Monday, May 12, 2014
No! Not my new jumper! A story of friendship and pain
Soul Survivor pastor Mike Pilavachi
I WISH I were a really gifted storyteller. I went through college with a pastor friend who grew up in County Cork – and he could tell stories. I still remember a sermon class at Spurgeon’s which was supposed to develop storytelling skills in all of us – we each had to tell a story to the rest of the class. Tim’s turn came… and he came up with a story that was funny but had a challenging element as well. What a combination. We laughed and laughed, even though he wiped the floor with the rest of us. We were put in our place that day – but then, we had a handicap: none of us was Irish.
Maybe Mike Pilavachi also comes from a land of storytellers. He seems to do the same thing as my friend Tim, helped by the fact that he seems to face embarrassing situations wherever he goes.
He said, in his characteristic random way: “Any fool can prophesy God’s word, but how many can prophesy God’s heart?”
Then he recounted a time when he had made a trip to a remote part of northern Finland many years ago, to speak at a camp for young people. About the time that he was due to go, a young teenager called Timo wanted to talk. The timing wasn’t brilliant – but Mike listened. And listened. Timo was brought up in a home where His drunk dad would return home and beat both him and his mum. He lived full of fear, not to mention the pain – and the anger that seemed to just well up in him, which he couldn’t understand. “I will never get married,” said Timo, “because I am fearful that I could turn into my father.” They prayed and God reached out and touched Timo, and it was a good little story to take home – until Timo remarked on Mike’s jumper.
This was Mike’s prized possession. It was white and thick and possibly fashionable at that time – a bit too big, even for Mike, but it was new and he was proud of it. And then he heard God speak to him. “Lend him your jumper.” Lend? No, actually the Lord was saying “GIVE him your jumper.” And it was on the cold side, next to Russia in the north of the country. And he was looking forward to wearing it on the trip back. And it was new… Mike had shared the boy’s pain. Now he was faced with some pain of his own.
He took the jumper off and handed it to Timo and said: “Here you are. It’s yours. You can have it.”
It was probably 20 years later that Mike was at a conference in Turku, in the southern part of Finland, working with a very helpful translator who also showed him around. And Mike said: “There comes a point where they always want to show you pictures of their family.” Sure enough, on the last day, just before he had to go for his flight, the translator said to him, “Would you like to see pictures of my family? I have this really beautiful wife” – and Mike duly enthused over a picture of someone who looked quite ordinary to him – “and two beautiful children,” and Mike made suitably appreciative noises and tried not to look at his watch.
Then the man produced a shopping bag and and said: “My name is Timo – you didn’t recognise me from all those years ago. You lent me your jumper. You didn’t know then, that I had never known any kindness from someone my father’s age. I had never been given anything as a present. I’m giving it back, because it’s done it’s job – healing. And he reached inside, and brought out a rather sad-looking and definitely off-white jumper.
And Mike remembered the young teenager, and the pain, and the fierce determination that he would never get married, never allow himself to be in a position to hurt someone like his father had. And Mike’s own little bit of sacrifice and obedience, that no one would ever know, in northern Finland.
He said: “Do it in obscurity. Do it – because God is generous. Out of agony comes an authority. It comes from service. It comes because God’s power is made perfect in weakness.”
And do it because He says, “The greatest of these is love.”