Mark felt like he had just stepped back in time as he quietly closed the door behind him. the old man slowly raised himself from his chair behind the counter, bowed his head slightly, and said, ' Good morning to you young sir '. ' Morning ', the young man replied as he looked around the large dusty room. Mark had come into the old second hand shop to look for a pair of shoes with very little money, and optimism to match. For some time now a pessimistic attitude had gradually been taking over his naturally pleasant personality. Slowly he scanned the cluttered shop, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. It was getting harder to live on job seekers allowance and at the moment, although he was only seventeen, the prospect of finding work with a decent wage seemed to be as much in another era as did this shop... only in the far distant future. 'I ... er, I'm looking for a pair of shoes, size eight ' Mark said slowly, ' strong leather shoes. ' . The old man came around the counter and limped over to a dark corner of the shop. ' These are size eight ' he said, as he bent down and picked up a pair of dark brown shoes. Blowing the dust from them he held them towards the young man. Mark took the shoes and examined them. They were strong shoes, leather too, and hardly wotn by the look of them. ' How much? ' he asked, as he pulled his old worn trainers from his feet and eased the dark brown shoes on in their place. They were a perfect fit. ' Three pounds ' said the old man, with a tone that said ' No offers '. ' Three pounds ! ' Mark said, rather too loudly. ' I could practically buy a new pair for that ' He was fed up with the old cliche which had now become part of his life as he traipsed around charity shops and second hand shops whenever he needed something, and which rarely got him a reduction in the price anyway. He decided he would slip into silent acceptance in future. ' I'll take them ', he said grudgingly. He slapped three pound coins onto the counter, behind which the old man was now wrapping the shoes in a newspaper, that lay on the counter, while muttering ' I have to make a living you know ', half to himself and half to the boy, adding ' I'm sorry, I don't have a carrier bag '. Mister, I wouldn't mind being in your shoes ' Mark said, as he took the package and walked to the door. As he tugged at the latch he turned to see the old man now bathed in a brilliant shaft of light that was coming through the open door, and saw something in the dark, deep set eyes that made him feel a little uneasy at what he had just said.
That evening Mark was getting ready to go out. It was Friday, the day his mother made his favourite meal, spaghetti bolognaise and although he loved his mother very much, even this weekly event had become a monotonous chore in the light of his poor social life. He hated not having enough money to be able to go out somewhere special with his friends even one night a week. He hated also the fact that his mother had to do a cleaning job every day to make ends meet ever since his father had left her for another woman. How he would love to be earning enough not only to enjoy his own life, but also to enable her to enjoy her life too. ' Why couldn't I have been born rich? ' he sighed as, seated on his bed, he reached down and put on his brown leather shoes .....
Back in the flat above the second hand shop the old man blinked, suddenly startled as he sat in the antique, worn, once beautiful, burgundy velvet chair. What a strange feeling, for a split second he had actually felt as if he had been transported into his past, when he had been a boy of seventeen. The memories came flooding back. He had been sent at the age of eleven to England to live with his mother's cousin, Rosa, in Northants. Things were none too good for Jews in Germany in 1939, and his parents had felt that England would be a safer place for their son, Benji. How he had missed his beautiful homeland, and the family home with its fine furniture and extensive grounds. He'd had a wonderful, happy childhood, wanting for nothing. His father had owned a very grand jewellery shop, catering for Berlin's high society, and his mother had always had servants in the house, enabling her to spend a great deal of time with her son. His parents had intended to follow him to England, but things had happened so quickly after he had arrived at Rosa's. His mother's letters were regular once a week for a time, then they started to arrive every few weeks and he began to sense a fear in the beautifully penned lines, a fear which eventually became a deep anxiety that could not be hidden by her over assurance that everything was alright in their homeland. Eventually the letters had stopped coming altogether. Weeks turned into months, months into years, and a war with Germany raged that was to ensure he was never to see his beloved parents again. He would willingly have sacrificed all of the wealth he had been born into not to have had to bear the extreme heartache and suffering that finally learning at the age of seventeen, that his parents had been sent to the gas chambers, had caused him throughout his life.
