I’m a missionary—an ordinary person pursuing my profession. Like any other professional, I have work and reports and appointments to keep. Yet sometimes I get the impression that many think of me and my fellow missionaries as spiritual astronauts.” They assume that we do something extraordinary.
I have found in the course of my work that God often uses very ordinary people—like me—to accomplish some extraordinary things. My greatest joy in my work is to see God choosing to use me, especially at those times when I least expect it.
For example, an incident happened when I was flying home from Chicago one day. It is almost inconsequential that I had needed to go to Chicago for the day on ministry-related business, and a one-day business trip wouldn’t seem like much, except that my commute was not from somewhere close like Wheaton or South Bend, but all the way from Boston, where I was living at the time. I had flown to Chicago in the morning for a mid-morning appointment. My late afternoon return flight came conveniently after my business had been completed. As strange as it may seem, in this day of airline deregulation it was actually less expensive for me to fly back to Boston via Richmond, Virginia.
I took the extra travel in stride and settled down to get some work done. The plane was not very full between Chicago and Richmond, and I enjoyed the prospect of having time alone to read and do some writing. Never would I have suspected that while I wasn’t looking, God had pencilled a last-minute appointment into my “celestial appointment calendar.”
I still had my dictation machine in hand as Walter crawled over me to take his window seat. I asked if my papers and notebook on the seat between us were in his way. He looked at me in a rather stunned fashion and asked if I was from New England. And then he asked, “Do I know you from some place? What kind of work do you do?”
Sometimes explaining that I am a Jew for Jesus is a bit of a shock to people, so I did my best to break it slowly. “I’m a minister,” I said. His eyes lit up, and his expression brightened. With some excitement, he told me that he had heard me speak at a church just two weeks previously. Sure enough, I had given a message at a certain church in South Peabody. Walter had attended that service with his grandmother whom he was visiting at the time.
Walter related how he had been raised in the Church. Two years earlier, in a very short time span, his girlfriend had left him, he had lost his job, his roommate had died, and his parents had divorced. Stunned and shocked by the constellation of events, he had been unable to find help at the church he attended with his parents. For the next two years, he had wandered aimlessly through a dark spiritual forest, crying out to God for help. He had been visiting his grandmother up on Boston’s North Shore when she had invited him to attend the church service where I was speaking.
At this point in Walter’s story, our plane began to taxi for takeoff. He excused himself and clutched the armrests of his chair. With his face contorted and his eyes squeezed tight, his mouth murmured what was apparently a very soft and pleading prayer. He turned to me as the plane lifted off the ground and explained that he was scared and was in the habit of praying at such moments. It surprised me that he would so willingly acknowledge his practice of prayer in times of need.
As the plane leveled off at cruising altitude, the color began to return to Walter’s knuckles. He leaned over the empty seat and told me in soft tones that while he had really appreciated my message, he was really troubled by the idea that Jewish people might believe in Jesus. He confessed that he did not think very highly of Jews and could not see how some might be Christians.
My Jewish culture allows that it is always appropriate to answer a question with a question, so I asked, “So, Walter, what is it that makes you a Christian?”
“I was born a Christian,” he said. “My family raised me in a Christian home. I try my best to be a good Christian and to emulate the teachings of Christ.”
He talked quite a bit more before I responded. Then I had an opportunity to enter into a lengthy story about how I had met Jesus Christ in a personal way. As I was speaking, I found my heart appealing to the Lord for words and wisdom to match the moment. It was obvious as we kept conversing that Walter’s heart was searching.
We talked about sin as I shared my own understanding from Scripture. Walter was prepared to understand that from his own experience. I talked about the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ and how it had impressed my own heart. And then I told Walter how I had turned to the Lord and invited Jesus to be my Messiah in 1970.
Walter’s face seemed somewhat sad. He admitted that he desperately wanted to know God and to live with him, but he did not know where to begin. I felt my face glowing with a smile as I said to Walter, “So what do you think I am doing here? Don’t you realize that God has sent me as his answer to your prayer?”
Walter leaned over and listened intently as we discussed the points of salvation in a prayer which he might pray. I asked him then if he would like to pray with me to invite Christ into his life.
With an apprehension born only out of a desperate desire not to be disappointed, he nodded yes. There in the heavens, somewhere above New York City, in Row 9 of a Piedmont Airlines plane, we bowed together in prayer. Walter asked Jesus Christ to come into his life, and with tears reached for the One who could give relief to his fear and turmoil.
We smiled and joked together the rest of the way back to Boston. The rest of the journey was pleasant and filled with conversation of what to do in order to grow in Christ. I wasn’t able to get much work done—at least not the kind I had planned.
That evening after I returned to Boston, I called a pastor near Walter’s home. Walter started attending a local church and, as far as I know, is seeking to grow in his knowledge of God and in his new Christian faith.
I’m a missionary to the Jewish people. I’m just an ordinary person. But every now and then I enjoy seeing God disrupt my plans to get his work done. I had an appointment that day which the Lord had pencilled into my calendar. What fun it is to serve him!