I want to share a story about a young Christian in Poland, Walenty Dawidow. An illustration of selfless generosity, it is written by his son, Mike Dawidow, as related by his father.
In the early 50s, during the Stalinist terror, Daddy was arrested and confined in the old SS/Gestapo prison in Gdansk’s Old Town. He found himself in a cramped cell with 29 other men, all political prisoners.
After the shock of arrest wore off, they began making each other’s acquaintance and one man, a medical doctor — a nephrologist from Warsaw — emerged as the group leader.
`“We are not criminals,” he said; “rather, each of us is an expert in one discipline or another. No use squandering our time here. Let’s organize some lectures and each man will teach about his area of expertise.”
This was all well and good — one man was a historian, another a civil engineer, another a lawyer — until my father said that he was a theologian. (Shortly before his arrest, he had graduated from the University of Warsaw with a master’s degree in Theology.)
Well, they were not sure they wanted to hear about religion from this preacher — certainly not the religion he represented — but the lectures began. And they did keep the men’s minds off their terrible conditions, especially the hunger.
Their bread was literally crawling with worms. Some picked them out and others claimed the worms should be eaten since they provided extra sustenance. Soup was a wretched concoction of sour cabbage and rotten codfish. Daddy absolutely could not stomach it, but the doctor advised that he needed the nourishment and taught him to hold his nose while swallowing so he would not taste the vile brew. He was able to drink the (artificial) coffee: though bitter, it was usually hot. After a few weeks all were wasting away from hunger.
During this time the interrogations had begun and one day Daddy was called in for several grilling hours with an NKVD officer. Of course, the questions concerned the Bible, the church, faith and Christian practices. Whether the man was touched with compassion by Daddy’s convictions or maliciously wanted to tempt him is not known, but at the end of the session he opened a desk drawer and took out six open-face sandwiches on beautiful fresh dark bread and told Daddy they were his to take back to the cell with him.
So, what do you think he did? What would you have done?
He went back to the cell, spread the sandwiches out on a stool and while all the men gathered around in astonishment waiting for him to devour his private bounty, he divided each sandwich into five morsels and announced, “Before we eat, every man on his knees to thank God for this food!” Twenty-nine plus one sets of knees hit the cell floor — even those of the most cynical atheist in the group, who broke down in tears.
And Daddy prayed. And then he shared his sandwiches, all six of them, with the men who did not want to know about Jesus, those who had ridiculed “religion” and were not interested in “theology” or the Bible. And the preacher’s portion was neither greater nor smaller than that of his cellmates.
And after that they listened. They listened for hours and for days as he told them the greatest story ever told. They listened because they had first seen his faith in action.
“Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”
Mike Dawidow, who died in Poland a few years ago, served for a long time as a missionary in Poland with his wife, Molly.