An Unexpected Friend

His father took him by the hand, looked him in the eyes and said, “Son, I am old and sick. Leave me. You have a chance at life, but only if you run. So run.”

That was 17 years ago. Johnny paid $1,500 to a man that promised to fly him out of Babylon, away from Saddam Hussein’s tyranny. Johnny found himself in newly independent Ukraine as a refugee.

It took him about five years to learn the language. He married, has since become separated, and has two little girls. Diana (“Like the princess,” he told me) is ten, and her younger sister, Angelina, is seven.

Johnny spends his days in a small booth selling pastries and pizza outside the metro stop near my apartment.

I walk by this booth and many others on a daily basis, usually in a hurry, and almost always with my iPod pumping rhythms and melodies into my ears.

Tuesday, however, I was heading somewhere but I wasn’t in a hurry to get there and along the way decided a piece of pizza would be nice. So with one earphone in and the other dangling I ordered. I stumbled over one of the words, giving myself away that I don’t actually speak this crazy language, and he asked me something. So I gave my pat answer, “Sorry, I don’t speak Russian” (said in Russian and yes I’m aware of the irony).

The next sentence caused me to remove the other earphone from my ear and pay attention.

“Are you from America?” he asked.

Shocked I replied that I was and from there conversation continued. He told me that he once spoke very good English but after 17 years of speaking Russian and with no English practice he has forgotten a lot.

I spent the next twenty minutes standing at his shop window and talking. He told me a great deal about his life and how hard it is in Ukraine. He works six days a week because, as he said, “Sunday is the Lord’s day.” However he only averages about $10 a day.

I never expected to make a friend in the market by my home, and I guess he never expected some American kid to show up at his stand. It completely made his day to have someone to speak English with and I promised to return again for pizza and more of the story.

For me it was also a reminder that God shows up in the most unexpected ways, but usually I am in too much of a hurry to notice. I have lived in my new apartment now for two months and this was the first time I stopped at this stand. I cannot help but see that God knew Johnny needed some encouragement and, for some reason, God decided to use me.

Has God showed up in any unexpected ways in your life lately? Maybe He is just waiting for you to slow down enough to let Him.