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Our Irish friends: A dead battery; A lively family

From left to right: Olivia, Lucas, Cassandra, Rebecca, Franciska (mom), Noah, Isabella, Kevin (dad) & Victoria.

 This is going to be a bit of an unusual post here on our One Way Street Production blog… The family above, with seven beautiful children, and two really wonderful parents, is from Ireland. They spent two nights in our modest 2-bedroom home this past week. This was purely by chance. Not planned in any way (planned by God, sure, but not us). We thank the Lord for this great opportunity, and this is a brief account of how it came to happen.

Here are the kids playing with our son, Phoenix. He really loved playing with them, and he gave them lots of smiles to make everyone feel welcome.

I (Michel) was driving home from Washington, D.C., on Tuesday when I first met the Griffiths. I had gone out to D.C. to cover the National Memorial Day Parade through photographs, print story and video with a team of public affairs Soldiers.

I was just five minutes from home where suddenly the traffic became very congested, much more than usual for that particular spot. As I got onto the ramp to the North Side, I saw a large white van pulled off to the side of the road full of children. A man and a woman were trying to flag down traffic, and I realized they needed some help.

I watched a few drivers pull down their window, ask what was going on, and then drive on past them. I was in the far lane from them, just at that breaking point where I could have kept going and be on my way and leave this family behind, but something moved in me.

“Do you guys need any help?”

“We just need a jump. Battery is dead,” the man said, with a British accent.

“Do you have any cables?” I asked. He held them up for me to see.

It took a bit of maneuvering to turn my car around in that spot, but eventually I brought my front bumper with their van.

“How many children do you have?”

Seven. They had seven beautiful children, and they were stranded on the side of the road. Immediately, I wanted to help them.

I asked him what happened, and Kevin, the father, said they were driving fine when suddenly the battery died on them.

If that was the case, their alternator might have went. And if that wa true, giving their battery a jump might not do them any good. It would die again as soon as we charged up the battery.

Isabella, 2.

But we gave it a try anyway. We hooked up the cables, I started my car, and theirs started right up. We left the cars hooked up for a while longer, and I asked Kevin where he was from.

“Are you British?” I asked.

“I’m from Wales,” he said. “But we live in Ireland.”

“What are you doing in Pittsburgh?”

“We’ve been driving around Central America for the last year, and Cassie, right here…” he put his hands on the shoulders of one of his little girls, “is a Pirates fan. So we drove all the way out here to watch the game.”

I was astounded by the story. In fact, I was in disbelief. This all sounded so crazy and weird. An Irish family travelling around Mexico and Belize for a year and coming to Pittsburgh to watch one of the worst baseball teams in the MLB. I thought for sure he was trying to pull one over me. But then I looked down into Cassie’s eyes and she just gave me a simple, honest nod.

There was no lie in that look. No deceipt.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the Pirates might not win, and that this long drive might end in disappointment. My heart melted looking at her.

Cassandra, 6, is the reason the whole family drove to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates game.

Cassandra, 6, is the reason the whole family drove to Pittsburgh to watch the Pirates game.

“Do you guys have a place to stay or wait for your van to get fixed?” I asked.

Kevin said they didn’t, so I asked if they might want to come over our house for a little while until they could figure out what to do. I lived just up the street from where they had broken down. He said that would be “Brilliant.”

I told him I had to check with Heather first. I couldn’t just show up at the house with nine strangers in a van.

So I called her on the phone, told her what happened, and there was a pause. My heart dropped for a moment anticipating her telling me that this was not a good idea. That this was crazy and to just let them go on their way.

But that wasn’t the case.

She was hesitant, but she said to bring them over.

“They can stay on our porch,” I told her, fearing that having that many people in our small home might make her feel overwhelmed.

“No, that’s silly,” she said. “We can host them in our living room and bring up some of the chairs.”

So it was settled. They would be our guests for a little while.

But now was the moment of truth. We would have to unhook the battery cables and see if their van would still run. If the van died again, I already pictured myself shuttling their family one or two at a time from that spot to our house in my Honda Civic (the whole car was still full of bags from my D.C. trip).

We unhooked the jumper cables and…

Franciska with some of the kids.

The engine kept running!

Now I was afraid the van might die on our short drive to my house. We managed to turn my car around and they followed me home. I kept watching them in the rear-view mirror just to make sure they were okay.

