The first American I ever met was a military man. I’m pretty sure he was in the Air Force, but this is a long time ago, when I was about 7 years old, so I can’t be sure of that.
I lived on a council estate in Canterbury, England. A council estate is government subsidized housing, and to be honest, it was a pretty rough area. Most of the residents were manual laborers and drunkenness and spousal abuse were not uncommon on Friday nights, payday. Probably to most people we would have appeared poor, but I don’t remember feeling poor, probably because everyone around me was in much the same boat.
I do remember that summers seemed endless, and that riding my bike, and roaming across the Old Park could get wearisome by the end of it. Adjacent to our government housing was a military base, and just at the end of our road was the Physical Training Field, which had various obstacles like walls and tunnels that we neighborhood boys played on regularly. Unlike today, this training area was not guarded, and a hole in the fence sufficed for small boys to squeeze through.
At the far end of this field were some nice houses, that I later found out were for visiting military officers from other countries. I had seen this man in his garden a few times, and said hello. I was polite and eager to please, and somehow he seemed to take notice of me, and apparently did not find me to be irritating. After that first hello, we would often greet each other if I was playing on that field.
On this particular day, he called me over to him and said he had something for me. As I walked over, he produced a wonderful styrofoam airplane kit, which when assembled, made a glider about 3 feet long, that could be launched by hand, and would fly an impressive distance. I was astonished. I had done nothing to deserve this wonderful gift. We hardly had a relationship, yet somehow he had been thoughtful enough to get this surprise gift for a poor kid from the local council estate.
I was overjoyed. I thanked him and right then and there assembled the plane and started playing with it.
As I reflect on that encounter, I can’t help but think that this was my first introduction not only to an American, but also to grace. This was a completely underserved, unwarranted gift, given purely out of the delight of sharing what he had.
It’s interesting that it was an American that introduced me to grace, and here I am in America, trying to persuade Americans of the wonderful gift of grace offered by God the Father. And if anyone has a problem with that, all I can say is, “You started it.” 🙂