Conference Blues Part II 2008
By Monday the hotel owner upped the pressure, taking all the possessions of some of our people out of their room and dumping them all in a pile in the middle of the lobby.
Next, during the morning conference meetings, the security guard came in and told us we were being expelled from the meeting rooms.
We sent someone to appeal for help from the Gendarme, the local military police, but they did not respond. In such a small town all the locals work together behind the scenes, so we had no chance as outsiders to get any help to fix our problem. Anyway, in their eyes, we were rich Americans who could pay whatever was necessary.
During lunch the security guards came around again to tell us that all of our people had to stop eating and go to their rooms. The air conditioning had been shut off and the hot afternoon sun soon had the rooms sweltering. Drinks were denied. Families with small children were especially feeling the pressure.
Our agent called several officials in the area and two of them, along with a representative of the hotel association and a reporter, came to talk with the hotel owner. By God’s grace I saw them come in and went uninvited into their meeting. The hotel owner, of course, gave his side of it, making us look like the guilty ones. I then gave our side of the story.
The group conferred and then said the only way to resolve the situation was for us to pay the bill for the agent. They, of course, were all in the same business and we were again the outsiders with no recourse.
What they were suggesting meant paying almost double the price we had originally agreed to. However, there were several factors that contributed to our leaning toward doing this. First, we had already paid a large deposit, and if we paid the bill for the travel agent, he could and should pay that back to us.
Second, although the travel agent had found some other hotels that could take us, we knew nothing about them, and would certainly be scattered among several, making it very difficult to continue the conferences. There was no assurance we would have either meeting rooms or childcare rooms available to us.
In contrast, this hotel had more than an acre of grassy lawn enclosed with a good fence, which made it a great place for the hundred or so children of our group to play safely.
Third, our people had come from all over the world to attend these conferences; they had already spent a great deal of money on transportation alone, which could potentially be wasted if we were to leave this place for an unknown and potentially unsatisfactory situation.
In the end we agreed to pay. A number of us pooled our credit cards to make this possible and the hotel owner gave us a signed and stamped paper describing the situation and his receipt of the money. So the conferences were able to continue as planned.
In hindsight, it was clear that all these difficulties were used by God to make our conference one of the best ever. We were totally dependent on Him and He did a work in us.
Our schedule was frequently disrupted, which caused us to be more flexible. This brought some great times of prayer along with some open, honest sharing, and spontaneous sessions that were very helpful to all of us. By the end of the week we left, having been challenged, changed and cheered by the Lord’s work among us.
The hotel story did not have a happy ending. Although the travel agent sued the hotel, the signed statement we’d gotten from the owner validating the extra payment we had made was worthless. It turned out he wasn’t the actual owner after all. He had built several legal layers into the hotel’s ownership to protect himself.
He then sued the travel agent for another bill, and in the end the small claims court took everything from the travel agent’s office which housed two other businesses, including a film making studio.
Interestingly, the travel agent viewed this debacle as being my fault! He believed that if I hadn’t given in to the hotel’s demands, his financial situation would not have degenerated so badly. This was the exact opposite of my understanding of it all.
We chose not to take legal action against anyone including the agent. The result for me, personally, was that the Lord set me free from my desire to be right, from my “need” to win, and from my inclination to care too much what other people thought of the whole situation (my failure). This was certainly for me a step out into a wider place, one of greater freedom.
At the end of the whole saga, along with all I’ve already mentioned, there were three other positive outcomes. First, the believing travel agent graciously forgave me and our relationship was able to continue.
Second, the hotel owner told the agent that if he paid his last bill, he could get back all his computers, cameras, software and furniture so he could continue his work.
Third, the travel agent came back to us and asked if we would help. Humanly speaking this was backwards: he caused us to lose a large amount of money, then wants us to give him more to help him out of his mistakes! However, this was a chance to turn the other cheek, to act against the wisdom of the world and to glorify God. So, against all natural logic, some of us gave him gifts out of our personal money and he was able to redeem all his goods.
The whole event had been one long experience of spiritual warfare, but I believe that the Lord–and therefore we–won in the long run. Not materially, but on a spiritual level, through giving praise in difficulty, doing the right thing when it cost us and by turning the other cheek.