She was a small woman, frail looking but spry, pushing eighty but still riding her bike everywhere she went. Buenos Aires wasn’t the safest place to ride a bike but so far so good. Her German-Argentine background allowed her to move effortlessly between the Spanish culture of Argentina and the expatriate, international community at church. She was always involved, mostly in the background, and there was lots to do in the church and in the community.
One of her favorite projects was raising money for educational grants for poor children living in precarious situations. It was a labor of love and she was good at it. At church, she served on committees, helped with coffee time and Sunday School classes and the annual Christmas Feria. She had her fair share of difficulties in life and her walk with God had its ups and downs like everyone else. She was one of those unknown soldiers in the mighty army of dedicated warriors who were the backbone of the church the world over. She was content and happy.
At least, until he showed up.
He was enormous. His beard and hair bristled out in every direction, white and coarse, and probably dirty. She could tell from the smell. His large stomach and white, bushy beard pegged him as an out-of-work, out-of-season, has-been Santa Clause. To top it all off, he wore flip-flops. That’s it. No socks. Just dirty feet and long toenails in an old pair of green flip-flops. It simply wasn’t appropriate at church, especially her church.
She wondered who had invited him. Probably Charles. He was always inviting the homeless to come to her church. He lived on the streets too, or almost. He had a parador that he could go to at night but during the day he spent most of his time scrounging a living the best he could. She seemed to remember hearing that Charles was taking some free courses in investigative journalism, apparently trying to improve his situation. But did he really have to keep inviting his friends off the street to church? They didn’t even speak English and they just wanted a hand-out. They ate too many facturas during coffee time and they kept on asking for money. People were starting to complain.
They had a beautiful church by Argentine standards and the sanctuary was warm and inviting. The chairs were comfortable and expensive. They also seemed to retain the smell of these homeless men that insisted on coming to the worship services even though they understood nothing. Why bother? Why didn’t they just wait outside until the service was over and coffee was being served? The smell of their unwashed bodies and dirty clothes stayed in the fabric of the chairs long after the service was over. They would often come late, interrupting the service and sit down in the back row but, within minutes, people would have to move or else gag on the smell. It wasn’t exactly conducive to worshiping God in an organized, clean and proper way.
“Good morning,” the giant Santa Clause said in Spanish as he took her small hand in his and shook it, giving a little bow. It was coffee time and they were in the fellowship hall. At least he didn’t try to kiss her on the cheek as they normally do in Argentina. Apparently, someone had told him that Americans shook hands to say hello.
“Good morning,” she replied a bit stiffly, and then softened. There’s no point in being rude. “What’s your name?” she asked.
“Peter,” he said. “And what’s yours?” His smile was bright and full of charm. His teeth were rows of ivory keys in perfect sequence. She had to smile back at him. She had no choice.
“Inge,” she said. “My name is Inge Cremerius.” But then the conversation faltered. What was there to say? She couldn’t exactly ask him about his job or his family. How was your week? He would tell her about the dumpsters he had been checking out or about getting robbed again. Anything to generate some sympathy. Or perhaps he wanted to return to his family in Cordoba or Mendoza but didn’t have the money for the bus ride. She had heard all the lies before. That’s the problem with these people. It was like throwing time and money down a deep, dark hole. It wouldn’t make a hill of beans of difference. She smiled weakly, her mind racing, trying to find a socially acceptable way to leave.
“You look well for a twenty year old,” he said.
What? What was he talking about?
“Somebody told me you had a birthday coming up,” he said with a laugh. “They told me you would be turning eighty, but I think you’re closer to twenty.”
“What are you talking about?” Inge said. She could not seem to get her balance. Did he know? How could he know?
“Are you surprised?” His laughter was quiet but sincere.
“Not many people know that I was born in a leap year,” Inge said. “February 29, 1932 to be precise.” She looked at him with hard eyes. “How did you find out?”
“May I get you a cup of coffee,” he asked, ignoring the question.
“No, no,” she said, “that’s not necessary.” But then she changed her mind. “Yes, actually, that would be nice. But tea, not coffee, please. No sugar, no cream. Thank you.”
He gave her his brilliant smile and went right to the front of the line, his size, and smell, inspiring people to make room for him like the waters parting for Moses at the Red Sea. Social skills were evidently not his strong point. What was she supposed to do now? Leave? He would just come looking for her and the church was not that big. Should she just get on her bike and go home? No, she wanted to talk to some people and enjoy the garden outside for a while. It was a beautiful day and the wide, green lawn and shady trees beckoned her to come and enjoy God’s wonderful creation like she did every Sunday morning. It was the one bright spot in her long, hard week and now this oaf was spoiling it.
