For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6 ESV)
I have a notebook computer with wireless. So do many of my colleagues. They are always asking how to connect to the Internet while they are waiting in different airports. When I tell them, “I don’t know,” they look at me perplexed. You see, I don’t use my computer much while I’m in actively traveling.
Sure I use it when I reach my destination, that’s part of my ministry. But along the way, sitting in an airport, waiting at the train station, there are much better things to do. Since I seldom travel in the USA I’m not tempted by obscenely large, tasty, messy, and hot cinnamon rolls as I walk through airports. Train stations tend to be sparse. On many platforms you are fortunate to have a roof over your head while you wait.
What do I do? I watch the people. I’m sure my behavior has provided a wealth of humor and entertainment to others, especially if things are running slow and I’m in a hurry. But that, is another story.
People are why I got into the ministry. You might think, God is why I am in the ministry. Sure, God called me to the ministry but why? Because of people! We missionaries love to spread the Gospel. Give use a ten second break in the conversation and we’ll slip a bit of religion into any conversation. The trick is figuring out what to slip in, when, and how much.
Sometimes the Lord drops a conversation in our lap. I was in the Zurich airport waiting in the check in counter queue (translation: that’s a line to most Americans) when this young lady of Asian heritage stepped up behind me. She asked me a question about how the quick check in computer’s work, and whether she could use it, I said I didn’t know. Never used one. (OK I’m a practical travel application impaired geek!) We chatted a few more minutes discussing why we were in Switzerland. She was a student learning German and I a computer geek helping out a colleague. After discussing who I work for she blurted out that she too was a Christian from California (yes, there are real Christians in California). I was called to the counter and never saw her again. Talking with strangers in an airport can be fun. You learn interesting things.
But sometimes, not talking with people at the airport is just as much fun. My trip began with a flight from Vienna to Geneva. But, as it happens, the flight from Vienna was late for departure. Maybe not late for departure as much as late for arrival since we passengers were waiting for a plane to arrive. My name may be Chick but flapping my arms wildly still doesn’t do much except clear a few seats on either side of where I’m sitting.
So, sitting in the mostly empty waiting room, it was a small plane, I watched the people. Then my imagination began to wonder about them. Where were they from? Where were they headed, beyond Geneva? Was it business or holiday (translation: vacation to most Americans) travel? Or, was there something else hidden about their presence? I wonder. . .
I surveyed the room and started taking notes, discretely on a pad of paper in my lap in plain sight. To the right a row of stainless chairs lined the windows to the road outside. A rather large older man decided thirty minutes’ delay was just sufficient for a nap. He took off his jacket, stretched out on the chairs and quickly filled the room with his raucous snoring. He looked like a small mountain with his white shirted belly rising high above the green metal seats. At least he made me feel better thinking if I took a nap it would only look like a rolling hill and not the Matterhorn. He must be headed home from a busy trip, ready for rest and relaxation.
Two rows away, on my left, I was sitting against a wall, was another middle aged business man making a phone call. I always wondered what is middle age? People talk about fifty being middle age but I don’t know a lot of people who live to be one hundred. He flips out his phone, sits on the edge of his seat and waits for an answer. When it comes we all know. He talks so loud he could eliminate the telephone and still be heard at his destination. Some gobbledygook about a sports meeting and how thankful he is for the person, on the other end of the phone, and their help. I’m not eavesdropping, he’s shouting his conversation to the entire holding pen. Then he asks the real question. Isn’t it amazing how compliments at the beginning of a phone call are a secret code letting you know something more important is coming? He wants to know the money is applied to the right place. Ah, money, the blood which courses through the veins of every business.
I’m distracted from the rest of the conversation when an older Spanish couple steps between me and my view of the telephone shouter. The lady plops down and stands the rolling pack upright. The man shuffles in dragging his left foot. Apparently either age, injury or disease has taken its toll on the man’s physical abilities. She shouts at him to sit here, put his bag there and stop taking so long. It seems his vision is also poor. We all discover this. When he needed the toilet (translation: bathroom to most Americans) she pointed across the hall and sent him off with his shuffle. He turns left, right and can’t find the WC. She sits in her seat and shouts, “not that way! Over there! The big yellow sign! No the other way! Can’t you see the sign! You’re going the wrong way! Can’t you see anything!” and then finally gets up and points him in the right direction with a final comment, “You open your eyes when you want to, why not now?” I wonder how these two keep traveling together. Then, I’m amazed. They are back, sitting, looking at a magazine, and laughing together. Love is blind as they say. He might not find the WC, which he did to all our relief, but he has found his love.
Across the room is a Duty Free Shop. All these years of travel and I’ve never purchased anything from a Duty Free Shop. Of course I never purchase anything of a big value to warrant duty when I land. A young lady sits at the counter, all in red, bored look on her face. She sits, and sits, and sits, and no one even browses the trinkets and travel ware she has to sell. Two hours later she had only one shopper briefly glance at a package of something. At one point she rearranges a display. A little while later she rearranges it again, back the way it was. How does she deal with a such a lack of contact all day? That would drive me crazy.
An Asian couple sit in the corner stone faced and quiet. Finally, he moves and looks through the stamps in his passport. The excitement never ends. As boarding time approaches people get restless and start pacing about the room. That helps . . . I’m sure.
Me, I read my book for a while. It’s a book all about the wonders of living and staying in a small town. I miss the small town where I grew up. It was a place where everybody knew everyone. We went to school together, church together (there were divisions between Baptists, Lutherans, Methodist, Catholics and others, but only on Sunday morning), held parades around the town square, and all frequented the same grocery store, pharmacy, and ice cream shop.
I’ve enjoyed my world travels. The Lord has sent me places I never imagined. Like today, Geneva, Switzerland. The ministry impact is great. I wouldn’t trade it. But, I wonder if the deepest impact is when people minister close to home, person to person, where everyone knows everyone.
Many turn to Christ hearing a message on the radio. But, somehow I feel, those that stick, grow and reproduce believers, are those who learned by watching and living in proximity (a techie word) to faithful believers, when there are faithful believers nearby. For others, it’s more difficult.
Now I’m not saying I’m the best example of faithfulness. I’ve had my bad days, hours, and decades. But I learned. Maybe someone can see what I learned and save themselves the anguish. But then again, we have a tendency to want to make our own mistakes in some Utopian belief we can do it better. NOT!
Let’s become real people, with real problems, and real discussions Let’s NOT hide our need, our faults, in Christianized language, for fear of what other believers might think.
Consider the people I just described. Are they saints or ain’ts? God died for each. Some may know God and some not. But we struggle, saints and ain’ts, through the same life, at the same airports, watched by the same people.