You Never Really Know
by Darlene Stern
I had frequently heard that you never know how something as inconsequential as smiling at a stranger in passing, or helping someone in need, can radically change that person’s life—and yours. A few years ago, I found out how this can happen.
One spring, an older gentleman named Elmer came to our place to get parts to fix children’s bicycles. When he found out we had children, he began to bring a chocolate bar for each child every time he came. He explained (in very broken English) that while a soldier conscripted into Hitler’s army, he had come to value chocolate bars as a special treat. They were a special treat for our kids, too. Every time Elmer drove up on his BMW motorcycle saying, “Hoy, hoy!” they would race each other to get to Elmer first. He loved it! He loved children!
A few months had passed, and I hadn’t seen Elmer since September. By early March, I began to wonder whether he had survived the nasty winter that year. No one could tell me anything about him. One day, when I was traveling in his direction, I stopped to find out for myself. He was so happy to see me. The elation on his face made up for that old Slav’s language barrier as he invited me in.
During the course of ‘conversation,’ Elmer asked whether I had any salt at home. Meat, even fresh from the butcher, just didn’t taste good without salt. He didn’t want just any salt. He wanted salt from a round package. I had three kinds of salt at home that he could choose from. He dragged out his BMW to come home with me to look at what I had. After looking at the containers, he rejected two kinds of salt. I’d stored the third kind, canning salt, in a container other than what it had been purchased in, so I gave him a sample. “Is good!” Elmer pronounced. “I take, OK?” In addition to the salt, I gave Elmer some other food that day. He paid me way too much money for what I’d given him, but he left a happy man.
A week later Elmer returned for more eggs saying, “You have given me a life! I tell you, you have given me a life!!” I couldn’t really fathom what he was talking about. I thought possibly he was referring to his salt-renewed taste buds.
The next week Elmer returned again saying, “I tell you, you have given me a life! You have more eggs? I eat three every day!” (Elmer always spoke in exclamations.) I got some more food for him from our storage cellar that day. He was grateful. His eyes shone as he kissed my forehead and my hand.
I wrapped his eggs and the glass jars in pieces of blanket to protect them on the journey in the motorcycle basket, then helped Elmer carry his treasures out to the BMW. We ‘chatted’ a little and he confessed to me how I had given him a life. It seems he’d become very depressed for lack of food that he considered pure. He was nearly suicidal. But he said, “I know Jesus say no (he demonstrated the action of putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger). I want to go to heaven, not to hell, so I not (again the demonstration). I tell you, you give me a life!”
Instantly, it became crystal clear to me what he was saying! Elmer’s words reminded me again that with his BMW motorcycle and his Slavic accent, people thought he was a Nazi. He suffered persecution from those who judged without knowing. He felt oppressed. No one he knew locally could speak any of the four languages he was fluent in—Russian, Hungarian, Czechoslovakian, and Polish—and he didn’t speak either English or the locally predominant German well. Elmer loved to hunt—a hobby that was frowned upon by the ever-vocal animal rights groups. He had seen TV news reports about old people being murdered in their homes that caused him to fear for his life. Grocers thought he was a potential thief by how he looked and smelled—like an eighty-year-old bum—because Elmer lived in a sportsman’s club and washed his clothes out by hand. To top it all off, the only ‘good’ food he could find was meat from a butcher shop. It had to have been awful for him. At our home, he had found acceptance and ‘good,’ life-giving food. In his opinion, we had given him a life!
In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus taught His followers the eternal rewards of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and taking in strangers saying, “Assuredly, I say to you inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Jesus also taught in Matthew 7:12 the Golden Rule we all learned as children: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Lord showed me that day the meaning of His teachings. By obeying the Lord’s directions, I had been able to enrich the life of a very lonely old man who is just as precious to Him as any king. God’s purposes had been served, Elmer had a life, and I was blessed. What a mighty God we serve! You just never know how you’re going to affect someone’s life.
Darlene Stern is a mother of nine who has just recently been released to travel on short term international ministry trips in response to the calling God planted in her heart more than a decade ago. The experiences that testify to the love of God for all His children around the world have been amazing! You may contact Darlene at firstname.lastname@example.org.