Frank was a highly qualified accountant. He was on his way to start a new job, in Eastern Europe far from home.
He sat in the corner of the train carriage well out of the way. He was aware that people were looking at him, and sometimes looks developed into uncomfortable stares. It was unusual to see a black African travelling on a train in that country.
Frank settled into the warmth of his corner seat and nodded sleepily as the train clattered along with its steady rhythmic beat.
Suddenly two burly men appeared out of nowhere, grabbed him by his coat and in what seemed like one swift movement pulled him out of his seat, feet not touching the ground, and propelled him to the carriage door. The next thing he was aware of was that he was being hurled out of the moving train, tumbling into the darkness. Like a sack of potatoes he bounced and rolled down the embankment and crumpled at the foot of a fence post, groaning in agony.
He must have passed out and remained unconscious for a long time. Eventually he began to come round. He was in terrible pain.
What had happened to him? Where was he? And what had happened to his legs? They seemed to be there but he couldn’t feel anything! In his befuddled state he couldn’t work things out. He must have blacked out again.
The next thing he knew there was a nurse explaining to him that he was in hospital. She explained that he must have lain unnoticed for some days. The person who found him had brought him to the hospital where it was discovered that both legs were badly broken and that already they were infected, so there was nothing for it but to amputate both just above the knee.
The nurse could give him something for the pain—but no one could give him his legs back. His life had changed for ever. Whatever could he do? How would he get home? Who would look after him? What about his job?
Actually the practicalities worked out well. The host country’s government ensured his travel home and a continuing pension for the rest of his natural life. Back in Africa a small bungalow was provided within a secure compound, and there he lived with his ageing but active mother.
But what did the future hold? He would always be dependent, always more anxious. He had to find other things to do. He had an English Bible, but struggled to understand it. He discovered a correspondence course and was given a tutor based in the UK (the course and tutor came from the Christadelphian Bible Mission, an organisation which preaches the Gospel), and in time he asked if there were Christadelphians in his country. He asked if someone could visit and also he said he wished to be baptised into Jesus Christ. That’s where I came into Frank’s story, as a visiting ‘missionary’.
My companion and I were asked to visit. We actually made up a small troupe as we thought it would be good for Frank to meet a few local Christadelphians. We were admitted to the compound by Frank’s mother, who eyed us up and down most suspiciously—a formidable lady, I thought.
We found Frank sitting in his wheelchair reading a well-thumbed Bible. We talked, and it was apparent that his faith was founded upon an excellent insight into Bible teaching and he was sincere in his desire to be baptised. He wanted to drive forward the events which would result in his baptism.
There was of course a practical difficulty —baptism involves the full immersion of a person in water: how were we to baptise a man who was wheelchair-bound? We had on previous occasions made use of a hotel swimming pool, which was fine for someone who was able bodied.
Discussing with Frank we thought it would be possible with the help of one or two strong brothers in attendance. We agreed to meet the following day at the hotel—Frank would get there by taxi.
Nowhere to be Seen
Frank was to be one of a number to be baptised that day. We planned the service at the hotel, which included the first ‘communion’ (sharing bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus Christ) for the newly baptised members.
The following day we all met at the hotel, but there was no Frank. Whatever had become of him? We proceeded with the service for the others who had come. Frank did not arrive—was it that the taxi had not collected him, was it that he could not face the effort required to get to the hotel, was it that he had changed his mind about being baptised?
We arrived once more at his compound. His mother admitted us—I sensed with more reluctance than previously. We found Frank just as we had before, only this time he was clearly agitated and frustrated.
Very quickly the story was told: his mother, being afraid for his safety, had refused to let him out of the compound, bolting the gates and hiding the key. She was not going to let these new friends drag him into a hotel swimming pool!
But he desperately wanted to be baptised. He suggested that we use his own bath, which he could climb in and out of himself. We had not anticipated that! We and the little group of local members were delighted to be able to assist Frank in his baptism, and a little afterwards we also shared the bread and wine in fellowship in the Lord Jesus Christ. I can still feel the tears of joy shed that day.
The Pearl of Great Price
Frank is a faithful brother and his accountancy qualifications have been helpful to the local brothers and sisters in running the financial affairs of the church.
Frank could have been bitter about the catastrophe which had befallen him. He could have blamed God for allowing such a thing to happen. In the event it became his opportunity to find and grasp the pearl of greatest price, eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.