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  • Beth Lantinga

Bread in the Wilderness

Some of you may remember playwright Andras Visky’s year-long residence at Calvin College’s theater department. At that time in 2004, one of his most memorable plays was, “Julia.” A one-woman production, it portrayed his mother’s struggle with God during the years she was interned with her six children at the Danube Delta gulag. Visky told us about an event that brought bread. The second story begins with a description of God’s patience and concludes surprisingly with the story of a slap.

Julia Visky with their six young children

Psalm 78: 25 Men ate the bread of angels.

“Imagine this. There is a large field, a kind of wilderness, in the delta of the Danube. In this desolate gulag there were many small flimsy shelters. And do you see there my Julia Visky with six small kids? Ferike, the eldest is ten years old, and the smallest is Andras, a one-and-a-half-year old boy. It’s winter, their hut is covered with snow, and they have to dig a tunnel just to get in and out. Instead of food, they are fed by stories from the Bible. Here it is, eat! These dear children are sitting, hungry and listening to stories, but suddenly there is a noise coming from the entrance of the cabin. What is it?

Well, there stands a German Shepherd dog at the entrance to their hut, tail wagging and happy, with a small basket hanging from its mouth. The basket is full of bread and other food for the family. You must know that guards and inspectors walked among the prisoners frightening them with German Shepherd dogs. So, tell me, according to what logic could someone see the need and hunger of that pastor’s family? And then a German Shepherd dog takes the meal to them?

One of our 20th century poets used the image of ravens coming with food, but God was taking care of us not according to the raven model. He used a dog. Then comes again the word from the Psalm, God feeds our hunger with bread in the wilderness. Can he bring us food even in desert places? You know, my friends, the way he manages his love is harmonious and fine.”

Psalm 103: 8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.

“According to Ecclesiastes, everything has an ordered time. Until a fruit is ripe, you have to wait. Someone once said that when a fruit is ripe on the tree, you simply have to kick the trunk and the fruit will fall down. God sometimes kicks too. Consider Saul who became Paul. Furiously defensive of his heritage, he was never at peace, but the Lord himself is long-suffering, slow to anger, and plenteous in grace.

When a chick is ready to hatch from its shell, we cannot hurry it, but we have to wait until it comes out on its own; sometimes we have to wait weeks for that, and if there is a small hole in the shell, we must not try to break the shell or pick it off to help with the birth. The sharp edges of the shell could cut the chick and make it bleed. The only thing we can do, let us believe it, is to wait for God, and he will make the necessary work according to his plan.

I will tell you a Debrecen story about slapping and patience. I know a pastor there called Istvan Nagy. He was a diaconal pastor who often traveled from Debrecen to Budapest by train. One day he was late getting to the station, and while he was rushing to the ticket window, he saw a street kid picking someone’s pocket, stealing his wallet. As he had not time to stop and preach to the kid when he saw it happening, he went up to the kid and slapped him hard on his cheek. The wallet flew out of his hand; the pastor caught his train.

Several years later he was walking along a sidewalk in Debrecen and a big man stopped him and said, ‘Please stop Mr. Pastor.’ ‘Okay, my son,’ said the pastor. The man said that they knew each other, but the pastor replied that he was quite sure that he didn’t know him. The man answered, ‘You surely know me. Do you want to know why I stopped you now? It is because I would like to thank you for something, for the slap on my cheek. I was that kid that you slapped in the train station, and if you had not slapped me at that time, I would have become a good-for-nothing loafer.’

So I ask you. What is love? Can we slap someone and really love?”


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