This weekend I spent some time thumbing through old binders that hold journals I’ve kept over the years. The oldest binder is made of faded red construction paper. Many pages contain ink that’s bled through the page making it difficult to read. Although the writing is amateurish and not interesting to anyone but me, I treasure it because it’s the first journal I kept covering my years in high school.
The next journal I picked up covered the two years I spent in Germany as a missionary. I enjoyed reading through detailed descriptions of the new foods, people, and culture I encountered. I wrote much of it in German.
This is also the first time I began writing about how I felt. Until this time, my daily writings were made up of lists of people I met or tasks I completed. Most days they were positive. And if I had a bad day, I didn’t write about it.
Serving in Germany was different. Most of the people I met did not want to hear about my God or my beliefs. This resulted in days full of rejection. Had I only written on successful days, I would have returned to Utah with the world’s shortest journal. In December of 1987, I wrote:
“It’s freezing cold and we can’t afford to turn the heat past 65. I have no idea why I’m here. Spent the day getting doors slammed in our face and laughed at by the college punks down the street. Even our two appointments fell through. The only positive thing I can write is my bike that was stolen on Friday was returned to the gutter in front of our apartment. Yep, that’s how bad my bike is: not even a thief felt it was worth keeping. Why am I HERE???”
As discouraged as I must have been, it never took more than a day or two to turn around. One day I was up and the next I was down, and I wrote about both. What usually turned my mood from bad to good wasn’t my companion or mission president.
It was one of a handful of people I met. Our lives crossed at just the right time. Have you experienced the same? Someone comes into your life at exactly the moment you need them the most.
I can think of three times this happened while I lived in Germany. I’ve written about one. Another lived in the same small town of Unna. His name was Hans and he was co-owner of a men’s suit and tailoring store. Hans lived a few miles from our apartment in a large brick apartment building.
My companion and I would spend the morning looking for people to teach. When we’d had enough rejection or our hands and feet were numb from the cold, we’d head over to Hans’ apartment. He gave us a key in case he was running late. Eventually he’d show up and make us lunch. For the first week or so, I could barely understand him because he spoke with such a strong dialect and at such a brisk pace. I would catch a word here and there, and then try to fill in the blanks. My German improved rapidly when I was around him.
Hans later joined our church, but that’s not what made an impact on a 20 year old.
I have a difficult time writing about Hans let alone discussing him. He was my father away from home. Most missionaries bond with their mission president, but I felt much closer to Hans and he provided me with far more guidance and encouragement than any official from my church. But that’s only the beginning.
I couldn’t begin to list the acts of kindness Hans showered down upon me and my companion. He’d spend his days off cooking for us. He paid for cab rides home so we could visit with him a few minutes longer. He took us for walks around the old city while explaining its history. When he sensed we were discouraged, those walks often ended at the ice cream shop.
So many acts of kindness.
When it came time for me to serve in another city, the first person I called was Hans. He had us over for dinner the night before I boarded a train further south to Wiesbaden. Instead of calling a cab, he walked us home that evening. As we made our way over the cobblestone streets, Hans stopped as we approached our apartment. We hugged each other.
Hans then pulled a silver ten mark coin out of his pocket. The coin sparkled under the moonlight. Hans explained that he wanted me to keep this coin and remember it as a symbol of our friendship.
A few months ago I came across the coin when I was looking for an old set of scriptures. There, nestled in the leather pocket, was the silver coin Hans gave me twenty years ago.
I took the coin and gave it to my oldest son, Lincoln. I told him about Hans and how I came to possess the coin. One day, I hope he’ll read this and gain an understanding of its significance.
But what I hope for even more is that someone like Hans will cross his life’s path when he needs it most.