I was flying home from a conference with two of the army ‘scripture readers.’ The older man opposite was grimacing in some pain. O.K., so we shouldn’t have been sitting in the disabled seats, but there was plenty of room. The thickly set (I’m one to talk) gentleman leaned forward and something dropped out of his pocket.
I watched, then waited, and thought… I took his mishap as a providential opportunity to initiate a conversation; so I smiled, then said: ‘Excuse me, you have dropped something out of your pocket!’
He looked down, blushing, spied his wallet (I think) on the ground (or maybe that was the second time it happened, and was just some medication on the first occasion), picked up the item, and thanked me, in a rather reserved manner.
I was sure, on first sight, this man was probably Austrian: his face looked Germanic (he could have been Martin Luther), and he was wearing what seemed to me a bit like lederhosen (a grey woolen jacket with a dark green lining around his collar and cuffs). I was almost expecting him to break out in refrains of ‘Edelweiss, edelweiss’ in the manner of Christopher Plummer and Julie Andrews on ‘The Sound of Music!’
Anyway, not to prolong the account, ad nauseam, as he gathered up his jacket, another item fell out of his pocket (yes, it was the wallet this time, I’m fairly sure). Again I gestured, then commented along the lines of ‘It seems to have happened again!’, as gently as I could. He blushed once more, then thanked me.
I guess the barn door was now gaping wide – so I asked him quite politely ‘Are you Austrian?’ To which he said ‘German!’, a little to my surprise. ‘Bavaria?’ I retorted, ‘thinking it was in Southern Germany just north of the border with Austria (as a child of three-and-a-half years I’d first started skiing in Bavaria in a little village called Krun near the Zugspitze (the highest mountain in the German Alps if I remember correctly), just a stone’s throw from Munich. “No, he said, Frankfurt!” Well, you can’t always be right!
There was a pause, and then he winced, and finally got up. I forgot my painkillers – I’ve got a very sore back! Would you watch my things while I go to the shop! Isn’t that interesting – total strangers, left to mind his luggage – he obviously trusted me and my two companions, having told him he dropped his things. Kind, thoughtful, deeds, in the providence of God, can often open up a door!
He came back and sat down. “So you’re Lutheran then?” I continued, undaunted, and unabated, and a little boldly now! He looked a little surprised. “Sorry” he said “I don’t understand.” By way of explanation I added “Most people in Germany – their religion is Lutheran – is that not right?” To which he responded: “Well actually I am a Catholic! Mine was a mixed marriage! My wife was a Protestant – both her father and grandfather were Protestant pastors of churches!”
“How interesting” I thought! Really quite amusing, in a spiritual kind of way. What are the odds? A German man meets a minister and two army evangelists in the disabled seating of an airport (where we shouldn’t have been sitting), and drops two items, that leads to opening up a conversation. The younger man he meets happens to have spent a little time in Germany in childhood on holiday, and to have done a couple of years German in school before dropping it for Geography. The man he meets happens to have been married to the daughter of a line of protestant pastors! O the lengths, depths, breadths and heights of the sovereign, purposeful, ways of our Most Wise God!
Well, indeed! Nothing is ever wasted in our lives pre- or post-conversion, in preparation for a life of good works of service that God, in His mercy, electively pre-planned for his people, having saved them by grace not by works, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2.8-10)!
To cut a long story short, the man’s name was Konrad. We were able to find out his wife had recently died of cancer, just about the same time as my own father had died from cancer, about two years before. That was another connection. Happily, Konrad, was surrounded by his grown-up family: I think he told us he had 6 or 7 sons and daughters, and many grandchildren.
We also learnt that he often comes to Ireland (we were able to give him my details and extend an invitation) to train horses: he lives on a farm and is an expert in this field – he is a frequent flyer to Europe, the UK and Ireland, and the U.S.. Fascinatingly, too, when we asked him did he ever read the Bible (and we stressed how vital this was), he said, quite a bit, when he is staying in Hotels (‘there is always a Bible’ he said ‘which The Gideons have left’).
We were able then to talk about the importance of the Book of Romans, how useful the Psalms were (particularly Psalm 51 and 32), as we talked about sin and how a person ‘gets right with God’ (code for justification by grace through faith in Christ alone without any good works). He said he did agree that Jesus was the Savior and the Only Way to Heaven. We also gently, but truthfully, mentioned that only Christ could rescue us from Hell and death, which are penalties for sin, by dying in the place of those who trust Him. We also talked about John 3:16 and 14:6 (yes some of the other passengers were giving us startled looks)!
As ‘chance’ would have it, one of the men with me, Ken, had got an extra free copy of the new ‘One-to-one’ study of John’s Gospel (I think there are 5 booklets). It is designed in the very simplest language, with marginal explanations of the meaning of the text. “We would like to give you a gift of this book!” said Ken. “If we gave it to you would you read it?” Konrad nodded and said “Yes, I would!”
It was now time to go, as we looked at the departure board, so we got up, shook hands, smiled, before giving Konrad my mobile number, email and home address, together with the readings Romans 1-3, Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. “Please come any time! We’d love to have you to stay! Auf Wiedersehen!’ I said, as I waved goodbye.
If you travel a lot will you pray for airport appointments; and even if you don’t pray that Konrad would make contact but more importantly be converted.
No doubt our other friend, Paul, had been praying all the while! Paul, Ken and Andrew flew home feeling the appointment in the airport had been very worth while!