Our home is located in the valley of Spring Garden (between Spring Hill and Troy Hill). Not the best of neighborhoods, with many, many run-down and abandoned homes along the way. I felt a little ashamed that I couldn’t offer them a better place to host them, but I let that thought pass.

We invited them in. A few of the children were afraid of dogs, so we separated Floyd and Blake until they eventually became a little more comfortable with those two furballs.

We chatted for a while and Kevin shared their story. He’s a manager for a public radio station in Ireland, and became burnt out with all the work that he was on the verge of leaving his job, but instead the station graciously offered him a Sabbatical. Take a year off and come back. He was ecstatic at the opportunity, and after some consideration with his wife, they decided to plan a year-long trip to Central America. With a  budget of 50 dollars a day and seven children they had made many sacrifices over the year, from how much food to eat to what entertaiment they could afford. They started out with 10 sets of clothes per person, and finished with three sets each.

They documented much of their trip on their blog, Crazy Family Family Gap Year. In parts of Europe, a Gap Year is the time of travel that students take after graduating High School before going to college.

All of the children were very timid and well behaved. I offered them some water, and they were so polite that they kept saying they could share a cup of water between the seven of them. I poured them each a cup, but they insisted they would share. It wasn’t unless I handed each of them a cup of water or juice that they would feel okay accepting it. This truly humbled us.

Here I was, thinking our house was too small and our neighborhood was too run down, or afraid that I didn’t have much to offer in our refrigerator, but they were content with a few cups of water.

Olivia, 6.

It was too late to try and find a garage shop to take a look at their van, so we invited them to stay for dinner. We made a large bowl of maccaroni with shredded, melted cheese, plus some chicken, hot dogs and burgers. When the food was ready, I turned off the television (all the kids were so mesmerized by it), and we prayed. I thanked God for the opportunity to give this family hospitality and for their safety.

They all ate calmly and quietly but with an appetite.

As we ate, I talked more with Kevin and asked what they intended to do for the night.

“We were going to pitch some tents, but it’s supposed to storm tonight. So maybe we’ll just sleep in our van.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard that right. “In your van?”

“Sure. We have a nice little system for everyone. We set up a small bed in the back. Then some of the kids stretch out on the seats. Some on the floor. I get the steering wheel and Franciska has the front passenger seat. It’s really not too bad.”

He said this without much ado. So casually, as though it was the most ordinary thing.

After discussing it with Heather, we decided we couldn’t let that be. I showed Kevin our third floor (or second floor, according to European definition). We didn’t have much. Just a single twin bed and a crib. But with some blankets there might be enough room for everyone on the floor. He accepted, and he seemed rather grateful.

He said it was “Brilliant!” It was an expression I really loved hearing him say.

Lucas, 11.

Originally we thought we would let them stay just one night. But the Pirates game wasn’t until the next evening, and we realized they would have no place to sleep again, so we asked them to be with us an additional night.

The first morning with us, we prepared them a breakfast of turkey bacon, eggs and Nutella sandwhiches. They seemed to love it. They finished the whole jar of Nutella, which made me happy to see because it was a small luxury they could enjoy.

Before I left for work, we checked Kevin’s van to make sure it would start up again, and I made an arrangement for him to go see a mechanic down the street from us. When he took the van to the garage, the mechanic said there was nothing wrong with the battery or the alternator. They seemed fine. There was no reason for why his battery should have failed while driving where it did.

I personally didn’t make much of that, since stranger things have happened, but I later joked with Kevin that maybe God really wanted his family to stay with us that night.

Noah, 4, takes a peek back on our walk to PNC Park.

When I returned home from work, I bought a few extra large pizzas and some breadsticks. Then we drove and showed the family a place where they could leave the van and walk to PNC Park without having to pay for parking.

We took a stroll along the North Shore and finally left them to enjoy the game. I stayed up late editing photos from a recent weddings until they returned.

They returned much past my typical bedtime (I’m usually in bed by 9 or 10 p.m. since being a daddy), but I stayed up even later until 1:30 a.m.  talking with Kevin.

We discussed politcs and religion, two topics where we disagreed on much. But it was a very respectful and open conversation. We were both honest with one another and we didn’t censor either our own beliefs or those of the other.

He said he didn’t believe in God, but he believed in the way of Jesus. To him, Jesus was a man with very valuable and respectable teachings. I responded (in the words of C.S. Lewis) that Jesus could be only be one of three things: Either Jesus was a crazy lunatic for believing he was God, or he was the greatest liar and deceiver that ever lived (therefore, not a very good man worth following), or He truly was who He claimed to be. Afterall, Christ was crucified because He claimed to be God.

