(a true story)
During my 20’s, I worked at a youth hostel in Israel, situated on Mount Carmel, near the Mediterranean Ocean. One evening, I was at the front desk, checking in the new occupants for the night. I asked each one which country he or she was from, and then offered them a Bible in their own language. A German doctor was in line, and was listening to me long before he reached the reception window.
“What’s this?” he asked, when I gave him the German Bible, open to the page about Elijah killing all of Jezebel’s prophets on Mount Carmel.
“This is the story of what happened here on Mount Carmel, a long time ago — about 4,000 years ago. There is an olive orchard on the mountain, and from there you can see across the valley where Elijah ran before the chariot of King Ahab.”
“Oh, is this the Jewish history? Or a holy book of some kind? What is this?” He turned the book over in his hands.
“It’s a Bible,” I answered.
“Oh, I thought the Bible was fiction. But this story is true?”
“Yes. It is true. It is a history, an account of what happened here.”
He gave me a scrutinizing glance and then nodded. “Very interesting, thank you. I will read it.”
Less than an hour later, the German doctor was back at my reception window with the Bible in hand.
“Amazing,” he said. “I read the story. What else is in this book, that happened around here?”
“Everything in this book happened around here,” I told him. “Israel is not a very big country. Almost everything in this book happened here. It is the history of the area, from the beginning, all the way through the life of Jesus Christ, and his followers.”
“Jesus Christ,” the doctor asked, “is he in here too? I thought he was the Catholic god?”
“Jesus’ mother was a Jewish virgin from Nazareth,” I explained. “His story is in this book. . . which was written by a Jewish doctor.”
I opened his Bible to the book of Luke and handed it back to him. The German doctor looked at the open page, already beginning to read as he walked away. Suddenly he stopped and looked back at me.
“I’ll be back,” he said. “My girlfriend will be here in a couple days, so I have two days to read about this.”
He was back again the next day, carrying the Bible with him. This time, he had a very perplexed look on his face.
“Do you know,” he said. “This is a really amazing story. Have you read it?”
“Yes.” I told him. “I have read it many times. It is true, you know.”
“You believe it!” he exclaimed. “It is fantastic! You seem like an intelligent person. How could you believe it?”
“I know it is true,” I answered him, “because I hear God speak to me in my heart and mind. I have seen miracles in my own life, evidence that it is true. Jesus is very real to me.”
The German doctor looked at me very seriously, as though I were a bacteria under a microscope that he was analyzing.
“Tell me exactly how it works,” he said. “How do you hear God in your heart and mind, as you say? You are only speaking poetically, yes?”
“Unfortunately, I have to go,” I said. “I’m catching a bus with some friends to go up on the mountain for a barbecue. Will you be here later?”
“I’ll go with you,” the pragmatic doctor announced. “You can tell me on the way.”
So, on a bus, all the way up the mountain, I tried to describe how it is to hear the Spirit of God. I described the miracles I had experience while living on the island of Papua New Guinea. There were times God had provided for me, or saved my life, times I heard him in prayer.
My friends were with me on the bus, and confirmed my story was true, at least in the general aspects. The doctor continued to question and cross-examine my statements.
“No proof,” he announced at last, when we reached our destination. “Everything you have said may be proof to you — to your own mind, but nothing that I can see with my eyes. Is there anything else?”
We walked down a mountain trail to our barbecue area. By now, my friends were exasperated with the German doctor’s refusal to “just believe.” But I sensed in him a sincere questioning, and so I suggested he open the Bible again.
“Turn to the book written by John, and the third chapter,” I said. “This is an account about an educated and respected doctor named Nicodemus, who came to find Jesus after dark one evening. He had seen Jesus heal people without medicine, but he some very real questions. Read with me what Jesus said to him.”
The German doctor eagerly found the passage, appearing excited to find an interaction between Jesus and a doctor such as himself. He clearly related to Nicodemus as we began to read the story. When we arrived at Jesus’ words in verses 8 - 12, I saw the doctor’s expression change. He became quite pale and silent.
The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?
Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?
“I see,” the doctor said at last, but his eyes were unseeing. He looked around himself, and out over the valley below us, and fell silent.
My friends and I barbecued, and the day progressed, mostly without further interaction with the German doctor. At last, back at the hostel, he told me,
“Tomorrow I leave for Jerusalem as soon as my girlfriend arrives at the station. We will be back in a week.” He paused here, and wandered restlessly around the room. Finally, he stopped and said with defiance,
“You know. . .If this story were true —reality itself would be different than what we believe it to be. What it means to be human, what it means to be alive, and to die. . . everything would be different than what we know. I just can’t imagine such a thing could be true and no one know about it.”
“I know about it.” I said.
“Yes, yes, you. . . and your friends here. But I have never met a German who has heard these things and believed them. Not one. I know a lot of people. Surely not every German I ever met could be so in the dark.”
At that moment the Spirit of God spoke through me to the German Doctor:
“If the story in the Bible is true,” I said, “then before I see you again, you will have met another German believer. One who speaks your own language, is from your country, and believes the Bible is true.”
For the first time since I met him, the doctor laughed aloud. He was amazed and delighted with my boldness.
“Yes!” he agreed, “then you will see! There is no way this could happen. If it did happen, as you have said, it will surely be a miracle!”
“A miracle,” I said, “like the kind Jesus did.”
“A miracle,” he echoed. “I will see you in one week, and I will remember. What will you do when I tell you there is no German person who believes as you do?”
“What will you do when there is?” I returned. He laughed again and then walked away, still shaking his head at my audacity.
The week passed, and I did a lot of praying. Although I believed God could find another German believer in the city of Jerusalem, somehow I still worried that I had spoken out of turn. I had been too bold. I had tempted God. . . but again and again I was assured that it was God who had spoken so boldly. This story was not over.
A week later I stood in the reception window, checking in customers from all over the world. I saw the German doctor and his girlfriend come through the door.
I caught the doctor’s glance. He was obviously high strung that evening, full of some kind of stress that he was anxious to unload. He shook his head ‘no’ at me, and I felt a knot form in my stomach.
In a few moments he had reached the window and announced immediately,
“It isn’t true. You were wrong. I did not meet a German Christian who believes the Bible is true, this whole week. Now what are you going to do with that proof?”
I opened my mouth, trying to think of something to say, feeling a wave of shock hit me. God, where are you?
Then a voice spoke from behind the doctor. Another German tourist standing in line.
“I’m a Christian,” she said. “I believe the Bible is true.”
The doctor wheeled around and stared at her. This was someone he obviously knew a little; he called her by name. Both he and his girlfriend reverted to the German language as they questioned the girl behind them.
Yes, she believed the Bible was true. Yes, she believed Jesus Christ was who he said he was. Yes, she knew many other German believers. In Germany they met in house groups to study the Bible together. No, she had not mentioned it on the bus because she was shy. But, truly, she was a believer, and had spoken with them all the way from Jerusalem.
From his own mouth the doctor had demanded a response, “Now what are you going to do with that proof?”
God had waited until the German doctor was standing there in front of my window, demanding a response, before placing the evidence on the table between us.
I did not say anything that evening. I could see in the doctor’s eyes that he was shaken to the very core of his being. So was I. Jesus Christ is real, and he has a very keen sense of humor.
I did not see the doctor again. He and his girlfriend went away that evening with the German believer still speaking with them about Christ. They made plans to meet her in Germany to attend a Bible study. They left early the next morning.
Sometimes I still think of him, and pray for him.