' No, no! ' Mark was flung forward from the bed, sobbing uncontrollably. ' Mother!, father! he screamed, the feeling of grief was unbearable. He looked around the unfamiliar room, ' Where was he, this was not aunt Rosa's house, what .... where ... Slowly, comforting reality returned, and Mark realized that the only explanation for what he had just experienced had to be supernatural. He'd felt as if he had actually been another person, Jewish and born in Berlin. He's had a complete memory of a seventeen year old boy living in England, who had just been informed that his parents had been sent to Hitler's gas chambers. He could not believe what had just happened to him. ' Are you alright Mark ', his mother's concerned voice travelled up the stairway from the kitchen, where she had been happily washing spaghetti bolognaise from dinner plates. She always loved Friday nights when she prepared her son's favourite meal. He had missed out on so much during the five years that her husband had been gone. ' I heard you shouting '. ' Uh... yes mum ' he called back to her ' it was nothing, er I just slipped off the bed '. How could he possibly explain to his mother what had just happened. He could not explain it to himself.
Later that evening he and his friends walked along the same old streets that led to the same old cafe that they congregated in with the same old kids in the same old predicament, jobless and with very little cash to spend. Every aspect of life had become monotonous and boring to Mark, he felt there was nothing to look forward to. As they walked they discussed what they would do if they only had money. ' Even if I had a job, I probably wouldn't have enough to buy the things that I want ', one of Mark's friends spat out angrily, ' what they pay in some of the jobs offered wouldn't buy a pair of designer jeans. ' ' You're better off being a criminal these days' added another friend. 'You're right, ' said Mark ' who says crime doesn't pay. I wish right now that I was the most famous thief that ever lived '.
Suddenly Mark found himself spinning backwards in a dark tunnel at tremendous speed, noises, smells filling his ears and nostrils, changing by the second from familiar to unfamiliar,. He had the distinct impression that each change in sound and smell represented an era in time, and that he was being drawn back into those once distant ages. Fear and fascination mingled in his emotions, fear of what was actually happening to him yet fascination at a deep sense of a great power that was totally in control of the situation, and in whose presence he would be completely safe. The spinning gradually ceased and he was aware that, although he was still being drown backwards, the darkness was disappearing and he seemed to be drifting past scenes that changed almost as if he was being shown an incredibly enhanced slide show. There were scenes of beautiful mountains, rivers and tribes of foreign looking men on horseback with spears in their hands, and more scenes of soldiers of different nations and different eras, all bright pictures on a dark background. After a while Mark was suddenly aware of a green glow filling the dark space around him, and of the scenes gradually becoming drawn into this glow, which itself was now before his eyes changing into a scene, a truly breathtaking scene of a magnificent garden of sheer beauty. Mark had never seen colours of this kind before. There were flowers of every sort, exquisitly beautiful, alive and in harmony with everything around them, and animals of every kind that showed no sign of aggression towards one another. What was this strange place where no decay appeared to be present? It was like Mark's own world and yet totally different. Mark felt absolute peace as he watched from his position which seemed to be within the scene and yet outside of it. The feeling of well being in him was immense, and he was aware that it was a feeling he had never experienced before in his life, and was a force that was also reflected in this place before him, and which he had felt in the great power he had known was in control of his strange journey, as if all were connected and from the same origin.
Suddenly the beautiful picture began to crumble before his eyes, reverting back to the green glow, which gradually started changing to pale purple and orange colours mingled with shades of grey. Now Mark saw before him a totally different scene, and was aware that his position had also changed. His body felt completely restricted, and he was elevated. A cool breeze brushed across his face carrying with it a strong, pungent smell. There were sounds also in the air, diverse sounds. He could hear strong sounds, aggressive, cursing and mocking. Gentle sobbing sounds also hung in the air, the two sounds combating one another almost as in a tug of war in which two opposing parties wrestled for victory. Mark turned his throbbing, swollen face to the left as horror slowly became the dominant emotion, eventually struggling with grief at what he saw. He looked upon the most beautiful face he had ever seen, the forehead of which was torn by and encompassing gircle of long, ugly thorns. Mark realized that the amazing beauty was coming from the man's eyes and was not a physical attribute. The deep, dark eyes appeared to reflect a love and compassion beyond comprehension, and something else too was reflected there... It was suffering. Mark had seen a glimmer of this kind of suffering before, it was back in the second hand shop, in the eyes of the old man as the light from the open door had shone on his face. He knew immediately that he was not only witnessing, but experiencing the love of his and all of mankind's creator. It was as if the eyes had the ability to convey to the one gazed upon a love which could never be described with words, but which the one gazed upon had been searching for all his life. He knew that the blood that flowed from the piercings in this man's head, hands and feet was shed for him. He knew that the pain, the cramps, intense thirst and dizziness he was feeling in his body was nothin in comparison to the sufferings that this man who hung beside him had been brought to bear. In that instant, as he looked into those eyes, he knew as surely as the thief whose torment he was now experiencing had, that everything he had ever heard about this man was true. He felt himself being made to say, rather than speaking the words, ' Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom ', knowing at the same time that he was only experiencing a glimpse of what had actually happened that day, that for mim there was no such suffering requred as that thief would have experienced in those times. He was living in a time where there was hope for all mankind, a hope that had been bought by this divine Saviour, which all of manking could now search for and have fulfilled through faith in Him.
