Three years ago, my in-laws visited us in Germany; the location of our current military duty assignment. One day, I came home from work, said my hellos, entered the kitchen, and swung open the tiny door of our compact European refrigerator. My eyes locked on to something peculiar on one of the glass shelves. It was thinly rolled in butcher paper and about the size of a stick of butter. We NEVER got food from the deli section. I curiously unrolled it hoping the contents would satisfy my hunger; obviously I did not possess enough discipline to wait for dinner. It was a block of cheese. I asked to nobody in general, “What kind of cheese is this?” “American Cheese,” voiced my father-in-law from the living room couch.
That confused me. Here we were in Germany where delicious fromage from popular European countries are readily available for purchase. My mother-in-law answered, “He always likes having American Cheese in the refrigerator.” A moment later I asked, “What do you like about American Cheese?” He said, “It’s so creamy.” I found myself still curious and sliced off a 1/4 inch thick piece and bit into it, intentionally thinking about the texture. It was creamy, but I still did not understand the importance. I pressed further.
My father-in-law was 10 years old at the start of the Korean War. He, his four siblings, and his parents faced real food scarcity living in Korea at that moment in history. He remembers a military Service Member (I imagined a wary young man dressed in battle uniform, helmet cocked to the side with the strap unclasped and dangling) reach into his rucksack and pull out something small and place it into the boy’s small hand. In wonder, the boy hastily unwraps it and stares wide-eyed at a ration of American Cheese.
The United States commemorates Memorial Day as a way for us to intentionally pause and remember the men and women who died while serving in the military. Visualize the countless white crosses and stars of David forming crisp rows and columns at American Military Cemeteries located near historic battlefields (e.g. Normandy, France). Memorial Day is a somber occasion.
Memorials and not just Memorial Day, are effective when they re-awaken the essence of an event. Memorials are a Jewish custom and they are not always about death. God knew it was good for people to commemorate events: there were stones on the Priest’s ephod to remember the sons of Israel (Ex 28:12), Moses scribed God’s promise in a book to wipe out the memory of Amalek (Ex 17:14), and Jacob used stones to make pillars. One pillar served as boundary between him and Laban (Gen 31:45). Another time, stones memorialized where God spoke with him in Bethel (Gen 35:13-15). Samuel also used a stone to remember the Lord’s help against the Philistines (1 Sam 7:12).
Seven decades ago, it is quite possible the military member thought nothing of the block of processed cheese he handed to a skinny boy. However, the power of his generosity lives on in my father-in-law as a memorial. He was hungry and it brought temporary relief. He remembers it to this day and always has some in his refrigerator which brings continuous relief. Further, could it be that this act of generosity incrementally added to the reasons which helped my father-in-law decide to emigrate to America, where he met his wife, and eventually had a daughter whom I would later marry? Is it too much of a stretch for me to thank God for the Service Member’s generosity? The acts behind the memorials may have immeasurable ripples which we may never know.
On Memorial Day, perhaps you know someone who died while in military service. You might lift up a specific prayer for that individual. Or you may send up a general prayer for God’s blessings on the unknown men and women who died while in service to the nation. Take the opportunity. Do you have a memorial for what God did for you? Like my father-in-law, we also use food to remember. We break bread and drink wine to remember Jesus’s death on the Cross in our spiritual battle. In fact, Jesus told us to do it, “Do this in remembrance of me” (I Cor 11:24).
Let us serve the Lord well which includes showing hospitality to strangers for some have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb 13:2).
Written and submitted by COS military member Dr. Abraham Suhr, MD MBA MHA, Colonel, US Army.