#3 Love In Any Language

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I was formerly an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church (in Florida, in the 1970s). In 1989, I was part of another network of churches and I traveled with a group of pastors from various states to Warsaw, Poland to attend the United Methodist Annual Conference.

We had been invited to speak on John Wesley and the Holy Spirit. At the end of the conference, our group divided up and went to different places in Poland. I went to Auschwitz where I spoke at a small Pentecostal church. At the end of my message, I invited congregants to come forward for prayer. Five people came forward and I prayed for each.

Then a man approached from the side of the church. The man was massive, about six foot two and 260 pounds. He wore a rumpled suit and had a strong odor of alcohol and tobacco. His shoulders were slumped, his head down. He made no eye contact and said nothing. His countenance was one of defeat. I put one hand on his back and the other on his chest.

And then something happened that I had never experienced. This man felt like a cold, concrete pillar, and everything inside of me shut down. I had nothing to pray or say to this man. I knew enough not to just make something up that sounded religious, but instead I stepped back and just looked at him. Tears began squirting out of my eyes. I felt as if this man in front of me was the only person in the world and God was pouring His love through me into this man. I had an overwhelming and heartbreaking sense of love and mercy for him.

I placed my hands on his chest and began praying out loud. I was crying, and my words and tears were mixed together such that I sounded incoherent to myself. About 15 seconds elapsed and the man jerked upright and fell backwards onto the stage. The church members attended to him and the wife of the pastor at this Pentecostal church told me that she knew this man well and assured me that he would be okay. I left the church with the pastor and his wife and did not see the man again.

As we ate dinner that evening, the pastor’s wife asked me, “How much Russian do you know?”

I answered, “None, why?”

She had a very puzzled look on her face and told me that I had spoken to the man who had fallen back on the stage in Russian. She told me what I said in Russian to the man when I prayed for him: “Those who stole your heart and your life are smaller than I am. I, the Lord and your Savior, have come to restore your heart so that you may have a new life.”

I asked her why God would have used Russian words to speak to this man . . . we were in Poland. Why not Polish? She answered that the Soviet system forced all Polish people to learn Russian and that the Russians had removed this man from teaching—a job that he loved—and forced him to work in a factory—a job he hated. His hate of the Russians led him to alcoholism and depression. She said, “I think the Lord chose to speak to him in Russian, words of life and love, so he could forgive the Russians and trust God to be greater than they.”  

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

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