It was so warm and I was thirsty. My feet ached and my back felt like it was in a torture device. Going to Disneyland with two soon-to-be fifteen year olds, Katie and Savanna, was not for the faint of heart. They are my precious granddaughters, and I would not have missed it for the world. Going to the parks was their birthday present; for they are first cousins and they were born on the same day, one hour apart. They are as different as night and day but so close in heart they were a joy to be around. But the trip came with its drawbacks. Teen age moodiness is nothing to shake a stick at; from joy to tears in a flat minute, and then from silliness to anger the next minute. Disneyland, California Land, and Hollywood was on the agenda. This day was our first and we were in California Land. I had been up since four o’clock in the morning. Greg, (my husband and “Papa” to the two girls) wanted one more round on the “Soaring Over California” ride, his favorite. I could not wait in one more line, which, at most, was an hour wait; for a 5 minute ride. I told them I was going to find a bench and sit until they were ready. I looked everywhere to no avail and finally found a remote bench, out of the crowd, but in a place where I would see them walk by when they were finished.
As I was sitting there resting my back an old man came wondering in and sat next to me. He didn’t look that old, maybe 70, but he had a smile on his face. At first I was annoyed because he seemed over friendly and I could tell he was going to start talking to me. This is how the conversation went.
The man: “Nice day isn’t it?”
Me: “Yes, it is.”
Man: “I’m here with my son. It’s my birthday!”
Me: (I’m starting to like him) “Well, happy Birthday Sir! Where are you from?”
Man: “Canada!! I am Polish and I am 80 today.”
Me: (Smiling now), “Wow, you don’t look 80 years old.”
Man: “It’s because every day for 55 years I eat porridge for breakfast with lots of fresh garlic in it.”
Me: (Grimacing) “Really, Wow.”
Man: “Except for here in the hotel…they give me porridge, but no garlic. And my son says it makes me stink, anyway.”
Me: (Laughing) “Well, that is interesting. I like Canada and have been to Alaska.”
Man: “I lived in Alaska back when I came to America before going on to Canada; in an old gold mining camp.”
Me: “Were you panning for gold?”
Man: (Laughing now), “No, I was in America so I found work and learned the language but just lived in the old gold barracks. World War two was going on and we escaped Nazi Germany.”
Now I am fascinated. Me: “Germany? Did you see a lot?”
Man: “Oh yes. My father was in the Polish army and was captured and sent to the death camps. He eventually got out and just died a few years ago. But they captured my mother too and battered her until she died. I remember her bleeding from the mouth and nose and then she eventually succumbed to death as we watched.”
Me: “How horrible. I’m so sorry. Did you see any of what happened to the Jews at that time as well?”
Man: “Oh yes, I was right by the ghettos and watched as the Jews were forced to stay behind barbed wire. Those poor people! I witnessed the Nazis killing their children like it was nothing, right out in the streets.”
Me: (Overcome with admiration and awe for such a survivor), “Did you see the Jews rounded up and put on trains?”
Man: “Oh yes, it was a horrible time and I remember it all. But, I got out and came to Canada and now here I am celebrating my 80th Birthday.”
Me: “It is an honor to meet you sir, and have a very Happy Birthday. You really should write a book about your experiences.”
He laughed and said that is what everyone tells him.
At that moment the man’s son returned for him and said he had to leave now. He jumped up with a spring in his step and turned to me with a big smile and said, “It was nice chatting with you. See you next year!” He was happy, fit, and hardly had a line on his face. What did God teach me in this encounter?
Our steps are always ordered by Jesus. He plans these encounters when we least expect them. Sometimes we entertain angels unaware, the Bible tells us. But as I thought about the body of Christ, I thought about our need for transparency. It is in our transparencies that we can really let others grow from our experiences. Everyone has a story. When you look at people do you really see them? Do you think of what they might have been through in their life or are going through even at that moment? Sometimes we get so into our own pain and preoccupations that we never even consider who God might bring into our path that day. I could have ignored the man and not been responsive. Instead I soon realized this was a God encounter—a divine appointment. A reminder to me that people can endure hardships I have never known and allow it to make us stronger. The encounter made me realize God has a plan for all of us. He wants us to be transparent with one another and not let our pride keep us in silence. It is when we let others see the real us and all of our ups and downs in life and how God brought us out that they can identify with you. Everything we go through can be used by Him to help others and give them hope if we would only realize we have to come out of our hiding places to do so. The man had lived a long life of hardship and horror, yet in the telling of his story, without pride, joy shined through his countenance like a beacon of light because, as I saw, now he was free. I never got a chance to ask him if he was a believer. Actually, I didn’t feel any leading to. I don’t think I was supposed to. I saw the joy of the Lord on his face and that was all I was meant to see that day.