Ever tried explaining the sovereignty of God and the relationship between our prayers and His plan to a total stranger when you haven’t slept in over a day?
Trust me. It’s not easy.
But then, who said following Christ was easy? Certainly not Jesus.
I have a bit of an informal rule about witnessing during airline travel. If someone initiates a conversation, then I talk with them until God reveals how I’m supposed to encourage or share with them. Otherwise, I let them go about their business. Most travelers have no interest in conversing with total strangers, so it’s usually a pretty safe policy. But not Sunday, as I flew back to the states after a week of meetings for Operation: Mobilization in Istanbul, Turkey.
A young Turkish man made small talk with me about connecting flights and then, realizing we were on the same flight to Chicago and had a three-hour layover, suggested we go get breakfast.
Since my usual response to such queries is a polite but unequivocal “No,” I was shocked to hear myself answer, “Sure.” Panic set in, but was gently nudged aside by God’s voice urging me to wait and see. “All right,” I thought. “Perhaps this is a most unusual divine appointment.”
So, I gave him prudently edited answers to his curious questions about the work of OM and patiently waited for God to show His cards. I hadn’t long to wait.
“That’s funny,” this young man said after my explanation about OM, “because I was just reading this book.” He pulled out of his bag a sociology book on humans and their inexplicable desire for God. I nearly laughed. Aha, I thought. Now we come to it.
That sparked an animated discussion about my relationship with God. He plied me with question after question and listened with sincere interest, hunger evident to me, if not to him. Even when the conversation sidetracked, he would unexpectedly bring it back.
“When you go on missions trips,” he said, “what do you say to people about Jesus?” I replied I first find out a person’s story or struggles, and then share how Jesus can bring hope and purpose into their lives.
“I am happy and content,” he said. “I have a purpose in life, to do good to others. What would you say to someone like me?”
This mindset is very typical of secularized young Europeans, but I didn’t believe him for a minute. Everyone is hurting and needs Jesus, whether they admit or not. So I shared with him as I would any other hurting person, and interestingly, he didn’t contest that point.
Later, he saw me taking my Bible out of my bag in search of a pen, and he asked to see it. Leafing through it with interest and asking more questions (“What do the red letters mean?” “Have you read it all?”), he queried, “Do you just open it and put your finger down and read?”
While I debated entering into a discussion on cherry-picking verses, he read aloud from Psalm 95:7-8: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart...”
I do enjoy God’s sense of humor. Reminds me of the following quote from renowned theologian C.S. Lewis: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”
This young man had many honest questions, difficult questions I found hard to explain and that made me wish heartily for someone more philosophical than I. Sometimes the only real answer is, “He is God!” But I talked to him about my own times of questioning, and the answers I found in books by Josh McDowell and Chuck Swindoll.
“Perhaps,” the young man said, tucking the paper on which I’d written the names safely into his bag. “Perhaps there I will find some answers.”
His words reflect the longing of millions of his countrymen. There are only 5,000 known believers in Turkey, and Istanbul alone has a population of over two million.
Please pray he will find his answers, and with them a God whose love never fails and who hears our prayers. Pray he would know for himself, as he called it, “the blessing of faith.”