I travel a lot these days. To me, it rarely feels like a big deal, but I think for the majority of Americans, I believe I surpass the status quo…tient. Traveling breeds an absolute fascination with airports; more importantly, a fascination with the people I find in airports. For whatever reason, God always seems to give me a new appreciation for His human creation when I travel.
As I write this, I am stuck in the JFK Airport for the next six hours, waiting to check into my international flight back to the UK. I’ve been sitting in this diner for almost two hours now and people from every corner of the globe have walked in. The amazing thing: each one of them has a different story. Each one is on a different journey (literally and metaphorically). They have families, friends, jobs, homes. They laugh and they cry. Each person has experienced their own personal feelings of joy and sorrow.
I don’t know any of these people. They are all strangers to me, and yet, God has purposed every one of them to be on this planet at this time for a reason. I guarantee most of them don’t understand why. If only I could read the text message bubbles above their heads at moments like these. Some would show frustration. Some would play track after track of anxious self-talk. Some may be excited. Others may right now be questioning their existence amid the throng of humans around them.
And yet, we are all here.
I’m sitting at an airport diner drinking the worst cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted. Maybe you’re reading this sitting in a cafe drinking a far better cup of coffee. The bartender is a kind Asian man who can’t seem to stand still. And the table to my right just welcomed a reunion of friends (of three very different ethnicities) who obviously didn’t expect to find each other at diner in a New York airport.
This life is beautiful. Our world is truly a masterpiece of hustle and bustle, art and argument. We disgrace ourselves with division when we could simply take a moment to look around and appreciate the pulchritude our uniqueness creates. I get choked up just thinking about how different this world could be if we all lived with a little more love.
Today’s world tells me I don’t need to care about the person sitting in the seat next to me. I’ll never see them again, so why should I take a minute to ask something about their life? But they matter enough to be recognised as a being with breath and purpose and a story that deserves my time and attention.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reading in Nehemiah. This book has motivated me and aligned my perspective with God’s when it comes to why I do what I do in ministry. Chapter 8 of that book describes a scene when all of the people gather together after putting a lot of work into this wall they are building around Jerusalem. Ezra the priest read out from the Book of the Law and most of the people were floored by what they heard. What I found really interesting about this was described in verses 7 and 8.
After the Word was read aloud, thirteen guys and the Levites (priests) “helped the people to understand the Law…They read from the book, from the Law of God clearly, and they gave the sense so that the people could understand the reading.” (ESV, emphasis added)
The Message version describes it this way: “they translated the book so the people could understand it and then explained the reading.”
During the time Nehemiah led the rebuilding of the wall, so many different kinds of people came to help. Previous chapters describe people from different tribes coming together for this one purpose. But when I read these verses in chapter 8, I was reminded that, daily, I will come in contact with people who just need someone to explain God and His words in a language they can understand.
As I look around at all of these beautiful people, as I hear countless languages spoken, as I see multiple generations, and perceive innumerable stories yet to be told, I think about this scripture. Who is taking the time to make the truth of God’s amazing grace clear and simple to them? Have I done so with my actions and honour of their existence? Have I done so with my words and encouragement regardless of their belief or understanding? Will I with my time, explaining the truth when God presents the opportunity?
I sure hope so.
I’m reminded of when I went to visit my family in the Netherlands back in 2008. Some of them could understand English, but didn’t speak it very well. I could understand a good bit of Dutch, though I didn’t speak it very well. Somehow, we managed to communicate. The point was simply putting the effort in to do so.
Wherever you are, if you know Jesus, your job is to tell people about Him…not just with words spoken in English (or whatever language you speak), but in a way they can understand, even if it’s somewhat foreign to you. There is a whole wide world around you that may know nothing about Him. Open your heart to diversity, to challenge, to new experiences. Whatever you do, in whatever way you do it, aim to make it clear and understandable. A smile, a hug, a word of encouragement can be the beginning of someone’s life-changing decision to have a relationship with God. More than anything else, take the time to care.
Every moment is an opportunity. Don’t miss out. You may not know them; you may never see them again. But their story is worth being part of.