As we begin a new stage of God’s journey and plans for us in the Baptist Union I would like to tell you about someone who changed my life earlier this year. Some of you have heard about him in my talk to the Banff Assembly in April but a refresher won’t hurt. I remind myself of this man at least every couple of weeks.
I discovered this “mentor” while reading Martin Gilbert’s book called The Righteous, a chronicle of Christians who saved Jews during the Holocaust of the Second World War. Gilbert is one of the most pre-eminent historians of the past thirty years and the official biographer of Winston Churchill. He does not suffer fools gladly and is particularly irate (as well he should be) about Christian inertia during the Holocaust. He writes however about a Ukrainain couple, farmers and Baptists, who looked out for those in need, offered hospitality and safety to a Jewish man hiding from the Nazis. They were a couple who were a people of the Bible and prayer and are just the kind of people I want to be like.
Finding two Jews who were hiding in the granary of a Polish peasant who had taken them in, David Prital told them he hoped to get in touch with those peasants who belonged to the Baptist sect. One of the Jews, taking him to a small gap in the wall of the granary, pointed out a typical Ukrainian house and said to him, “’In this house lives one of the Baptists, but you should be careful because in the adjacent house lives his brother who will kill you without any hesitation. Good luck!” In the evening, I left the granary and walked in the direction of the house that was covered with straw. I walked in the path between two fields, and my heart was full of anxiety and apprehension. Suddenly I saw a figure of a Ukrainian peasant walking peacefully in the fields. My instincts, which served me well in many dangerous situations, told me that I didn’t have to be afraid of this meeting. He approached me and immediately understood who I was. With tears in his eyes, he comforted me and he invited me to his house. Together we entered his house and I understood instantly that I had met a wonderful person. “God brought an important guest to our house,” he said to his wife. “We should thank God for this blessing.” They kneeled down and I heard a wonderful prayer coming out of their pure and simple hearts, not written in a single prayer book. I heard a song addressed to God, thanking God for the opportunity to meet a son of Israel in these crazy days. They asked God to help those who managed to stay alive hiding in the fields and in the woods. Was it a dream? Was it possible that such people still existed in this world? Why then didn’t I think about them while I was still in the ghetto? With their help and proper planning we could save many people!
They stopped praying and we sat down at the table for a meal, which was enjoyable. The peasant’s wife gave us milk and potatoes. Before the meal, the master of the house read a chapter from the Bible. Here it is, I thought, this is the big secret. It is this eternal book that raised their morality to such unbelievable heights. It is this very book that filled their hearts with love for the Jews.
One night, when David Prital was sitting in the granary, his host came in a sat beside him. ‘I see that you are sad and frustrated,’ he said. ‘I will sing you a song that may help raise your spirits.’ The peasant then started to sing from the Psalms: ‘When God returned the Jews to Zion’-and sang, Prital noted, ‘in Hebrew!’
[Excerpts from The Righteous: The Unsung Heroes of the Holocaust, by Martin Gilbert.]
We live in different yet very challenging times. “Whenever you give a cup of water in my name,” said Jesus, “you did this to me”. (Matthew 25)
Whenever I look for those in need or trouble I am looking for Jesus. Whenever I comfort or offer hospitality, whenever I open myself to ridicule or danger, whenever I protect the vulnerable, I do this to Christ. If I give to others I must be a person of scriptures and of prayer just as this Ukrainian family was. If not, I will never be able to sustain whatever acts of justice and mercy I attempt.
These are people I want to be like. They even seek to speak the language of others as they serve and comfort.
These are people I want to be like. Please Lord, may it be so. These are people I want our group of churches to be like; seeking others, hospitable, risk takers, and people of prayer and the Bible. Change, challenge and encourage us Lord…even now in the midst of a world in great need.
Warmly in Christ,