A few months ago I was traveling on business to and from Dallas, TX all within a day. Dreadful, I know. It had been a late night and we an unfortunate long wait at the airport prior to boarding the plane so the last thing on my mind was striking up a conversation with a stranger. We boarded the half-full plane around 10 PM, I took my usual window seat (being able to look outside helps me with my aviophobia AKA fear of flying), and I started to prepare for our takeoff.
An older gentleman came down the aisle, plopped down in the seat next to me, turned to me and said, “Hello! My name is (name withheld to protect the innocent), I’m an introvert and I hate meeting strangers!” while jabbing his extended hand into my face (not literally).
I was exhausted so all I could muster was, “Hello. I’m Erik. It’s nice to meet you,” as I gathered my headphones out of my bag to make a rather blunt body language statement. Unfortunately he later moved up the aisle to another seat which arguably had more room than where we were sitting.
However, in retrospect I really wished I hadn’t done that because as I reflect on that event, I was being rather prideful and selfish. I really wanted to be alone, but sometimes I imagine that God specifically places people directly in our paths to somehow bring him glory. Scripture has many references to situations like this.
- Hebrews 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
- Romans 15:7 “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
- Matthew 25:35 “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”
- 1 Peter 4:9 “Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.”
After that encounter, I often thought of a million different responses to my encounter with that stranger. I could have said, “Hello! I’m Erik and I love meeting strangers on late night flights to Des Moines!” or “Howdy stranger. I recon you’re not from these here parts now are ya?” Or I could have totally just Jesus-juked him and said, “Hey brother. My name is Erik and I love the Lord. Do you know the love and grace so freely provided by Jesus?”
This past week, our family was traveling on vacation in Gulf Shores, Alabama (actually we were passing through from Destin, Florida to Gulfport, Mississippi but who’s keeping score?). Because we are avid Iowa State Cyclones baseball fanatics, we stopped off at a local bar and grill to try to find the Iowa State / Iona game. Interesting enough, there were about a half-dozen Iowa State students waiting for a table before us and we small-talked about the Cyclones.
We love Iowa State for a number of reasons but one of the biggest reasons is because our home church is based in Ames and they have an amazing college ministry there called The Salt Company that has literally ministered to thousands of students over the years. Just like in basketball, I wish I could go to the replay monitor and act upon that holy nudge from God to ask the students if they ever attended The Salt Company. Who knows what could of impact that may have had in their lives? Maybe an eternal one.
So when God gives you the opportunity to chat with strangers, perhaps it’s because it’s a God-ordained holy moment for you to step out of the boat and walk in faith.
PS: Since we’re talking about do-overs and replays, I really wish we could replay those last 45 seconds of the University of Northern Iowa game all over again.
PS Again: I hope the Cyclones win the NCAA tournament.