Because of his long legs my husband, Heinz, needs more room. He usually takes the aisle seat, both in church and in airplanes, so that he can stretch out. But on the first lap of our flight to India, none was available, and he sat next to the window. I sat in the middle, and another man sat next to the aisle.
“Going home?” I asked the stranger several hours into our flight, just to make conversation.
“Were you in Vancouver for business or pleasure?”
“So it was a pleasant occasion,” I said. “I wish the new couple God’s richest blessings.”
He smiled briefly, then added confidentially, “Actually, I got engaged too.”
“Congratulations! I also wish you and your bride-to-be God’s blessing. Is she a Christian?”
“She’s Jewish, like me. I’m studying to be a rabbi.”
Time to Eat
We were interrupted by an announcement from the purser. The flight attendants would be bringing around menus from which we could select our meals. “Please try to have the correct change ready for your selection,” he concluded.
Having to pay extra for meals on domestic flights was a new experience for us. I glanced at the menu that featured McDonald’s-type food, but nothing interested Heinz or me. Besides, we were no longer as active as we were in our younger years, and we had gotten into the habit of eating just two meals a day.
I noticed that our Jewish seatmate also handed the menu back without ordering.
“Aren’t you hungry?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” he admitted reluctantly, “but I don’t have any Canadian money, and they don’t accept credit cards.”
“So you’re not Canadian.” It was a statement, rather than a question.
“No, I’m American.”
“My husband and I are Canadian, but we were both born in Germany.”
“I gathered as much from your accents.”
We sat for a while in silence. I wondered if he harbored any ill feelings toward Germans, or Gentiles in general. I’d heard that some Jews do. I also wondered if he would feel insulted if I offered him some of the food I had stashed in my carry-on. Glancing at my watch, I calculated that it must already be six, going on seven hours since we had eaten breakfast.
“I hope you don’t mind,” I said hesitantly, “but I have some food in my carry-on. Nothing fancy, mind you. Just some oatmeal cookies and a trail mix of homegrown fruit and nuts. We’d be delighted to share it with you.”
He stared at me, at a loss for words. “You must be real Christians,” he finally said.
“Yes, we try to follow Jesus’ example in all things. We also keep the seventh-day Sabbath as you do, and follow the dietary laws prescribed by Moses.”
“I believe in Jesus, too,” he said softly. “So we have even more in common.”
“So you’re a messianic Jew?”
“Yes. Though I value my Jewish heritage, I believe Jesus was the Messiah.”
Doing Unto Others
“What is your final destination?” he asked.
What Do You Think?
1. How easy is it for you to strike up a conversation with strangers?
2. Should all encounters lead to a situation in which you can share your faith? How do you know if they will or not?
3. What's most likely to make you feel uncomfortable when talking to someone who has a faith tradition different from your own?
4. In chance encounters, which is more important: what you say, or what you do? Why?
“India,” I said simply. “We’re missionaries. Jesus told His followers to preach the gospel to all nations, all people.”
“But India is a Hindu country. Are you aware that there are instances of persecution of Christians by militant Hindus?”
“Yes,” Heinz joined the conversation. “But Jesus gave us the commission, and as long we’re doing God’s will, we believe that He’ll be with us, no matter what happens.”
In the ensuing silence our seatmate saw me looking up at the overhead luggage compartment. “Can I get your bag for you?” he asked, getting up.
I pointed it out to him, and he handed it down. After I had taken out the trail mix and individually wrapped packages of cookies, I zipped the bag back up and he returned it to the storage compartment. I handed him a package of oatmeal cookies as he sat down. He looked at them, then at me.
“Would you mind if I say a prayer for you?” he asked, turning so that he could look past me at Heinz.
“We’d be honored,” Heinz replied.
He prayed then, at 37,000 feet, asking God to protect us on our mission. He, a Jew, prayed for two Gentiles who had been born in a country that had been responsible for the deaths of millions of his people. And he asked God to bless us. As he prayed, we felt close to God. Not because we were 37,000 feet in the air, but because, forgetting our differences, we were able to unite in our love for God and our concern for each other.
Elfriede Volk lives in Summerland, British Columbia. This article was published December 9, 2010.