Enrico Dipazzio, an Italian living in Paris, was converted before World War II. He and his wife were active evangelists, operating a store-front mission. Enrico was also a carpenter, and his family lived above the wood shop.
One day Enrico was walking home. As he rounded the corner onto his street, he saw a truck parked outside his carpentry shop. Two men were busy loading Enrico’s lumber onto their truck.
He stopped and prayed, “Lord Jesus, what would you have me do? Should I call the police?”
Enrico knew the Good Shepherd, and he was one of His sheep.
“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” John 10:27
The Lord answered Enrico in his heart, “No, show them you love them.”
So Enrico, with his heart full of the love of God, went to the men and joyfully helped them to load his lumber onto their truck!
When they finished the hard work, Enrico asked the men if they liked wine. Of course they did, so he told them to wait because he knew where to find some really good wine. In a few moments Enrico returned with an expensive bottle from his own collection.
After they finished their refreshment one of the men said, “Man, you’re a good thief!”
“What makes you say I’m a ‘good thief?’” said Enrico.
“Well, because you helped us steal that lumber and you know where to steal the best wine!”
“No, I’m no thief. That was my lumber and that was my wine.”
The two men stared in terror. Who is this guy? Is he insane? Is this a police trap?
Seeing their concern, Enrico said, “Peace. Peace. Don’t be alarmed. I love you guys. I used to be just like you, so selfish. I only thought about myself and my family. I only thought about making money, until one day I heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. I heard about how He died to save me from my selfishness and my sin, how He forgave me. And now He has transformed me and given me His love, and now I love everybody.”
The two men looked dumbfounded.
Producing a card from his shirt pocket, Enrico said, “Fellas, would you do something for me? My wife and I have a meeting at this address every night this week. Would you come and hear about this great love that Jesus has for you and for me? Take my lumber and my wine and may the Lord bless you.”
The two men did come. And they came again and again until they both entered into the Kingdom as born-again children of God. Enrico’s lumber and food was a small price to pay for two souls!
It is interesting to think about Enrico’s prayer and the Lord’s leading. Would it have been wrong to call the police? I don’t think so. Definitely not if the lumber had belonged to Enrico’s neighbor. Perhaps God’s plan to reach those men could have been for them to be in jail for a while and hear the gospel there, which is a pretty common story. If that were to be the case, then Enrico would surely have had that leading from the Lord. But in this case, Enrico had a perfect opportunity to show love to these men by allowing them to take his shirt and give them his coat also (Matthew 5:40). Since it was his lumber to do with whatever he wanted, he was free to “spend” it on the opportunity to make brothers of those men, which is an example of a “good and faithful servant” in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30). Enrico invested what had been entrusted to him directly into the Kingdom.
Enrico is also an example of a man who lives according to the Spirit and has set his mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5b). He is a counter example of one who lives by laws and rights; one who lives by the flesh (Romans 8:5a). Therefore, Enrico’s automatic reaction was not, “Hey! Those guys are stealing my lumber!” He laid down his right to not be robbed. The Holy Spirit knew that his action would be totally unexpected by the thieves and would open their hearts to hear about what kind of God could transform a man like this. Enrico took the risk to trust God and overcame their evil intent with the goodness of the Spirit. Clearly Enrico was a son of God and was being made into the image of Christ. Note that these Kingdom of God actions—to give up his rights and spend his own possessions on an evangelistic opportunity—are not even remotely commanded in the Law of Moses. By laying down his rights, Enrico was serving in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).
Enrico’s story doesn’t end there.
It is now in the midst of World War II. France is now occupied by the Nazi regime, and Enrico heard a knock on his door. He opened it to see a small family of terrified Jews. They had heard that they could probably find help from Enrico Dipazzio. Without hesitation Enrico invited them into his house, where they stayed in safety for nearly two years…
…until somebody told the Nazis.
Enrico was arrested and sent to a concentration camp in Germany, where he spent the remainder of the war. His wife was not arrested and so, after learning where her husband was being held, she would send packages and food to him. These packages were intercepted and opened by the camp commander who helped himself to the gifts.
