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At the end of November we celebrate Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a time to remember God’s blessings on our nation and to recall how the first European settlers were saved through the help of Native Americans. Ever since that time, America has been a country of immigrants. We all have a story of how our families came here from somewhere else. This is my family’s story.

I was recently blessed to take a journey into the past. My parents came to the United States from Austria to pursue a better life. My father grew up in a German village in what is now Southeastern Europe. Towards the end of World War II, as the German army lost ground, the entire German population in these areas was encouraged to flee to Germany and Austria for their own safety. My father, with his mother and younger brother, along with other relatives and over 1,500 people from their village packed up their horses and wagons and fled right ahead of the advancing Red army. They were told they would be able to return in a week or two, and to bring what they needed for that time.

They never went back.

Losing It All
Those who stayed behind were herded into concentration camps, where 9,500 of them in his village alone died over the next 3 years from disease and starvation. Others were deported to Russian labor camps—for years. What must have gone through their minds as they experienced the worst personal disaster they could possibly imagine? Those who escaped, like my father, got away with their lives, and nothing more. They left behind their possessions and life as they knew it. Yet they considered themselves the lucky ones.

On our trip, I returned with my father and some other relatives to his home village and retraced the journey they undertook during their flight to safety. It was such a privilege to be able to visit these locations and relive events from my father’s life with him. I have heard many stories over the years of his experiences, but they took on new life actually being in the location where the events occurred.

As we visited the locations of his youth and witnessed the impoverished life of those who currently live there, the biggest impression I had was, “I am so glad I don’t live here!” The area, which had flourished before the war, was the picture of neglect. Dirty. Uncared for. Overgrown. We actually visited his house, and while others have lived there, nothing had been changed or updated since he left in 1944. The entire region was oppressive.

At the time no one could foresee the political events that would lead to the deterioration of that entire nation. What happened to the people in my father’s village and the German villages all across that part of Eastern Europe was wrong and unjust. Communities were ravaged. Families were torn apart. People were forced to give up their property and most of their belongings. Those who escaped faced fear and uncertainty. Those who remained experienced sickness, hunger, and brutality at the hands of their oppressors. It is one of many areas devastated by the events of World War II.

A New Land, A New Life
But those events did occur. In fact, that experience began a chain of events that ultimately led my parents to the United States to live the quintessential American dream. With only $50 and the clothes on their backs, my parents arrived in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1956. They started a business and after a lot of hard work they began to succeed and eventually lived a life that would have been unimaginable had they stayed in their home country.

While visiting my father’s village, I had to reflect, what if they had not had to leave? It occurred to me that what seemed at the time like the worst thing that could possibly happen to them, turned out to be the best thing. What a revelation. And what a lesson.

I do know that my Great-grandmother, and my grandmother, who were both on that momentous journey, were women of faith and prayer. I believe that despite experiencing the unthinkable, they were somehow able to continue to place their trust in God, and He brought them, and their families, through to a better place than they could have imagined.

The Best Of Times
As I prepare to celebrate another Thanksgiving holiday, I am reminded of how grateful I am for my parents and the life-changing choices they made so many years ago. I am grateful that our family landed in the United States and for all of the opportunities we have enjoyed here. I also pray for those around the world who still live in areas or countries which are void of basic freedoms, peace, or daily provisions.

On our journey God reminded me He is the redeemer of everything evil that Satan attempts to do in our lives. The Christian life is about redemption: Jesus’ death on the cross seemed like the worst thing that could happen. But God used that event to bring the blessing of salvation to mankind. I believe that anything evil that Satan intends for destruction, God can and will use to bring life, if we continue to put our trust in Him, and not allow bitterness to poison us.
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result.
(Gen. 50:20 NASB)
My trip to Austria was a good reminder when I go through something painful and difficult…when the unthinkable happens…if it is the worst of times…maybe God has the best of times in store for me, too.

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Author Biography

Martha Hultgren
Web site: cfaith
Martha Hultgren is a wife, mom, traveler, writer, editor, and, most importantly, a follower of Jesus Christ. Martha worked as a content editor for Martha has three children and lives with her husband Rick and cat Diamond in Maple Grove, Minnesota.

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