us.
 
We were caught in the middle. God was our only hope and we turned to him. We’ll tell you the outcome next week.
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