While waiting for my 9:30 PM red-eye from Anchorage to Minneapolis, I passed a yogurt shop calling my name. While I have decided to temporarily give up dairy, this yogurt shop was sounding like a good decision, especially because I had not had dinner yet. As I stared at the security canyon between me and the yogurt shop, I realized that I would have to exit the terminal and go through TSA security again to get this yogurt. My hope died. At this exact moment a mother and her young daughter were trying to negotiate with the security guard for yogurt without the second security experience. They failed as as I would have failed. I guess it was not to be.
I boarded as early as allowed contrary to my regular habit of waiting until the last minute. I wanted to get settled for the six hour flight of fitful sleeping. I was intrigued to see this same mother and daughter stop at my row and gesture to the two empty seats between me and the window. I didn’t say anything because I thought it would be creepy to lean over and say, “I saw you trying to get yogurt.” However, I did offer to hold the mom’s coffee as all sorts of goodies spilled out of her duffle-sized traveling purse intended for her 8 year old daughter. She was thankful for the use of two hands in settling her daughter. Once I was back to my own devices I focused on the built-in screen for some kind of entertainment before I fell asleep. I noticed the mom struggling with the screen, and she finally gave up and asked me for help. As I showed her how to navigate the entertainment system she began small talk with “where are you going and why.” She had just visited what used to be home in Anchorage and was on her way home to her husband in Vermont.
I explained I had been in Alaska for work and it was my first visit. She immediately wanted to know what I do, and I told her it was kind of a funny job. I never know who I am talking to and how they feel about Christianity so I have an elevator answer which seems easy and pleasant, “I teach Christians how to be nice to non-Christians.” Her laughter came with a snort and apology for laughing at the need for my job and a confession that she was an agnostic. I welcomed her laughter because it eased the awkwardness. She continued with many questions, and while usually I would respond with my own questions, for some reason it made the most sense to share some of the more loving sides of Christianity with this agnostic and fight my training to answer questions with questions.
Somehow I was right. I could see in her eyes and release in tension the appreciation for a Christian who was not trying to change her, convert her, and not offended by her agnostic views. I found her views on life and God fascinating, and I told her so. She had some genuine questions that were the right kinds of questions. I did not offer life answers, only interest in her comments. Within minutes we were both more interested in watching a movie. There was no more conversation for the rest of the night because of our attempts to sleep, and there were a couple of smiles on my side to awake and find her 8 year old daughter’s legs sprawled across the two of us. As we were allowed to exit the plane I wished her well and focused on finding a place to sleep during my four hour layover. I awoke with less than 10 minutes left before boarding, and I began my search for coffee to shake my lack of sleep headache. As I left the coffee shop and stood in the walkway gathering my thoughts, the mom walked by and stood less than 10 feet from me without the daughter. She looked concerned, and I was immediately aware that the daughter might be lost. I was about to offer help when the daughter came out of an arcade which was across from us. I said “hello stranger” and the mom gave me one of the most disgruntled and relieved expressions I have seen in a while. The daughter had wondered off while they were getting breakfast and the mom was on the verge of emergency. While no meaningful conversation happened, I was once again present at an interesting and intense moment of her journey. I again wished her well on her way and proceeded to board.
While some may read my story and think I failed to “evangelize” her, I think I succeeded. I planted a seed of love while respecting her God-given free will. It was one of the rare times in my life that I think I did exactly what God wanted me to. I gave her exposure to a joyful Christian who cared more about loving those around him than changing them. I will not know until I reach heaven if that seed will germinate and grow, and I am ok with that. I preached the gospel and sparingly used words. For once I spoke the truth in love.
Question: Do we realize the power of chance encounters?