My intent was not to convince him or convert him. I simply wanted to share a genuine conviction in my Faith. To be an honorable witness of God. I wanted us to have an open discussion in which we could express our disagreements in an adult and honest manner. Which is exactly what we were doing.

I asked him why he didn’t believe in God, and he said that because of his stance of Science and Reason, he could not believe in God. I told him that I disagreed in the idea that science and reason opposing God’s existence. It is BECAUSE of reason (not inspite of it) that I believe in God (A good book to read on this is “A Reason for God” by Timothy Keller or even the famous “The Case for a Creator” by Lee Strobel).

I told him that there was no “reason” for me to stop and help them with their van other than for my core conviction in God and His call to help one another. Therefore, though reason and science are fundamentally important in our lives and our understanding of the world, there are things that stand beyond logical reason: such as loving charity.

A great verse on this is 1 Peter 4:9-11 —  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

He admitted that the fact his battery died without any logical explanation did make him consider God’s existence for a moment. I found that comment interesting, but I didn’t pry it further.

Kevin and some of the kids enjoying the TV on our couch.

We ended our conversation rather amicably. It was such an honor, I told him, being able to host his family in our home. Such a humbling experience. Just a month ago, Heather and I were considering selling our house and buying a bigger one because this one was much too small now that we had Phoenix and our photo business was growing.

But this house was a mansion compared to sleeping several nights in a van. Always either too hot or too cold. Always cramped and with few amenities and no privacy.
I won’t say that we came away from our late-night conversation as changed men. I still believe in God, and I assume Kevin still doesn’t. And I still believe I’m right, as I’m sure he does too.
But we did come away from here having made new friends. Heather and I have already made plans for a trip to Italy next March, and Kevin and Franciska said they might organize to meet us there. That would be fantastic. Or better yet, that might be “Brilliant!”
This was the last morning with Phoenix and the kids together. Phoenix, too, was very sad that they have to go.

When I finally said mylast good-byes and left for work on my last morning with them, I cried in the car. Already, I miss this family so much. They’ve shown us a glimpse of gratitude that we often forget (or even resent) in America. Often times, those who have little are the ones who share the most. I saw much of that in Iraq when I deployed. And I say it with a strong sense of surety now, even as a politically conservative man.

We received both words of caution and words of encouragement from friends when we told them we were hosting nine strangers in our home. I think it’s easy to mistrust strangers and people in need. There’s good reason to mistrust them. I could easily detail a good number of stories in which I was taken advantage by people I thought were in need.

It is a shame that those things happen. But Heather and I were so incredibly grateful at the opportunity to meet this family. We felt like we were reconnecting with friends we had known all of our life. I finally, just now, was able to memorize and remember all of the children’s names. And we hope to meet them again soon and to stay in touch with all of them. Praise God for his Love, Grace and Kindness, and for giving us the opportunity to share what little we have with a family that had even less in a moment of need.

The whole family in front of PNC Park before the baseball game. I’m not sure what was a bigger miracle: the way that we got to meet this family, or the fact that the Pirates actually won a game this night. (They won 2-1 against the Cincinnati Reds)

3 responses

  1. Hey everyone,

    I wanted to add a note in reference to the Scripture passage quoted above from 1 Peter 4. I think it’s very important to always use Scripture accurately and in the proper context.

    I realize that 1 Peter was originally a letter written specifically to Christians. In other words, when Peter said to be “Hospitable to one another” he meant that we should be hospitable to other believing Christians. However, I do still believe that the idea of hospitality, charity, service and preaching (speaking the word of God), applies to our relationship with everyone.

    This is evidenced by other passages in the Bible such as Hebrews 13:2 (hospitality toward strangers), the story of the good Samaritan (from Luke 10), and our call to preaching the Gospel to all of creation (Mark 16:15).

    My apologies for using a passage in the Bible in a context not precisely intended in the original letter.

    June 1, 2012 at 6:59 PM

  2. Quite succinctly, you make me want to be a better Christian. Thank you.

    June 1, 2012 at 8:14 PM

  3. Thanks Mike. To be quite honest, Heather and I wish to be better Christians, too. Both in action and in reflection upon God’s goodness. A difficult and mighty task. A task we will never achieve perfectly, and for that reason is why Christ came and died for sinners.

    June 1, 2012 at 8:48 PM

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