This week, Debra and I were scheduled to minister at a Pastor’s Retreat in South Dakota. This was our first visit to the area since we moved from the Northwest Territories Region (MT, ND, SD, WY) in 2002. We have been looking forward to seeing the people we worked four years with and also looking forward to meeting the new ministers and companions who have began ministry since we left nine-years ago.
Our flight was to leave on Saturday afternoon with a plane change at Denver, Colorado. Storms had moved through the mid west earlier in the day which wreaked havoc with flights all over, but at check in we were informed that the backlog was clearing up and we would make our flight to Denver with just enough time to spare to get to Rapid City, South Dakota on time.
We had just returned home from Washington, D.C. the day before and were so worn out from the travel. It was a relief that we would make our flight, and to be quite honest with you, I had plans to sleep on the plane.
By the time we got to the gate, I noticed the gate information had changed. So, I checked with the gate agent who informed me that we would miss our connection by an hour, but he was very kind in trying to help reschedule us. As it turned out, we would not go through Denver at all, instead, we were routed through Chicago. Denver or Chicago, my plans to sleep were not changed.
As we boarded the overbooked flight, I was place next to a window and prepared my self to rest for the hour and a half flight. The plane taxied to take-off and I settled in. At about twenty minutes into the flight, I said hello to the gentleman seated to my left and he struck up a conversation.
Now if you didn’t know this, let me share a little factoid about men. Within the first few minutes of meeting, they will ask questions that tell so much. It’s the whole macho thing where we compare ourselves with the other men in the room. The question? Well, I’m glad you asked. He asked, “what kind of work do you do?” Again, your answer determines what this man thinks about you as he compares you on the “importance scale.” I responded, “I am a minister of the Gospel.” He then told me, “I am a restaurateur, with business in multiple states.”
“You’re a preacher?” he asked, and I replied yes sir. I could have predicted his next question, because I’ve heard it so many times. He said, “what kind of a preacher are you?” Well, call it what you want, I have found an answer that determines if a conversation will continue or stop right there. I simply answered, “a pretty good one.” I could tell by his response that the conversation would continue. He said, “that’s a good one!”
For the next two hours, he asked question after question. He wanted to know my feelings on a host of issues…at first political, then social. As we continued to talk, I could tell he had deeper issues in his heart. It was a fascinating trip for me and gave me an opportunity to share the truth of the Gospel with him…the truth that Jesus Christ died for the sins of mankind…He built a bridge between our failure and his forgiveness, from our sin to his sovereignty. That He loves us with an everlasting love that causes Him to continually seek us.
I believe the rerouting of my flight was a Divine action that had the purpose of seating a preacher next to a man filled questions. This thought was strengthened when he told me that some had taken his seat, and because of difficulties with the airline, he was placed next to me. In the final moments of our conversation, I reminded him that in the final analysis, it is a loving God who continues to search for us, and that it is God who sits on the throne of judgment…not me or anyone else in the church. That God loves him so much that He can’t take his off him.
As we landed on the tarmac, he shook my hand and thanked me for talking with him, even though his conversation was sprinkled with profane language and skepticism.
This conversation reminded me once again, that if we sit around waiting for people to come into the sterile environment of our churches, we will be waiting in vain. That if we don’t challenge their world view with love and clear answers, they will continue to turn away. That their questions are valid and they are important. That they deserve someone to care enough to be honest with them about sin and salvation, about heaven and hell, and that God has hope for their life.