Thursday, July 13, 2006

Lesson on Redemption: Hongqiao Airport - Shanghai, China

Worst day of my life. Worse then the day in 3rd grade when the class bully dragged my face across the black top.

I barely slept last night. I honestly felt tortured by something from beyond my senses. Perhaps it was just something I ate. Woke up every few hours sweating, tossing and turning – terrified. Finally at 4:30 in the morning I forced myself to vomit. I Began to feel a little better. Tossed and turned for another few hours, and had to keep CNN on and stay in an upright position. Michelle was out of town so I was solo through all this.

I had to check out of the hotel by noon, but my flight to Beijing was not supposed to leave until 8. Not wanting to be far from a toilet, what do I do? Aside from all this I feel really alone in a one of the most densely populated cities on the planet with no one to talk to for the last week because Michelle had to travel to another city.

I will spare the rest of the details from the day, but it did not get much better.

I arrive the airport 3 hours before my flight, grab dinner. When I arrive to the gate find out the flight is delayed indefinitely. So I Call Michelle find out her flight is cancelled (she was in a city called Dalian, we were meeting in Beijing for a long weekend) and will not get to Beijing until the next night now.

I feel like screaming at this point. I am surrounded by hundreds of people, amongst whom you have to throw elbows to get a seat. Indefinitely having to sit somehwere I threw elbows to get my seat. None of them are able to speak with me. The airport is very loud as well, and the PA announces either a cancellation or delay every 2 minutes. All I want in the world is to see Michelle – which it does not look like it will happen.

U2 is my only hope. “Running to Stand Still” clams my troubled soul once again. I finally began to pray. A simple prayer I: a confession of my horrible attitude over the past week, worst of all in this horrible airport situation. An honest prayer telling God how I was feeling. A few more U2 songs…

“Where are you from?” Came from the calmest softest voice I had heard in days.

I turned to my left to see that indeed I was the one being addressed. The source of the voice was a 12-13 year old girl. Looking it seemed to practice her English and explore her curiosity of the white man in the crowd. We got to talking a bit, and she asked what I do. I found the easiest way to explain my job to the Chinese is that I teach other people about the Bible. She wanted me to teach her right away.

So, I had about 10 minutes to explain the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. She knew the story of creation and the temptation with the fruit tree, and she knew Jesus raised from the dead and it was something about forgiveness. I emphasized God created us to be at peace, and is restoring our peace. She was perhaps the most curious student I had ever had. She was so eager to hear about this good news. Even her mother listened with an inquisitive ear. Time was short before her flight had to board.

I asked her is she could read English – she said she was learning. I asked her if she would read an English Bible if I gave her one. I have never seen anyone so excited to have a chance to read the Bible.

As I handed her my pocket size NIV she responded “Really Mister, thank you so much,” all with the biggest smile. I asked her for her name. “Sara”. Then she was gone. I doubt I will ever see her again, but then again maybe I will. Pray for Sara with me and the seeds of God’s kingdom in China.

My flight left 8 hours late, I arrive in Beijing with the sun, and frankly I do not care. The worse day of my life became one of the most amazing experiences of God I have ever had.


timmer k. said...

Your story blesses me immensely, Joe. I wonder how often I miss opportunities like you had because I'd prefer to stay mad at life rather than slow down and pray. I trust you and Michelle will have a great weekend together. I love and miss you guys. It's weird to think of you being so far away right now...

Take care, Joe.

Mike Rohde said...

Like Tim, this story was very encouraging Joe. It's amazing how God works — he doesn't make your flight situation better to improve your attitude, instead he brings someone into your situation, and reminds you what this life is all about. :-)

It also reminds me that we always have one option: how to choose our attitude and response, regardless of the situation. You had this option, and God simply reminded you that His joy is not dependent on situations, but on Him. And what a solid joy that is.

Hang in there Joe. There will be more times where you feel this way, but now you can look back to this event to be reminded of the long term view, and that it's all about where God is leading. It's not always easy, but is always best.

We miss you both and love you guys — enjoy this time, because I suspect it will significantly shape the rest of your lives. :-)

timmer k. said...

I do think we could marshall an argument that God's joy is somewhat dependent upon the availability of U2...but I'll leave that to Joe to decide.

A. Engler said...

Wow Joe. Praise the Lord that he gave you such a crappy day so your heart would be in a right place to share his gospel so powerfully. Truly out of our weakness comes His great strength. Its funny, isn't it, how when God uses us to minister to other people, he at the exact same time ministers to our needs. Hope you are enjoying the embrace of your wife!