In the course of the last month, I’ve made two trips to Los Angeles for work meetings. I typically fly with Frontier (yeah, the aircraft with animals on the tails!), so that almost always means a layover in Denver. So, essentially, I’ve had 8 different flights in the last 4 weeks.
A little while ago i said a prayer, asking the Lord to put anyone in my path that he would want me to encourage or be encouraged by. What an excellent opportunity to have a captive audience and to meet new people!
I thought I’d take a few minutes to fill you in on some of the people I’ve encountered during my travels!
Eardly, Eardly Jr., and Anthony
Last month during my first trip to L.A., I was sitting in the Chicago airport, waiting for my flight out, which had been delayed by quite a bit. So, as I was sitting there listening to some tunes, this friendly black guy, Eardly, sat down a couple seats away from me. I saw that he had a Chicago Bears coat on – an easy conversation starter! We started chatting about where he was from (Chicago, originally), where he was going (home to Los Angeles), what he did for a living (night stocker at a grocery store), about football and sports in general. Then his young son, Eardly Junior, showed up and sat between me and his dad. I didn’t want him to feel left out, so I asked him some questions, like what grade he was in (8th), his favorite subject in school (lunch), what he wanted to do when he finished school (be a hip-hop musician), etc.
The conversation went on for quite a while. As it went on, I gathered through subtle messages that Eardly was slightly mentally handicapped, and that his son really didn’t connect with his dad at all. There would be moments when the dad would ask the son a question, and the young Eardly would get really frustrated with his dad, mumble something, then start talking to me. I knew that I had a sensitive situation on my hands. I definitely didn’t want to make an obvious divide between father and son any worse than it was. So, I did my best to answer the plethora of life questions from the son, keep a dialogue going between me and the dad, and, when possible, let junior know that, even if it doesn’t seem like it, parents know a lot about life and really do care about their kids. I believe the Lord gave me words to say here, because Eardly Jr. seemed to respect me for my answers about life and parents, and Eardly Sr.’s tension seemed to drastically decrease when he heard me acknowledging to his son that he truly seems to love his kid.
This conversation went on for quite a while, until we got the announcement that we’d be able to finally board in 10 or so minutes. Right before boarding, Eardly’s brother, Anthony showed up. I could clearly see immediately that Anthony, dressed in business casual attire and a long, black dress coat , was the big brother-type who watched out for Eardly and his son, taking care of all the travel details for them. Anthony and I introduced ourselves, and his tired but warm smile put me at ease with him. I found out that Anthony’s and Eardly’s grandmother had passed away, and they had flown to Chicago for the funeral services.
When we stopped over in Denver, we had missed our original flight, so we had another wait of about 2 hours before continuing on to Los Angeles. So, the four of us had dinner together at Quizno’s in the airport. Afterwards, not wanting to wear out my welcome and to give the three any family time they needed together, I excused myself and planted myself near our departing gate. Just a few minutes later, Eardly Jr. came up to me and sat down next to me. I was playing pinball on my laptop, and he intently watched as I played. After my game was done, I offered a go at it to my young friend. He said, “I was hoping you’d say that!” So, I tutored him on the finer details of pinball, and watched him play. The Lord, I think, built a bridge between Eardly Jr and me, because the level of trust was pretty high. I know most 8th graders don’t like talking about girlfriends with anyone except for maybe their peers. I know a lot of 8th graders don’t like talking about family issues with people. I also know that most 8th graders don’t like talking about God with people.
However, we had a connection going. I could tell there was a bit of respect going on when he looked at my earring and said, “Ya know, you look tight. Real tight, with that earring and everything. You’re a pretty great guy.” While taking turns with pinball, Eardly Jr went on to ask me advice on his relationship with his girlfriend. He also told me how his mom was in jail because of drugs, and that his dad was wanted in Las Vegas. When I mentioned that God was in control of the universe that He created, Eardly Jr’s curiosity was piqued. He began asking lots of questions. While there was no conversion or any super deep theological issues tackled that day, Eardly Jr., I believe, understood for the first time that God is in control and cares, a person can have a relationship with God, and that relationships are exceptionally important, especially with God and his dad.
Once we landed in Los Angeles, we grabbed our bags from baggage claim and said our good-byes. I pray that Eardly Jr. grows up protected from the gangs that surround his environment and the trouble that seems to run in his family. I pray that, more importantly, he grows up knowing Jesus.
Peaceful Woman, On Fire for God!
I may be getting my timeline confused a little bit, but I’m pretty sure that I met one of the most peaceful elderly women I have ever seen. This woman, whose name I cannot remember, hailing from South Dakota, sat next to me while waiting for our return flight from L.A. She had flown out to see her grandbabies and to babysit for a while to give her own kids a break from parenting. She also described to me some of the missionary trips she had taken, even just this last summer. I believe one of the trips was to South America. Regardless of where she went, what I saw in this woman was someone who loves God, and explicitly trusts Him in everything. This lady, who was nearing 80 years old, had the brightest, keenest eyes I have seen in someone her age. Those eyes sparkled as she recounted her years of ministry in the states and abroad. She was eager to serve the Lord she loved, and I sat there in deep admiration. One day, when I’m her age, I hope my eyes show the effects of having a life lived in communion with God. I hope I can look back and tell the stories of how God has allowed me to work in his ministry, touching lives in meaningful, eternal ways. Thank you, Lord, for this woman, and giving me something to aim for!
