Bundesarchiv. Bild 146-1985-083-10
Foto: o Ang. l Marz 1938
In November 1979, I entered St. Vincent’s Hospital on 14th Street in Manhattan for my first major knee surgery, the first of what would eventually be a series of nine surgical procedures. I was aware that what was ahead would not be pleasant, but knew it was necessary if I wanted to walk again. I had not been able to walk ever since suffering a serious knee injury in March 1979. Knowing that I would spend over a week in the hospital, I asked the Lord to give me a roommate with whom I could share about Him. God was faithful to answer that prayer, but He did far more than I expected. As Ephesians 3:20 states, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think,…” the Lord had plans for that hospital stay which were far above mine.
In fact, the Lord gave me two roommates. In the bed next to me, there was a young Jewish man about my own age. Two beds away was an elderly Jew who was clearly quite ill. The younger man was facing exactly the same reconstructive knee surgery that I was, but was angry and upset about the suffering he was experiencing. Unfortunately, his reaction to the situation only served to make him more tense, which increased his pain and made the entire process even more miserable than it might have been. I asked the Lord for an opportunity to speak with him about the love and grace of God, and then began to talk with him about prophetic passages from the Psalms, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Unfortunately, the young man did not much appreciate what I was saying, and our conversation served only to make him even more upset.
Nevertheless, when nurses finally wheeled the younger man away for treatment, the elderly Jewish man two beds away spoke up and told me that he had been listening to the entire conversation. His name was Robert Laster, and he was genuinely excited about what I had been saying, so we spoke more about passages in the prophets regarding God’s promises of restoration to Israel. We talked about the miraculous recreation of Israel as a nation in 1948, with Jews once again living in their own land after almost 1900 years of exile. During that conversation, the elderly gentleman began to weep and said to me with remarkable insight as well as sorrow, “We the Jewish people are regathered physically to our land, but we are not yet regathered spiritually to know our God.”
At that point, I read to him Jeremiah 31:31-34,
As we were discussing this and other passages, the elderly man told me that he had been going to synagogue all his life, yet he had never heard these verses read. Other passages surrounding them had been read, but not the parts that we were talking about—so he thanked me for telling him about them.
Mr. Laster then told me that he wanted to relate to me a story from earlier in his life. In March 1938, he had been a leader of the Jewish community of Vienna, Austria. Unknown to him, Adolf Hitler had personally chosen him to be the first Austrian Jew to be arrested after the Anschluss (German annexation of Austria) which was already in the planning. In order to have a pretext for his arrest, the local Gestapo had secretly arranged to have their number two official, a beautiful young blond woman, employed in the Laster family’s home as a nanny. Her job on behalf of the Nazi’s was to seduce Mr. Laster during the night before the Anschluss, so that he could be arrested on morals charges the next morning. After his arrest, the Gestapo planned to proceed with mass arrests of as many of the members of the Jewish community of Vienna as possible.
The young lady did her job, or tried to, but when she made her attempt to seduce my hospital roommate, he rebuked her saying, “I will not do this to my God, and I will not do this to my wife!” He threw her out of his house, and she fled half-dressed back to the offices of the Gestapo. Someone there was so impressed with what he had done that they sent a messenger back to secretly warn him that he had two hours to get his family out of Vienna before the German tanks rolled in. He quickly got his family out of bed, gathered them all into their car, and escaped from the country with little more than the clothes on their backs. Eventually, they made their way to Long Island where he and his family had lived ever since.
As we continued our conversation about the Lord’s promises to Israel, I realized that I needed to read Isaiah 53 to this dear Jewish man. But before I could do so, I began to slip into unconsciousness because of the rapidly increasing pain in my left leg. What I did not know was that the nurses had wrongly marked my medical chart, writing down that they had given me my last pain medication two hours later than they actually had. My doctor had previously warned me that the pain from my surgical procedure was going to be excruciating, that I would have to take pain medications every four hours without fail. Yet nothing I could say would persuade the nurses that they had made an error in the timing of my medication. As I was passing into unconsciousness, my new Jewish friend hobbled over to the side of my bed and began praying quietly for me—thinking that I had already passed out. I still remember hearing him pray, “Lord, why are you allowing this man who is so young and who loves you so much to suffer so greatly?” Encouraged by his prayer, I summoned all the strength I had and prayed in my mind, “Lord, I need to read Isaiah 53 to this dear man!”
Once again, the Lord was faithful to answer prayer. As soon as I had prayed, the pain began to subside and I regained full consciousness. For the next half hour or so, I was entirely free of pain, free for the only period of time that I would ever be without pain during the three year period between my accident in March 1979 and the year 1982 when I began to walk again. I said to Robert Laster that I wanted to read another passage of Scripture to him, Isaiah 53. He asked me to wait a minute while he brought a chair over. Then he positioned himself facing away from me, but with his “good ear” facing directly toward me—because he did not “want to miss a word” of what I was about to read. As I proceeded to read Isaiah 53 through without comment, I could hear him whispering to himself over and over, “It is so clear. It is so clear of whom the prophet was speaking!” Tears were streaming down his face as he realized that Jesus (Yeshua) was indeed the promised Messiah of Israel, the One who will one day again reunite the Jewish people to know their God:
Thereafter, I asked a friend who was visiting me in the hospital to please get me a New International Version Bible so that I could give it to this man. When the Bible arrived, he was so glad to receive it that he told me that he was going to leave it out on his nightstand so that all his Jewish family would realize that he was reading the entire Bible—the Old and New Testaments. Our conversations continued until the day that he left the hospital, but his wife came up to me one day while he was out of the room. I should explain here that Mr. Laster and his wife used to call me “Mr. Weiss” with their Austrian accent, since “Mr. White” was hard for them. She said to me with vigor, “Mr. Weiss, I don’t know what you are doing for my husband, but whatever it is, it has changed his life. He has hope and peace for the first time in a long time, and I am very grateful to you.” Then she stuck her fist into the air and said, “Remember Job! God is going to give you all the promises of Job, and one day you will not only be walking again, but running!” Up until that time, every doctor that I had spoken to except my own wonderful physician, Dr. Dennis Fabian, had expressed doubt that I would ever be walking normally again. Yet I have never forgotten that dear lady’s words.
Months after Robert Laster and I left the hospital, I received a letter from him relating another story. He was in fact keeping his complete Bible out on his nightstand, but one night that Bible had disappeared. Later that evening, his granddaughter Amy noticed a line of light coming out from under the blankets on her brother Matthew’s bed. She crept up quietly to the bed and quickly pulled the blankets back, discovering her brother Matthew there eagerly reading the book of Matthew! Mr. Laster wrote that he was very happy to learn that his grandson was reading the New Testament. But, unfortunately, that was the last letter I ever received from him. He passed away shortly thereafter during the summer of 1980. His wife wrote me a sweet letter about his death, thanking me again for having been a help and encouragement to her beloved husband. Truly, as Proverbs 10:7 states, “The memory of the righteous is blessed, but the name of the wicked will rot.” Robert Laster entered into the eternal peace and joy of His Lord while, in the end, judgment and destruction came upon the Nazis who had plotted to take his life all those years ago.
Copyright ©2014 Christopher N. White.
All Scripture quotations taken from The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, Inc.:
Miami, Florida, 1982.