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Outlook - December 2005

Singing for survival on Christmas Eve

Michael Polite spent the 2004-2005 school year studying Spanish in Sagunto, Spain. Now back at Union College he is working toward completion of his language arts education degree.

Photo: Courtesty of Colegio Adventista de Sagunto.

by Kate Simmons
        Michael Polite decided when he was a sophomore at Union College that his life was moving too fast to fully experience it. To decelerate, he decided to spend a year studying Spanish at Colegio Adventista de Sagunto in Valencia, Spain. Michael returned to Union this fall with a Spanish degree to add to his language arts education major, a broadened worldview and an uncommon Christmas story.
        On Christmas Eve, while many of his classmates were at home sipping hot chocolate with their families, Michael found himself alone and shivering on the streets of Venice, Italy. His plans to tour Europe over Christmas vacation had stopped short when he missed his flight to London due to a mix up about which airport his airline was departing and spent the last of his money on a 70 euro (about $87) taxi drive to the correct airport—only to realize he had left his passport at the hostel where he’d stayed the previous night.
        The evening was cold and, although Michael had recovered his passport, he still had nowhere to spend the night. The hostel where he’d slept the previous nights had thrown him out because he couldn’t pay and accused him of taking advantage when he asked to use a telephone. He had no cash and no credit cards; even his calling card had run out while he’d been speaking with a pastor who had the telephone number of an Adventist woman who might put him up for the night.
        “I sat in San Marcos Square for about five hours, reading my Bible, claiming promises,” Michael said. “Late in the afternoon the idea came to me that I could sing on the street for money.” The previous year, Michael had been one of two students to create and conduct Union College’s gospel choir, Exalted Praise, and he had performed solo as well. Still he prayed that he wouldn’t become desperate enough to sing for cash.
        After an hour, no other option presented itself. Christmas Eve services were beginning at the Catholic churches in and around San Marcos Square and Michael began to sing in hopes of impressing the passing crowds and earning at least a few euros. But after only a few moments he was informed by a police officer that it was illegal to sing on the street without a permit.
        “By now I was thinking, ‘Lord, what is going on?’” Michael said. Everything that could go wrong had, and now even his last resort was forbidden. He wandered the streets searching for a warm place to sleep. “I finally decided that jail was warmer than being outside.”
        He found a church in San Maria Square, laid down his coat to collect change, and—through chattering teeth—began singing everything from Christmas carols to Disney hits.
        When he began to sing he was hoping for about five euros—enough to buy a calling card and contact the woman whose number the pastor had given him. An hour-and-a-half later when the admiring crowd thinned out and left the street to attend Christmas Eve services, he counted 107 euros—more than $134. “I just sat there in awe of what God had provided,” he said.
        The woman whose number the pastor had supplied turned out to be a mother of two young daughters. Despite his being a stranger, she welcomed Michael into her home for Christmas Eve. “She was so gracious,” he said.
        During the taxi ride to the woman’s house, Michael reflected on all that had happened over the past several hours and what it meant. Despite his plan going awry—and largely because it had gone awry—he had seen God send compassionate strangers to help him in ways even bigger than he had requested.
        “I wouldn’t want to do it again, but I’m glad I had to do it then,” he said. “If I had just stumbled across enough money to buy a phone card before I had to sing for it, I wouldn’t have seen how much more God was planning to provide.”