Most people didn’t notice him.
Every day he sat cross-legged on the same piece of sidewalk in the busyiest shopping district in our city, playing his 2-stringed instrument. He had a small cardboard box in front of him, hoping for the tossed change of a merciful passerby. He had a head full of gray hair, green army-colored jacket and pants, and sometimes his shoes were worn so thin you could see through the bottoms.
And my kids called him Grandpa.
The unlikely friendship that began between a beggar on the street in Asia and 4 American boys is one of those stories that you can’t quite imagine is true, yet our hearts burst with its reality. It’s a story that began in impossibilities, and ended in eternal hallelujahs.
The boys bought him a blanket for Christmas.
They would call out, “Hey, Grandpa!” and wave every time they passed by. They would stop simply to talk.
He would reach into his cardboard box and pull out change and order them to go buy themselves popsicles.
He gave them a note at Chinese New Year that said, “Grandpa loves you. I want you to study hard and grow up to be good men.”
And then one day he invited us to dinner. What began as meal full of dishes we couldn’t identify ended in an event of eternal consequence.
I’ve lived in Asia a long time. But, I had never seen what that waitress brought out for the first dish. It was a basket, lined with white paper, and filled with clearly recognizable deep-fried CHICKS. I mean, the entire chick. My boys’ eyeballs shot out of their faces. As if in slow motion at the horror of what he was witnessing, one of the boys slowly pushed his chair away from the table. I urgently whispered to them, “Don’t react. Don’t react. Just smile. Just wait.”
As the waitress set the basket down on the table, Grandpa turned to the boys with his big, crooked-teeth smile, and whispered, “I got that one for you. I thought you’d like that!”
I turned to one side to whisper some crazy, cross-culturally appropriate, hope-filled words to one of my sons, something like, “Just let him put one on your plate. You don’t have to eat it. But, just smile and let him do that.”
As I was turned that way, little did I know that Grandpa had already placed a chick on the plate of another son, Peter, on the opposite side. I turned back, ready to express the same crazy words to Peter, only to see him grab that deep-fried chick, and bite its whole head off!
Yes. All the way down to the neck.
His brothers looked on in shock, fear, and trembling. This was a cross-cultural moment they had never had to face before. Peter simply chewed, shrugged his shoulders, and sighed, “Kinda spicy.”
The dinner itself would’ve been enough to end the evening with a book full of stories. But, that was not nearly the end.
That night Grandpa invited us to his home. After months and months of this unlikely friendship growing and sharing and loving, Grandpa finally understood THE love that compelled it all.
In this overseas life, we say a lot of goodbyes. We welcome friends into our life…and all too soon have to let them go. Our hearts break at the pain of saying all of these farewells to ones we love on both sides of the ocean.
But, the Author of our story continues to amaze us with new friendships, often from the most unlikely places. He never ceases to bring new lives across our paths, to write new chapters and new characters into our story. If I was writing the story, I never would’ve thought to add in a Chinese grandpa who was a beggar on the street. But, God sure did. And it’s a chapter I will forever be thankful that He added.
What new friendships has God brought into your story? And what’s the strangest thing you’ve ever been served, and did you eat it?!