One evening the commander of the camp was sitting down to a meal when he said to a guard, “Go get Dipazzio.” They brought Enrico in, half dragging his weak, emaciated body, and stood him at attention in the room with the commander. The table was set for two, and Enrico could smell the delicious food.
The commander said, “Herr Dipazzio, your wife sure is a good cook.”
Enrico answered, “That’s right, how did you know?”
“All the time that you have been here in our camp, your wife has been sending meals to you, only I have been eating them. This is your Christmas Eve dinner.”
The commander proceeded to eat the meal in front of Enrico, never offering to share even a crumb. At one point the commander goaded Enrico, “Herr Dipazzio, aren’t you going to get angry?”
Full of the love of God, Enrico joyfully answered, “Because I love you.”
“Why should you love me?”
“Because Jesus first loved me, and gave Himself for me, and so I love everybody.”
“Take him away! He’s a religious fanatic!” the commander shouted to the guard.
At last the war ended and Enrico’s camp was liberated. He made his way back to Paris and was reunited with his wife, who nursed him back to health. He resumed business and prospered greatly.
In time, the Dipazzio’s decided to go back to the beautiful village in Germany where Enrico was imprisoned. Like the one leper who came back to Jesus, they wished to worship God and give thanks for delivering Enrico from his captors and supporting him through the ordeal. When they arrived, they looked up a Protestant pastor with whom to have some fellowship. When they explained why they were in his village, he replied, “Oh! Do you know commander so-and-so? He lives here in the village, right down the street here,” and he pointed it out.
Upon hearing about the commander, Enrico said, “Pastor, would you please excuse us?
They hurried back into the village and bought a large quantity of food, then found a kitchen to use. His wife prepared a huge, delicious meal, loaded it into two baskets, and covered them with cloth.
They carried the food down the street to the commander’s house, and knocked on the door.
The commander opened the door and said, roughly, “What can I do for you?”
“Herr ______, could my wife and I come in a talk to you for a minute.”
“Sure, come in,” said the commander.
Once inside, Enrico said, “Herr ______, do you remember me?”
“No, I’ve never seen you before in my life, why?”
Enrico was probably 60 pounds heavier than the last time they had been together.
“Do you remember your dinner of Christmas Eve 1944, when you said my wife was a marvelous cook?”
Recognition dawned and the commander started in horror. Revenge? What do they have on those baskets?
“What did you come here for?” the commander spluttered.
“Peace. Be at peace. Didn’t I tell you that night that I loved you and that Jesus Christ loved you?”
“Come to think of it, you did,” said the Commander.
“Look, I still love you,” said Enrico, “and I want you to know that I hold no bitterness in my heart toward you. I forgive you for anything you did to me, because Christ first forgave me.”
Enrico removed the cloths from the baskets and said, “You said my wife was a good cook, and here, she has prepared a feast. May we have dinner with you?”
The Commander called to his wife, explained the situation, and asked her to set the table. The two wives got busy preparing the table and soon they were all seated, the humble French Christian contractor and the former Nazi concentration camp commandant.
Then Enrico Dipazzio bowed his head and began to thank the Lord for the food, to bless, and to praise His holy name. Then they began to eat. But they hadn’t been eating very long before this hardened commandant dropped his knife and his fork, which clanged into his dish, and he began to weep and cry.
“Mister, why are you doing this to me?” he sobbed.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:17-21 ESV
Editor’s note: This story was told by the late Harry Conn, who was a prominent Bible teacher, evangelist, and missionary until the 1990’s. Harry was a strong personality, with equally strong and controversial theological views, but he lived and breathed his faith in Jesus. I (Thaine Norris) never heard him teach. Instead, he was a personal friend of my employer. In 1988, 1989, and 1990, Harry Conn would visit and stay with his friend and we would frequently all go out to lunch. So I knew Harry Conn outside the pulpit, as a man, which is why I can say that he lived and breathed his faith in and love for Jesus. While I cannot personally verify the story of Enrico Dipazzio, and I have never found it anywhere else, I believe my friend.
Here is an ancient audio recording of Harry Conn telling the story of Enrico Dipazzio.