I spend a lot of time in the air and meet a wide range of people. I met Mat on a recent flight. I’d been settled in my usual aisle seat for a few minutes when Mat showed up at the last minute wearing a large overcoat with a backpack strapped over his shoulder. He reached across me and began unpacking various picnic supplies into his seat. He then scooted into his window seat beside me. As soon as he sat down, he turned to me and said he needed to put his backpack in the overhead. Mat returned to his seat, removed his coat and then decided to place his coat in the overhead. Mat sat down for the third time and turned to me and said he had to go to the restroom.
I chuckled and said, “You’re like a big kid.” He laughed, and I heard other chuckles and noticed the passengers around us had been amused by the continual up and down activity.
When Mat returned, he asked what kind of work I do, and I shared my story. He then told me that he had just started his career in accounting and was traveling to visit a friend in New York City. The flight took off, and once we climbed to 10,000 feet I opened my laptop and began typing. Mat ate his picnic—summoning the flight attendant at least six times so he could enjoy three cups of hot tea.
Then, when Mat handed the remains of his picnic to the flight attendant, something from his trash left a small stream across the keyboard of my laptop. Mat buried his head in his hands and said, “I am the worst passenger ever.” I simply took a napkin and performed damage control on the keyboard and then shut down the laptop so we could talk.
Mat had been raised Catholic and stopped going to church because of the large amounts of money being spent (an accountant would notice such things). I asked him about his view of God and he said he hadn’t spent much time thinking about God. We talked about the story of the Prodigal Son and what the heart of the Father is like. I showed him that coming to understand who God is and then who he is in relationship to God are the two big questions in life. I encouraged him to search for a church that focused on building relationship with God and then I gave him was a copy of C. Baxter Kruger’s The Parable of the Dancing God.
This unique meeting with Mat reminded me of what Peter says in his first letter: “You must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15-16a, New Living Translation).
I find this instruction from the bold and brash disciple (the one who stepped out of the boat, who rebuffed Jesus when he spoke of his impending death and who pushed John aside to run into the empty tomb) quite interesting. Peter says we must have Jesus as Lord of our lives first and then be prepared to share the good news about Jesus to those who ask. The explanation should be done in a caring and respectful way. What a great guideline for sharing the gospel!
My exchange with Mat was one of those rare encounters when a person asked me to converse about Jesus and his church. I could only tell Mat about the Jesus I know and worship. It wasn’t all the seminary training that prepared me to be able to explain the good news about Jesus, but my actual personal relationship and journey with Jesus that allowed me to speak of his redemptive and inclusive love.
I don’t necessarily think my comment about Mat being a big kid endeared me to him, but it was honest, and it fit the occasion. Perhaps the Spirit providing me with patience when liquid spilled on my laptop keyboard set the stage for Mat to hear about the hope found in Jesus. I don’t try to over-analyze my “plane encounters” like this one. Instead, I celebrate them and pray for more.