Stanley is from Sudan. When he approached us, we told him we didn’t speak Spanish to avoid him. He switched his language to English and said, “Please, I speak English too. I implore you to help me.” We hesitated for a minute, and Alysse handed him a euro.
“Thank you so much,” he said, and he slumped his shoulders and took the euro with appreciation and guilt. I couldn’t help myself, “What’s your name?” I asked. His name is Stanley.
Stanley lives on the streets in Madrid between Gran Via and Tribunal. His parents were murdered and his home destroyed a few years ago by extremists and he escaped to Spain in the hopes of finding a job and making a new life. He told his story with a defeated look in his eyes. Finding a job was more difficult than people thought it was in his country. Madrid is this magical place where money’s easy and opportunity is everywhere, but here is begging.
Alysse smiled and reminded him that God loves him and He hasn’t forgotten about him. She nodded with that standard Alysse encouragement and said with confidence that his life is full of purpose, and good things would come.
And then Stanley changed.
He stood up straighter. His eyes lit up with light, and he pulled off his backpack. “I know this,” he told us opening it and pulling out a bible. “I took this with me from Sudan. My dad was a pastor. They burned down our church and house but I escaped.” He talked for a few minutes, and I felt something I can’t really describe. I want to say guilty, but that’s not the right word. It was much more intense than that. Before coming to Spain, before October, when my boyfriend was cheating on me and work was overwhelming and there were false friends and rumors everywhere and I felt absolutely hopeless. I felt like God was so distant and he had created a world that was so sad and then just left us, but here was Stanley: a man who had lost everything but still carried a bible.
“Is it easy for you to believe in God?” I blurted out and Alysse looked at me. Clearly that’s not the kind of question you’re supposed to ask. I knew it wasn’t too, but I couldn’t help myself. I’m glad I did. Because when I asked him that question, Stanley changed.
He walked over to a tree. “Of course it is,” he said. “Have you ever read Job? Think of a tree. When it’s cut down, it always is reborn. There is hope for a tree. I’m cut down. They cut down my family and my church, but I will be reborn. That is what happens.” He was alive and he was no longer a beggar with sad eyes guilty asking us for euros on the street. He was teaching us, and he knew we needed him. He spoke with knowledge and pride, and I was mesmerized by the way he spoke. He truly believed every word he said. “I take risks because I have to,” he continued. “Taking risks is easy for me because I trust that God has a plan. My situation is no worse than other’s. Just like Job, I also lost everything I had in one day. But I have hope that God will provide in the right moment.”
He was sincere and beautifully eloquent. I was sad to say goodbye. Alysse wanted to say a prayer, so we prayed with him in the street. As she prayed, I tried to hold back my tears. How many things do I take for granted? How often do I blame God instead of trusting him?
Meeting Stanley wasn’t an accident. He was a great reminder for travellers like Alysse and I. Before we met him we were talking about how scared we were to come back, because we didn’t know if we’d find jobs or what we’d do when we returned. Stanley summed it up for us: keep taking risks and trust in God. They go together. Taking risks is easy when you think about it like that.