This past week I got the opportunity to get back in the classroom again. It has been a while but it was a lot of fun. Over the years I have studied and learned a great deal about evangelism but I find the thing I enjoy conveying most are my stories of practising evangelism, and I think the students like this as well.
One story I find myself sharing often is the tale of a trip home from a couple of weeks in the Western Arctic. I had been travelling from community to community leading workshops on “Relational Evangelism”. During the course of this time I learned how expensive it was for the Diocese to fly me in and around and they planned to squeeze as much toil from me as could be gotten during these few days. At the end I was worn out and looking forward to sleeping in my own bed soon. I boarded the plane leaving Yellowknife with a prayer that the seat next to me would be empty. It turns out God is not that interested in seating arrangements on an air plane so I found myself seated next to a large gentleman who took control of the arm rest. I decided to hide behind my book (these are the days before Kindle). Shortly after we took off this fellow turned to me and started a conversation. I don’t think my “Ugh!” was audible but I distinctly remember the thought/feeling! “So what do you do?” he asked. Great “Relational Evangelist” that I am, I thought fanatically for ways to answer that which would not stir any theological type conversation. Finally I confessed that I was here leading workshops to help people be effective in sharing their faith. My seat mate then had his own “Ugh!” moment and began to raise his newspaper so as to hide behind it. My hackles raised and I thought “You started this buddy! I’m not letting you off this easily.” “You seem less than warm to my work. Can you tell me why?”
The dam was blown open and for the next 45 minutes he told me, and all those seated around us, what he thought of God! He had come from a particularly difficult background and currently his family was experiencing some drastic and likely fatal health issues. He described God as a sadist akin to a cruel little boy delighting in pulling the wings off butterflies. After he had spewed this all out he looked at me and his expression said “So there!” and there was an implied dare to defend this cruel and capricious god.
The further he went in his terrible story the more compassion welled up in me. I said “You know we have a lot in common.” This response totally flummoxed him, “How could a person of faith have anything in common with me?” he must have thought. I went on to say, “I don’t believe in that god either!” Then I asked him if after his 45 minute harangue, “could I take 10 minutes and tell him about the God I do believe in?” I have learned that Canada is a nation of polite people with a sense of fairness. My request for 10 minutes could not be refused by a good Canadian! I spent the next few minutes sharing about the God of love, grace, and mercy that I have come to know. He listened very respectfully.
It would be great if I was able to say that my seat mate accepted Jesus offer of ‘new life’ then and there. We shook hands and wished each other the best as we parted at the Edmonton Airport. I don’t know what ever happened but I do know that, though reluctantly at first, I walked my talk! I pray for that gentleman that others will find themselves on his path and that he will find peace.
That is not all the good news of that trip home. On the last leg from Edmonton to Toronto I had an empty seat beside me and full control of the arm rests. God is good!