There are people who come into our lives, sometimes only briefly, and when they leave, we cannot help but realize that they made an impact. I met such a person in Valencia, Spain.
On the last full day of my trip to Valencia, I had a general idea as to how I wanted to spend my last few hours. Because I had heard it has a great view, I knew I wanted to go to the top of Torre del Micalet. So around noon, I climbed the 207 steps to the top, where I did have a spectacular view of the city. I took some photos while I was up there. After about 30 minutes or so, I came back down, still having only a vague notion of what I was going to do with the rest of my day. From there, things went in a much different direction than I could have ever imagined.
After coming down from the tower, I was watching a man play a hang near the cathedral when I heard someone say to me in English, “That’s a nice camera. A very nice camera.” I thanked him for saying so. There was nothing malicious in his tone, only kindness, and we struck up a conversation. I’ll call him Gabriel here. He lives on the streets of Valencia, and he’s one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.
As we sat on a ledge with the beautiful sound of the hang playing close by, Gabriel asked me if I was currently studying in college. This is a question I’m often asked because apparently I have the face of a 21-year-old (I’m not complaining). I told him that I graduated some years ago and have a degree in Bible and theology. Upon hearing this, he was intrigued. He told me that he had an appointment to meet someone named Forrest in a few hours to visit a local evangelical church. I could tell he wanted me to stick around and go with him.
While I’m traveling, my awareness of bad situations is always heightened, as it should be, so admittedly I was a bit wary. I wasn’t too keen on getting into a car with someone I didn’t really know. I wanted to spend more time with Gabriel before agreeing to anything. We ended up walking around the city for several hours. We visited the Archeological Museum, which I wanted to see. Then he showed me some great little spots that I never would’ve found otherwise. A delicious take away food stand. A beautiful park. Some medieval remnants. Eventually, I realized I didn’t have anything to worry about. Moreover, I learned that the church was within walking distance, so there ended up being no strange car or strange people.
Eventually we met up with Forrest to go to church. I genuinely enjoyed the service. It was entirely in Spanish, but I’d say I was able to understand about 75% or so of what was being said. It was such a humbling and powerful experience to be in a worship service in a language that is not my mother tongue. I know that, regardless of the language, God can understand everything. For me, though, it was encouraging to be able to understand as much of what was said as I did.
More than just being encouraging, though, I was very much struck by where I was. It was such a departure from what I had planned. I figured I’d visit the Archeological Museum (which I did), and then maybe I’d go to the beach. I didn’t exactly have big goals for the day. Instead, I ended up meeting an incredibly interesting person, and then he introduced me to several other great people.
After church, Gabriel, Forrest, Leonie (also from the church), and I went to a supermarket and bought sandwich ingredients. We sat in the grass of a local park and broke bread together as the sun went down and the park lights came on. It was such a fitting end to the church service.
A little later that night, Gabriel and I were sitting on a stair in the Plaza de la Virgen. I had this very strong sensation that my meeting him changed my life. I even said as much to him. I can’t even say that I understand all the ways exactly that meeting him changed things, but I just had this feeling that it did. I don’t always have strong feelings like this, so I pay attention when I have such a notion.
There are some days and events of life that change the course of your life, whether good or bad. It’s as if there is a split – before this event and after this event. For some of these times, a look back in time is needed to think and realize the moment when things changed. At other times, it’s obvious in the moment that life will change. Marriage. The birth of a child. The death of someone close. This experience, for me, falls into the latter category. One day, I know I’ll look back at my life and think of how things were before I visited Valencia and how they went afterward.
At this moment, so soon after this encounter, the best I can say is that it taught me how to have sympathy and genuine brotherly love for my fellow man. If we are to love others truly, we have to love even those who, at first glance, are undeserving. There is so much to say about this, but suffice it to say that Gabriel has made choices that put him in the position he’s in. However, that does not mean that he’s beyond deserving compassion. Far from it. And so I’ll say that I’m thankful for the opportunity to share love with this man, this friend, this brother.