Let's call this guy "J" and his daughter "Bella"....
These are not their real faces and names. I can either tell you their names or their stories but not both in order to ensure his safety.
On Monday, May 28th...Memorial Day, I boarded a flight at 6:30 am from Syracuse to Atlanta, had a layover in Atlanta that was delayed 1hour because of a brief equipment failure and repair, and then flew from Atlanta to Raleigh-Durham Airport.
Now I have had strange things happen on flights before and even shared multiple legs with the same passengers in different parts of the same planes. BUT this is the only time I've been moved by how clearly God wanted me to talk to another passenger!?!
See I spoke Sunday at Faith Fellowship in NY about risking relationships and letting God reach others thru your story. Then on the first leg of my flight Monday this guy with a high and tight fade, obviously military, is seated next to me. I was so overwhelmed that I had to turn my face towards the window where I was seated to cry. I was overcome by some letters and cards from the Bartholomew family with whom I had just spent 5 wonderful days. The guy ignored me or graciously pretended to and slept for most of the flight with his sunglasses over his eyes. A few times near the end of that flight I felt a little guilty for not making any attempt at connecting.
We landed in Atlanta, found our new gate and passed each other several times, which only made me feel guilty that God had allowed me an hour and a half to reach into this guy's world and I had wasted it.
I was thinking about that as I boarded the plane after assigning my own seat just minutes before boarding using an app on my iPhone. I chose the exit row for the 2nd flight in a row because everyone avoids choosing them beforehand. They cost from $19.99-39.99 extra unless it's the only open seat. My gain : )
I arrived first and the plane was almost full when I see "J" walking down the aisle. He found his seat and put his bag in the seat next to mine! I was so dumbfounded he actually realized something was up...by the look on my face.
"Were you just on the flight from Syracuse?" he asked. "Yes," I mumbled, still gaining my composure.
"Did we sit next to each other?" he continued. "Yep, same seats, exit rows, same plane, both times." I managed to add.
We both sort of laughed and had to process that. I think honestly that I would have still wasted the opportunity if the Captain hadn't announced after about 20 minutes that we had an electronics issue that was non-threatening but would require servicing and a delay.
I thought "alright God I can take this 3rd hint. So here goes."
I began asking him if he was in the military and found out he is a company commander at Fort Bragg. His company heads to Afghanistan and breaks into smaller units all over the world very soon. He has a wife and a 3 year old daughter "Bella" who he clearly loves. He was late 20s and articulate. His work was in IT systems and he had served a previous tour in Iraq. He was unsure whether he'd reenlist after this his 2nd tour and what he would do after in the real world. I asked one of my favorite questons " If money were no object what would you choose to do that you love" and he answered "work on a fishing boat"...(like on the reality TV shows about fishermen...the dangerous ones : ) !
None of that astounded me. Somehow as he asked reciprocal questions he asked if I was nervous and clearly was either unchurched or a nonbeliever by the awkwardness of his reactions to why I was in NY (to sing, preach, and share about France church-planting.)
I processed our conversation which had been full of superficial details and worked up the courage, trusting our banter so far, to ask..."aside from safety what is your number one prayer request?"
He allowed me to probe and flesh out his answer which was..."for peace."
Because of my vulnerability earlier and maybe he had noticed my emotional struggle on the first plane...
and because the Holy Spirit was working...He shared that he had battled with anxiety the first time ever that year. Having a family and higher stakes for him and his men had led to some therapy and counseling earlier in the year. This guy was tough but he resolutely said it was the toughest thing he'd ever been thru...including his training! He said he had a whole new perspective on those who return and experience PTSD etc or in general experience anxiety. His face told a story of weathering storms too big for himself.
I was shocked at his candor and told him I would pray for him DAILY by name for the rest of the year, and for his men, his wife and his daughter "Bella." I also took a risk that he might someday have other prayer requests or questions, so I gave him my card. It has every way you can contact me imaginable.
He looked shocked for a moment and grateful and perhaps moved.
Now I believe you have to discern when to share Christ and he wasn't ready. But he was closer now than before our encounter. We chatted thru the delay but when we prepared to takeoff he clearly ended the conversation and began contacting people at the base and at home to reassure them he was on the way.
He did allow me to be a little corny by sincerely thanking him and his company for their service because many don't understand that signing up is an implicit admission that if need be you are willing to die for this country. That moves and wrecks me everytime and I never take it lightly. He seemed to take it seriously and thanked me humbly and intently nodding his agreement.
I have never experienced such a vulnerable conversation with a perfect stranger so far from God but so clearly open to share what would for some seem embarrassing. I have been praying for him as promised first thing every day. Today I felt led to share his story and to give it it's own space and telling away from my newsletter. It's that important.
My prayer is that God would use you and me to reach people far from Him not just to connect like this but to lead them to Himself. Will you pray with me that "J" would be able to feel our prayers for him and God drawing Him in, to Himself?
My selfish prayer is also that we would either meet again or that he would use my card to contact me one day to announce he has become a brother in Christ!
So let it be written; so let it be done.