Before she realized it, he was back, a cup and saucer balanced in his huge hands, smiling that infernal, beautiful smile of his. She took the cup and murmured her thanks. What else could she do?
“How long have you known him?” he asked.
It took her a moment to adjust to the question. “Who do you mean?” she said. She sipped her tea slowly, deliberately. Time itself seemed to slow down.
“The man who owns this place,” her giant friend said.
“Well, no one really owns this place,” she said. Did he think someone still used this house as a home? It had been converted into a church long ago and a sanctuary had been built beside the stately mansion. It sat like royalty on the beautiful grounds enclosed by the security of vine covered walls and gates on the corner of a major intersection in the wealthy barrio of Acassuso. A former president of Shell Oil had donated the property to the church. No one had lived there for years.
“I heard that this place belonged to a king,” Peter said in his strong baritone voice. People were starting to take notice, casting sidelong glances at them in the center of the room. What did he know about the King? Was he a Christian? Did he understand the true nature of this place? Despite herself, Inge was intrigued.
“Well, yes, of course, you’re right,” she said quickly. There was a look in his eyes that made her hesitate. Was it the brightness of curiosity and intelligence or a touch of mental illness? That was often the case with these homeless men. But she was caught in his web of questions and there was no easy, or polite, way to get out of it now. She decided to keep going. “Yes,” she said. “This entire church and all the people here belong to the King. His name is Jesus.”
“I would like to meet him,” Peter said, his face clear and innocent. It was no joke. He was serious.
“Well, he isn’t here at the moment.” Inge stopped herself. That wasn’t exactly true but this guy wanted to meet Jesus in the flesh or, at least, that’s how it seemed. Before she could continue, he spoke again.
“Could you introduce me to him?” He looked around at the crowd drinking their coffee and eating their facturas. He stood almost a head taller than everyone else so he had a good view.
“It’s not like that,” Inge said. “We don’t know when he’s coming back.” Then she smiled, seeing a way out. “I promise to introduce you when we see him again.” There, that should do it.
“That might be too late,” Peter said, a mournful look in his eyes. What did he want to meet Jesus for? Didn’t he know, he must know, that Jesus was in heaven and wasn’t available for these kinds of things. Or, at least, not in the flesh, the way he seemed to expect. What did he mean that it might be too late? She decided to ask him.
“Is everything all right?” That was a dangerous question given whom she was talking to but it was too late to back out now.
“No, it’s not,” he said. “I came because Charles told me there was someone here who could help me.”
“Maybe I can help you,” Inge said, cringing inside. What was she getting into? She managed to smile.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I need a miracle.”
There it was. Her way out. She didn’t know anything about miracles.
“The King put me in charge and I can ask him for a miracle whenever one is needed,” she heard herself say.
What in the world?
“You can do miracles?” Peter said with a glint in his eyes.
Inge knew she was getting in over her head. She needed to get out of this conversation now, while she still could.
“Yes, I can,” she said, shocked at her own audacity. “Perhaps it would be better to say that the King can do a miracle through me if he wants to. All I have to do is ask. He listens to me but he makes up his own mind.”
Peter looked doubtful. His eyes gazed at her for a long moment and then dropped to the floor. “I don’t even know what to ask for,” he whispered.
“Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong,” Inge said, putting a hand on his arm. She couldn’t reach his shoulder.
She was only barely aware of it, but a bubble seemed to surround them, setting them off from everyone else in the room, their voices fading into the background as the giant and the little old lady had a divine encounter.
Inge was listening intently, totally focused on the quiet, urgent whispers of this giant of a man who began to pour out his heart to her, a story of pain and loneliness and rejection and despair which left him a broken man, barely surviving on the streets of Buenos Aires. Tears came to her eyes and she felt a tenderness toward him that surprised her.
“What do you want the King to do for you?” she asked Peter quietly, their heads close together, the smell forgotten in the intensity and beauty of the moment.
“I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to ask for anything. I don’t deserve anything after all I’ve done.”
Inge started to protest but he waved one of his big hands at her. “Look, that’s the one thing I have learnt on the streets,” he said. “I have nothing to be proud of.” His voice dropped. “Nothing to offer him.”
At first Inge didn’t know what to say but then she remembered something she had heard in a sermon once from Pastor John. She decided to share it with this friendly giant.
