I Met an Old Man Today

Dispatch Africa 2012:

(read this one slowly, as you breathe; that’s how I took it in)

The deep lines in his thick, broad, tanned face, the sad sagging of his soft gray eyes, and the uneasy shuffle of his pained and lumbering gate belied his exuberance for life, and human intimacy, and Christ.  He had a gentle, almost rhythmic, voice that made you long to lean into his heavy bosom or slip your shoulder under his arm like a hound anxious for affection.  He at once put you at ease and told you of his love for you.  I had just met the man.  His sincerity was intoxicating.  I tried to make him feel comfortable in my presence, which only made me feel impish in his.  He was a man of simplicity and substance.  He talked incessantly throughout our two-hour trek from Gaborone, Botswana, through the border crossing, and down to Mafikeng, South Africa, all the while telling his secret tales with the quiet passion of a mother soothing her child’s wounds.  He was stooped at the shoulders and round at the belly with a large handsome nose and a close-cropped head of disheveled salt-and-pepper locks.  In his earlier days, he might have been Dick Tracy.

Abraham Steinberg, our driver for the day, was born and reared in Lobatse, Botswana.  He is of Jewish and Dutch Reformed decent.  His grandfather had immigrated and settled in south-central Africa.  His mother was a local protestant girl who met a handsome Jewish man and fell in love.  The young couple married, had two daughters, and a son.  Abraham grew up as a farmer with his family and still raises cattle on his 2,500 acre ranch today. He owns a butchery and a rock and gravel quarry.  He is 70.  I asked him how he became a Christian with a name like Abraham Steinberg.  In his thick Afrikaans brogue he chuckled and, rolling his “Rs” said, “I drank my Christianity from my mother’s breasts; I don’t remember ever not loving Christ. I’ve just kept growing in Him.”

Abraham had offered to drive Pat Knowlton, one of our faculty members, and me to a meeting for the Bible Institute when requested to do so by his former pastor, whom he “loved like his own son,” and with whom we were to meet the following day to discuss expansion of the Institute into South Africa.  When asked, Abraham had jumped at the chance to serve and meet new friends.  He gave us a local history lesson as we drove through the hills skirting the edge of the Kalahari desert.  But, he seemed to mostly talk about love.  He thanked us for coming to Botswana and to his people, saying “As long as you come here, all you will find is love; that’s what we are.”  He characterized Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 not as walking through the crowds with His disciples giving out a piece of bread and a piece of fish to this one, a piece of bread and a piece of fish to that one, but as “Here is love, here is grace, and love, and grace, and love, and grace; He just kept giving it until all were satisfied.”

Abraham was as affable a man as I’ve ever met; so tender, and jolly, and certain.  When he made a point, or thought something funny, he’d nudge my arm or knee with the back of his gnarled and bent, sun-scorched fingers.  He confessed small sins to me and winced as he recalled them.  Petty to me, they mocked him in his thoughts.  There was a holiness about the old man that humiliated me and made me wish I’d yielded more to the Spirit in my life.  As we talked, he had to keep snapping his head toward me to read my lips because he was deaf in one ear.  His son was killed three years ago in an automobile accident at age 27. His, son, Abraham, IV, was a rugby player.  Abraham told me that junior “would hold the ball out, challenging the other team, whispering ‘here, try and fetch it.’”  The old man loved his son, and his son loved him. That’s just how it was; more could not be said.  The loss of his son’s life, his companionship, his future, crushed the old man, taking inches off his stout stature and snatching from him something he could not articulate and something about which I feared ever knowing.  But, he pressed on in search of more life to live and more sons to love.  At the end of our journey, I bid the old man farewell, and sought the safety and sanctity of my room at the guest house.  As I sat on the bed sobbing and wrenching and thanking my heavenly Father for the old man’s life, I could not help but envy his son who, though he had lived briefly, was so cherished by an earthly father such as I had never known.  I met an old man today, and I crossed a few borders with him.

Like it? Don’t like it? Leave me a comment!

Abraham driving us across the Botswana-South Africa border. (click to enlarge)
Abraham Steinburg - border crossing 2012

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2 comments on “I Met an Old Man Today

  1. Thanks, Barbara! I enjoyed chatting with you in the lobby the other day. I appreciated your encouraging remarks! I’ll keep posting! Noel

  2. I read about how you spent your birthday. What a marvelous adventure for you to share with all of us.

    I then read “I met an old man.” Your words, your thoughts, your reactions were like a prayer in itself. Thank you for sharing that bit of joy.

    For many years I have entertained myself with a series of books (No.1 Lady’s Detective Agency) that takes place in Botswana. With the landscape and culture already present in the theater of my mind, I was easily drawn in to the setting. Like the Botswana agate, this was a little gem in my day.

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