While not the direct recipient of the gift, I felt just as blessed to observe this unexpected act of kindness and the resulting delight on the face of the receiver.
Jordan’s best friend from Tianjin was visiting last week, and we took her to the night market to experience some of Lanzhou’s unique culture and Jordan’s favorite hot milk and egg drink there. As the six of us were squeezed onto one side of a long narrow table, sipping our bowls of milk drink and enjoying mutton kebabs, a beggar stepped into the stall.
Our table was arranged such that our backs were toward him, but we could hear him approaching other customers. A woman’s voice called out, “Lao ban!” and again slightly louder to get the boss’ attention, “Lao ban!” I was sure of what was coming next. We had experienced this before with a modern day “rich young ruler.” So I waited for the scene to play out the same way: the beggar sent away and the customers left to eat in peace.
But instead, we heard the woman tell the lao ban to get the beggar something to eat—a bowl of noodles like she and her friends were eating—and to put it on her bill. We could hear the beggar shuffling behind us, with his bags full of plastic bottles, and we watched as he found a seat at the table across from us.
Then we saw his smile—a big grin that spread across his entire face and brought a sparkle to his eyes. He had a place at the table (like Mephibosheth). He had food coming just for him. He wasn’t going to be humiliated and waved away like a pesky insect. He belonged here.
Someone had extended grace to him. Someone he would never pay back. Someone who didn’t expect anything in return. A stranger who after paying the bill was swept into the night market’s sea of people. Never to be seen again.
But the gift remained.
He quickly consumed his steaming bowl of noodles and collected his bags to move on, swallowed up by the crowds. But he still carried his smile. His hunger was satisfied and his heart was blessed.
“I was thinking the same thing," I replied. "You don’t often see a beggar smile.”
I think God was smiling too at this unexpected gift.