“You know,” she said. “Someone once said that if you were in prison or on the streets, you could be closer to God than many well-to-do people in church.”
Peter looked at her with eyes wide. She continued on, eager to explain.
“Not because you are poor and they are rich.” Her hand swept the room to indicate that our church was no exception. “It’s because you finally realize that you come to God with nothing, that you are nothing without Him.”
Peter was nodding, gazing at the floor, tears quietly dripping off the end of his nose and disappearing into the church carpet.
“That realization,” Inge said, “that you deserve nothing, that you are nothing without the King is a sure sign of his favor.” She stopped to get her breath. “Did you hear that, Peter. Your attitude and humility, if you are sincere about it, is only possible if the Holy Spirit is at work in you.”
“He’s at work in me?” Peter said.
“Yes, and he wants to do a miracle in your life,” Inge said and smiled warmly. That much was true. That was the greatest miracle in the world.
“What is this miracle?” Peter asked quietly as he sniffed. Inge handed him her favorite embroidered handkerchief, the one with exquisite blue and green flowers, and he wiped his eyes and then blew his nose and finally cleaned his dirty fingers with it, soiling her gift. She didn’t care.
“It’s the miracle of belonging to him, becoming part of the family of the King,” Inge said. “Would you like that, Peter?”
She wanted to be straightforward with him and make things as clear as possible. “That doesn’t mean that you will get off the streets immediately,” she said.
Peter just looked at her.
“It doesn’t mean that your life won’t still be difficult. You may still get robbed. You may not be able to return to your family, ever. Do you understand that, Peter?” Inge wanted to insist on this point. Something was pushing her to get tough on this gentle giant. “It’s not about the benefits. Just because you belong to the King doesn’t mean that you won’t get sick or go hungry or that everything will always be bright and rosy.”
“What does it mean, then,” Peter asked his eyes intense. “What difference does it make belonging to the King?”
Inge took a deep breath and then plunged ahead. “It makes all the difference in the world. You get the King. He becomes your provider and protector but on his terms and with a view to eternity and to his purposes in this life and in your life. You get to live forever, Peter.” Inge paused, her face bright and her eyes shining. “He becomes your Master. The purpose of your life is to please him. Your fulfillment is in his joy. If that becomes your one great ambition, you will find true happiness and contentment no matter what your circumstances.”
It seemed like Peter was holding his breath but Inge wasn’t done. Her mind was alive with truth. She had never seen it so clearly before.
“You also have a job to do,” she said. “You need to introduce the King to as many people as possible. Look for the ones who have nothing, who are nothing, and know it. You have the authority and power to bring them to the King and help them to understand that if they have the King, then they also have everything else.”
Peter let out a long breath. “So,” he said, “a man is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep anyway to gain what he will never lose no matter what happens?”
Inge looked at him curiously. “Exactly,” she said. “That’s it exactly.” Her eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “A godly man named Jim Elliot said that. It’s one of my favorite sayings.”
“I must have heard it somewhere before,” Peter said. “Can you show me how to become part of this family of the King? I would like that very much.”
A few minutes later they were praying together, the giant kneeling on the floor in the middle of the coffee crowd. People cast uncomfortable glances in their direction, but the old lady and the giant paid no attention to such trivialities. She was finally able to put her hands on his shoulders as he knelt there, both of them praying together, sharing their burdens in true fellowship within the divine embrace of the Holy Spirit.
A half hour later, the giant in flip-flops left the church by the back gate, meeting two friends in sandals and dusty robes.
“Did she recognize you?” one of them asked him.
“No, not really,” Peter said. “But, for a moment there, it was close.”
“Did she receive the gift?” the other one asked.
“Yes, she did.” Peter smiled as he remembered her initial reluctance. “It was tough going at first but she finally came around.”
“So, the gift has been given and the seed has been planted,” the first one said, sharing Peter’s smile.
“And her life will never be the same again,” Peter said softly. The two companions turned around and the three of them began to walk away.
“And, if I know you,” one of them said, “this is only the beginning, for her and for the church.”
“Yes,” Peter said. “If you live the miracle, the miracle will come alive in you and flow through you. After that, anything can happen.” He chuckled. “That’s when things get interesting.”
And with that, the three of them faded away into eternity to continue their holy pilgrimage.
“Some people have
entertained angels without knowing it.”
Hebrews 13:2 (NIV)
The Old Lady and the Giant by Bert A. Amsing. Used with Permission.
Excerpt from Jesus was an Alien (and Other Stories of Faith) by Bert A. Amsing
Copyright © 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.