The magnitude of this revelation was so intense in Mark that even the dimmed physical pain of the torture of his body had little effect on him, and it had been dimmed. He knew that the physical pain he was experiencing had to be no where near the actual pain of crucifixion.
Once again change began taking place as he felt himself evving out from the twisted flesh. His soul ached both with the loathing and longing as he began slowly to be drawn away from this incredible scen, not wanting to remain in the teffible reality of crucifiction, yet his desire to remain in the compassion, love and total protection of those beautiful eyes causing him to dread his departure. ' Truly, I say to you.... ' The words could be heard plainly by him, even though the scene was fast disappearing. In dense blackness now, he felt himself once again starting to spin, being pulled backwards. ' today you will be with Me in Paradise. ' As if in an echo chamber the words vibrated right through his being, over and over until eventually he felt himself slowly emerging from this strange experience as if coming out of anaesthetic in an operating theatre. ' Whoosh... ' . There was a blast of cold air against his ear drums as reality returned in time for him to hear himself speaking the last word of the sentence about wanting to be the most famous thief that ever lived.
Fully aware of what had happened Mark knew that there was no hope of explaining his experience to his friends. How could he possibly have had that experience when no actual time had passed. Even if he thought they would believe him, there was a strange feeling of reluctance to say anything of his experience to them, almost as if it was too precious to share with anyone. Yet he knew now what it was all about. His amazing spiritual slide show had portrayed images of what mankind had turned into, and it was aggressive and warlike. He had been taken right back to what had been originally intended for man, love and harmony with God, as shown in that beautiful garden. Then he had been shown that he had a choice in this world. There had been two criminals crucified with Christ, but Mark had only been put in the position of the one who trusted, and asked to be brought into God's kingdom. He had been shown which choice to make, and it was the positive one in every circumstance that grew from love, trust and hope, not the negative that sprouted from greed, envy and hatred. His friends' laughter at what he had said filled the air and gave him time to compose himself, and then he was able to withdraw into listening mode as they continued their negative conversations along to the cafe. Something had changed inside Mark, a new, or maybe a reviving of an old, attitude. By the time they got to the cafe he was in a completely different frame of mind. Instead of the usual doom and gloom conversation, new ideas and encouraging thoughts of work prospects caused him to speak positively about his situation, and by the time they left the cafe Mark's candle of encouragement had become a beacon of hope and determination in the little group. They had spent this evening in the cafe discussing, not the situation itself, but what they could do about it, and it had all been dur to one person's unforgettable experience of love and hope.
' Goodnight mum ' Mark shouted as he mounted the stairs to his bedroom. How strange his experience just a few hours ago in this room, when he had been shown that being born rich also had its griefs. The anguish of losing his mother had been so real...... . He had so much to be thankful for. No even with all the diffeculties in his life at the moment, he still would not rather be in anyone else's shoes. As he started to undress, he noticed the newspaper in the little bin in the corner of the room. It was the newspaper that the old man had wrapped his shoes in. Something stood out to him as he focused on it. He went over and picked it out of the bin. ' Wanted, ' He read ' young person to train alongside handyman in care home for the elderly. Good pay and a chance to go further in social services in the future '. Mark decided he would ring the number given the following Monday, and yes, he would accompany his mother to the local Pentecostal church this Sunday. She had gone there for as long as he could remember, and he knew deep down that her faith had helped her through the hard times in her life. He had stopped going with her to the church about two years ago, but he now realized that his attitude to life had changed during those two years. He had allowed weeds of negativity and cynicism to choke optimism and joy in his life. Thengs needed to change. Then he settled down in his bed with a great feeling of well being as he thought about his incredible day.