John M. Buchanan, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago, recently told a story about mysterious hope born of desperate situations.
There was an infantryman in the British army who was captured during World War II and imprisoned in a concentration camp in Poland. The conditions were inhumane: there was no heat, even in the dead of winter; and, daily, each prisoner was given only a crust of bread and single bowl of thin soup. As you can imagine, men were starving, sick, and filthy. The lice on their bodies lived in far better conditions.
The infantryman admitted that suicide was a real and tempting option. If a prisoner ran towards the perimeter of the compound and leaped against the chain link fence, he would be shot immediately. Because of the squalor and depravity, this actually seemed like a merciful act: instant relief, instant end to suffering and pain.
In the middle of the night, this soldier walked to towards the fence and sat down before it, thinking about going through with this desperate plan at the very first light. Then, he heard a sudden, sharp movement in the darkness from the other side, as a figure appeared like a ghost outlined in the pale moonlight against the white snow. It was a Polish farmer, hunched over and withered by time and hardship. His labored breath visible in the cold, the farmer leaned in and thrust a dirty, weather-beaten hand through the tiny gap in the fence. His palm opened, revealing his offering of half of a scrawny potato. As the solider on the other side of the fence was digesting this information, the farmer’s voice reached the prisoner’s ears. In heavily accented English, the old man whispered, “The Body of Christ.” And that prisoner did not commit suicide. Nourished by that communion, he survived the war, went back home and became a pastor.
Suffering is no mystery, at least the dark, cold reality of it. Suffering happens every moment of every day in another seemingly godforsaken places in yet another endless war. And yet, somehow, someway, the light still shines the darkness: a single hand reaches out with a simple gift which utterly and profoundly changes someone’s life. Great is the mystery of God that was revealed in the flesh: great is the mystery contained in weather-worn hands and offered in grubby food.
 John M. Buchanan, “Editor’s Desk” (Christian Century: October 2, 2013)