Sunday, on my way to Los Angeles for the second time in a month, I was on my way to boarding the plane. I had just prayed that if God had someone in mind for me to talk to, that He’d make it clear to me who. As I was about to step on to the plane, I turned and saw this tall, young, black guy. I said, “Hey, how’s it goin?” And with a big smile on his face, he explained how he was on his way to L.A. to go pick up his 3-yr old daughter who had been visiting grandparents for a week. He also told me that he was nervous about flying. I said something about how I am getting more used to it, but landings still make me nervous. So, we had something in common.
As we walked toward the back of the plane, he asked me to help him decipher his ticket, as to where his seat was. I looked at it, and I told him to follow me, that he was sitting right next to me!
After take-off, and after getting settled on our flight, we started chatting. I found out that Keith, from Denver, is the father of 4 children, although he is only 24 years old. He explained how he used to hang out at high school basketball games just to pick up girls. Well, his first child came into the world when he was 14. There was a bit of regret in his voice, and he said that he knew that having sex out of wedlock was wrong. But one thing that’s awesome to see is how much he loves his 4 kids – 3 boys and 1 girl. He works hard at a grocery packaging plant to provide for his children and his wife. I asked him what his dream job was, and he said, “whatever it takes to take care of my kids. It would be nice to pay for college for them, but at least to pay the bills, give them food, clothes and a home.” He also mentioned how he never really knew his dad, and that he wanted to have a good relationship with his kids, although there are difficulties having children with three different women. He and his wife try to discipline one way, and the three older kids’ moms approach discipline completely differently. Although there are headaches for Keith as a dad and a husband, he seems to accept the challenge with courage.
As we approached L.A., Keith’s fear of flying came more to the surface. We were hitting some pretty bad turbulence, and he was visibly nervous. He was shaking, his palms were sweaty, and he was speaking at a very rapid rate. This actually gave us an opportunity to talk about God a bit, how He’s in control. From what I gather, Keith is a believer in God, not necessarily Jesus. He mentioned how he is a strong believer in the concept of karma, in what goes around comes around, essentially. Again, there wasn’t a great opportunity to share Jesus with this guy, but we were able to talk about kids, marriage, sports, broken bones, the sovereignty of God, and other things. I believe I was able to encourage this guy during his voyage to pick up his little daughter at the L.A. airport. Thanks, Lord, for Keith.
Fedlu the Ethiopian
On my return trip from L.A. back to Chicago, I was standing in line at the ticketing counter, preparing to check in. The line was moving as fast as a hamster in a cryogenic sleep. I noticed a gentleman behind me who was carrying a very large box, labeled as containing a wedding gown. As the line crept forward, I moved a bit to allow this guy to scoot his box a little. Our eyes met, and we both said hello. He said something about how slow the line was, and that he was hoping he made it to his 9:20am flight on time. That was the time my flight left, so I asked him where he was going, and we were on the same flight to Denver. From there, he was heading to Atlanta to deliver the wedding gown, and I told him that I was going back home to Chicago.
I asked him what he did for a living (was the manager of a Footlocker store in a mall in L.A.), how long he had lived in California (12 years), and where he was from originally (Asamra, Ethiopia). Eventually I got to check in my luggage, and I made my way to the find some food, then the seating area near the gate. After I ate some overpriced Burger King for breakfast, I sat in the gate area for a bit, but I did not see Fedlu anywhere. I thought I’d stretch my legs and take a walk, to see if I could spot him.
I went down a hallway near a giftshop, and I saw him sitting near a window, working on his laptop and reading the Qu-ran. He looked up and said, “Oh, I looked for you, but I guess you probably went somewhere to eat.” So, I sat down and we talked for about 45 minutes about many things – life in California versus Colorado versus Illinois, jobs, treating people with respect, the wars that have ripped apart and that are continuing to do so in his homeland in Ethiopia. When he was 5 his dad was killed in the war, and he has since lost many loved ones in the fighting. He said that the civil war is what drove him to move to the US 12 years ago. He arrived without much money, and with no English-speaking ability at all. He had an uphill battle, but he has learned to speak English perfectly, and has a steady job as a manager at a shoe store in L.A.
After our chat, we realized that it was time to board our flight. As we were walking up the ramp toward the aircraft, I felt compelled to ask in order to start up a spiritual conversation, “So, was that the Qu-ran you were reading back there?” As we continued walking, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Fedlu had pulled out his book and a pen, and wrote something in the cover. He handed it to me, and said, “I would like to give this to you. If you’d like to talk about it or anything else, give me a call.” This particular copy of the Qu-ran was a very nice version of it, not cheap, by any means. I thanked him sincerely for his gift, and then we entered the plane.
We sat apart from each other, and had no opportunity to move seats, as it was a mostly full flight. But we both had a layover in Denver, so I knew we’d have more of an opportunity to talk.
We had about half an hour in Denver together before I had to catch my next flight. I explained to him that I was a Christian, grew up going to church, and had been following Christ since I was 18 or so. I told him that it’s important to me to be able to talk to people about what they believe and why they believe it, and that I was excited to get a copy of the Qu-ran. I explained that I was eager to discuss beliefs with Fedlu. We also exchanged email addresses.
I’m not sure where this is going to go. But I know that when you pray for something, and then events start happening, you can usually chalk up that activity as a part of God doing some behind-the-scenes work. It’s not coincidence that I met Eardly Sr, his son, and Anthony. It’s not by chance that I met the on-fire, peaceful, elderly missionary of God. Luck didn’t lead me to meet Keith, nor did it lead me to talk with Fedlu from Ethiopia.
Each of these people are created by God, and loved by God. I don’t know what influence, if any, I have had on them. But I know that we are directed by a perfect and sovereign God. I can’t wait to see what God does!