October 29, 2013

Dateline Moscow

Stretching my legs in the roomy exit row of the Boeing 767, I looked around to see a window seat beside me and a jumper seat for a flight attendant across from me. Both were empty. I prayed for the person who would sit beside me for the 10-hour flight from Moscow to New York.

Then someone plopped down into the seat. His ample frame extended over the armrest. Worse, he carried the sweaty odor of someone unacquainted with the cleansing power of water.

Speechless, I frantically prayed, What do You want me to do?

Opening my eyes, I glanced over at my seatmate. He was asleep.

At that moment a flight attendant strapped herself into the seat facing me. She appeared to be in her early 50s, and sadness seemed to cling to her eyes. I blurted out, “Why are you sad?”

The woman looked surprised. “I’m not sad.”

“Then where’s your smile?”

That broke the ice, and we started talking. Within minutes we established that we had a mutual friend in Moscow, my former boss. The flight attendant and my former boss had met a decade earlier at a Moscow riding club.

Ten hours later, as we descended into New York, Brenda* and I exchanged e-mail addresses and agreed to arrange a dinner with our mutual friend.

We made several attempts to arrange the dinner. But nothing worked out. Then the e-mails stopped.

Last September, 10 months later, I felt impressed to contact Brenda. She wrote back that she would arrive in Moscow the following week. We agreed to meet.

Over dinner I quickly learned that Brenda was standing at a crossroads in her life. From my own experience I knew that a crossroads is the best place to grasp Jesus’ hand. But how could I share that?

I did not find the words, and I ended up listening.

Brenda raised a lot of questions. She wanted to know why I didn’t order a glass of red wine with the meal. She asked why I didn’t want to join her for a cup of coffee afterward. She asked what I drank if I avoided alcohol and coffee, and, at my reply, she gasped, “Just water?”

I felt like a failure. I had not shared my love for Jesus.

We kept in contact by e-mail, and a month later my new friend wrote that she was returning to Moscow and invited me to dinner.

It seemed like a second chance. I prayed extra-hard.

But once more the words evaded me. So again I just listened.

Brenda wept as she described a series of broken relationships. She acknowledged having an addiction to alcohol. Then she startled me. Looking me straight in the eye, she asked, “Do you have such nice skin because you don’t drink alcohol or caffeine?”

As we finished eating, Brenda made a promise. Saying she wanted a better complexion, she said, “I promise that I will not drink any alcohol or caffeine for two months.”

I was shocked. I hadn’t said a single word about the harmful effects of alcohol or caffeine.

As Brenda’s words sank in over the next few days, I began to rejoice. Freed of the influence of those mind-numbing drugs, her mind would become more clear and receptive to the Holy Spirit.

So when is the right time to witness? Only on Sabbath? Certain times of the week? Of course not! The right time to share our faith—to do good—is always. This principle is confirmed by Paul, who wrote: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).

It took a year from the unexpected meeting on a 767 jet until Brenda quit alcohol and caffeine. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. The last I heard, her two-month commitment had stretched into four months. In fact, Brenda now drinks only water. She says her complexion is improving. I’m excited to see where Jesus will lead. 

* not her real name