There he was, with a few empty bags in hand and a couple of young people helping him carry the groceries.
As I think back many years ago to my first encounter with Sabbathkeeping Adventists, I remember a very special elderly man.
I was only 19 years old in 1952 when I decided to elude Army service in Yugoslavia and cross the border to Trieste, today’s northeast corner of Italy. At the time, the free zone of Trieste was occupied and ruled by the Allied Military Government. Approximately 10,000 refugees were in Trieste when I arrived there. They were spread throughout five refugee camps. After spending three weeks at the camp at Opicina, some 10 kilometers (six miles) from Trieste, where all the vaccinations and medical checks were done, the refugees were allocated to one of the four other camps. Those who were sick were sent to the camp in Prosecco, which was used as a hospital. Single young men were sent to an abandoned prison in the old section of Gesuiti. The remaining refugees were divided between San Sabba Main and San Sabba Annex in Trieste.
The San Sabba Annex camp, where I was sent, was the best of the camps. The healthy people were sent there. It consisted of 44 barracks where mostly families stayed. I felt, even then, God’s blessing that I had been sent to the San Sabba Annex and not to the Gesuiti prison.
After I learned that it would likely take months or even years to emigrate from Trieste, my main concern was to find employment. Food and bed were free to all, but I didn’t want to be idle. Only a month after settling into the Annex, a vacancy became available in the camp’s kitchen, and I applied for the job. The money wasn’t very good. I was paid only 6,000 lire (US$4.00) a month, along with a few extra clothes. Emigration, however, seemed to happen more quickly for those who showed a willingness to work.
Ten men worked in the kitchen, five per shift. We fed 1,400 people of various nationalities, cultures, and religions. One thing that specifically caught my attention, though, was a group of people living in barrack 43. They were different from the rest. Not only did they meet and sing together on Saturdays—unlike anyone else in the camp—they also cooked their own food in the little kitchen in the middle of the camp. Every morning that I was on duty, my coworker and I would take a container of milk from our main kitchen to the door of that little kitchen. On Fridays it was a bigger container of milk, but on Saturdays we didn’t take anything. I often wondered why those people lived differently from everyone else in the camp. I remember my coworker once saying that “before the last war, [these people] were almost nonexistent, but now they grow like mushrooms on a warm autumn day after a rain.”
The main kitchen was the delivery point for the food. Groceries for the small kitchen were picked up from our storeroom twice a week by an old man and his helpers. What impressed me the most about this man was his gentlemanlike behavior. He would always approach us with a smile on his face, and he was always polite. My coworker, who considered himself as being religious, would verbally assault the old man with phrases that were not very pleasant, even to me at that time. To all this the old man remained calm, and with his replies he showed which of the two men really behaved as a follower of God.
That elderly man truly represented God’s people in a most unusual place and time. I don’t know where that man ended up after he left the refugee camp, but I’m certainly looking forward to the day I will meet him again.
This account, written by my father, Lou V. Marion,* describes his first encounter with an Adventist— an encounter that left an indelible impression on his mind. It was a seed sown by a faithful believer.
From this camp in the mid-1950s my father immigrated to Australia. As a young man he traveled across the country and worked in various jobs until he settled in a town called Geelong, Victoria. He experienced encounters with other Adventists, who watered the seed, and my father was later baptized into the Seddon Seventh-day Adventist Church in Melbourne, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Geelong. This is where he met my mother, Rosa.
My dad faced many challenges during his lifetime, but he remained a faithful servant of God until his death in August 1994.
I look forward to the day—which I believe will be very soon—when I will see both my father and mother again. I also long to meet my precious Savior and heavenly Father face to face in my forever home.
Until then, my prayer is that we all remain faithful and true representatives of our heavenly Father, no matter the circumstances in which we find ourselves.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1, NIV).
*This personal account was lightly edited for clarity.
Following the heightened tensions between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union in the early 1950s, Lou V. Marion, originally from Yugoslavia, lived the rest of his life in Australia. His daughter, Violet Marion, resides in Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia.