The Night God Came to Dinner
Adapted from a story by Rod Ohira
Fritz Vincken owns a bakery just outside of downtown
Honolulu. He dispenses warmth and a smile along with hot buns and
fresh bread to his loyal customers. Fritz has lived in the Hawaiian
islands for many years now, and when he first arrived he was
enchanted by the kindness and goodwill of the Islands' people. When
asked, however, he admits that for him, the ideal of aloha was first
learned long ago - when he was a lad of twelve.
The setting was on the other side of the world from Hawai'i, on
a harsh winter night in the Ardennes Forest near the German-Belgian
border. It was December, and two months had passed since Hubert
Vincken brought his wife and his son Fritz to a small cottage in the
Ardennes Forest for their safety. The family's home and its
eighty-eight-year-old bakery in Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle) had been
destroyed in a bombing raid.
"We were isolated," Fritz recalled. "Every three or four days,
my father would ride out from town on his bicycle to bring us
food. When the snow came, he had to stop." His mother was concerned
that their food was in very short supply, as the war seemed to be
moving closer to their cottage of refuge.
By late December the cottage was no longer out of harm's
way. German troops surprised and overwhelmed the Allies on December
16, turning the Ardennes Forest into a killing field.
On Christmas Eve, Elisabeth and Fritz tried to block out the
distant sound of gunfire as they sat down to their supper of oatmeal
"At that moment, I heard human voices outside, speaking
quietly," Fritz remembered. "Mother blew out the little candle on
the table and we waited in fearful silence.
"There was a knock at the door. Then another. When my mother
opened the door, two men were standing outside. They spoke a strange
language and pointed to a third man sitting in the snow with a bullet
wound in his upper leg. We knew they were American soldiers. They
were cold and weary.
"I was frightened and wondered what in the world my mother would
do. She hesitated for a moment. Then she motioned the soldiers into
the cottage, turned to me and said, 'Get six more potatoes from the shed.'"
Elisabeth and one of the American soldiers were able to converse
in French, and from him they learned news about the German
offensive. The soldier and his comrades had become separated from
their battalion and had wandered for three days in the snowy Ardennes
Forest, hiding from the Germans. Hungry and exhausted, they were so
grateful for this stranger's kindness.
A short time later that evening, four more tired soldiers came
to the cottage. However, these men were German.
"Now I was almost paralyzed with fear," Fritz recalled. "While
I stood and stared in disbelief, my mother took the situation into
her hands. I had always looked up to my mother and was proud to be
her son. But in the moments that followed, she became my hero."
"Frohliche Weihnachten," Elisabeth said to the German soldiers,
wishing them Merry Christmas. She then invited them to dinner.
But before allowing them in, Elisabeth informed them she had
other guests inside that they might not consider as friends.
"She reminded them that it was Christmas Eve," Fritz said, "and
told them sternly there would be no shooting around here." These
soldiers, still mere boys, listened respectfully to this kind and
The German soldiers agreed to store their weapons in the
shed. Elisabeth then quickly went inside to collect the weapons from
the American soldiers and locked them up securely.
"At first, it was very tense," Fritz said.
Two of the German soldiers were about sixteen years old and
another was a medical student who spoke some English. Although there
was little food to offer, Elisabeth knew that everyone must be very
hungry. She sent Fritz outside to fetch the rooster he had captured
several weeks earlier.
"When I returned," Fritz recalled, "the German medical student
was looking after the wounded American, assuring him that the cold
had prevented infection.
"The tension among them gradually disappeared. One of the
Germans offered a loaf of rye bread, and one of the Americans
presented instant coffee to share. By then the men were eager to
eat, and Mother beckoned them to the table. We all were seated as
she said grace.
"'Komm, Herr Jesus,'" she prayed, 'and be our guest.' "There
were tears in her eyes," Fritz said, "and as I looked around the
table, I saw that the battle-weary soldiers were filled with
emotion. Their thoughts seemed to be many, many miles away.
"Now they were boys again, some from America, some from Germany,
all far from home."
Soon after dinner, the soldiers fell asleep in their heavy
coats. The next morning, they exchanged Christmas greetings and
everyone helped make a stretcher for the wounded American.
"The German soldiers then advised the Americans how to find
their unit," Fritz said. "My mother gave the men back their weapons
and said she would pray for their safety. At that moment, she had
become a mother to them all. She asked them to be very careful and
told them, 'I hope someday you will return home safely to where you
belong. May God bless and watch over you.'"
The soldiers shook hands and marched off in opposite
directions. It was the last time Fritz or his mother would ever see
any of them.
Throughout her life, Elisabeth Vincken would often say, "God was
at our table" when she talked of that night in the forest.
Fritz eventually came to live in Hawai'i and continued to carry
this childhood lesson of brotherhood in his heart. He realized that
being kind to one another and seeing beyond differences is a
universal value, but he was surprised to discover that Hawai'i
actually had a word for this ideal - aloha. When he thinks of aloha,
he remembers that night long ago when everyone was welcome at the table.
Reprinted by permission of Rod Ohira (c) 2000 from Chicken Soup from
the Soul of Hawai'i by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Sharon
Linnea and Robin Stephens Rohr.
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