“I go get us some munchies!!!” the words were spoken so suddenly and with such enthusiasm that they were nearly obscured by his thick accent.
“Munchies?” I repeated. He grinned at me like he had just offered me Christmas morning and before I could protest, began squirming his way out of his seat and into the aisle with a promise to return soon.
I buried my face in my hands. What in the world have I gotten myself into?
FLASHBACK 5 HOURS:
I’d never ridden on a train before. I didn’t even know they still transported people. Turns out they happen to be the cheapest and most efficient means of getting a person from West Virginia to Indiana in order to visit a beloved sister. Plus it looked like fun.
So a few years ago, I bought myself a ticket and couldn’t help but imagining that I’d stepped back in time as the train poked its shiny, metal head out of a distant cavern and pulled to a triumphant, squealing stop a few feet away from its handful of passengers.
I will admit that I normally would have been more excited about the prospects of adventure that such an unknown journey held, but that day, I was mostly interested in surviving. Throughout my life, I have often gone through periods of what I would call “mental implosion.” In a single afternoon, an untruth or difficult question could burrow its way into my mind and detonate, fracturing any sense of soundness or ability to reason. Emotions ran haywire, hard lines of truth that always anchored me became blurred, basic functions like breathing became difficult. The few weeks surrounding this incident were some of the roughest of my entire life. I had barely slept in days. Everyone was hoping that this trip and the newness of the train would help to clear my mind and allow me to sleep for at least a few hours.
I had just settled down into my assigned seat when a man’s deep voice boomed down the corridor, seeming to shake the entire train. Startled, I peered around the edge of the seat and noted a middle aged man with stiffly gelled hair making his way down the aisle while laughing boisterously and making loud jokes with an unseen companion. He smiled and interacted noisily with nearly every person he passed as if they were old friends and part of some exclusive train club. Interestingly, his voice was laced with a thick, Russian accent.
Whether it was a divine revelation, or a simple deduction of how things normally roll in my life, I was suddenly struck with the understanding that this man was going to sit by me.
(I have nothing against Russian people. In fact, I am sure they are all quite wonderful. At that time, however, I had just re-cooperated from an insanely creepy experience with an overly flirtatious Russian man on a business trip to Indianapolis, where a computer system malfunctioned and an entire horde of Future Farmers of America descended on the city. But that’s another story...)
Sure enough, the man ended his thunderous parade directly in front of me, pointed to the vacant chair to my left and proudly declared that this was his seat.
As I adjusted myself to allow him to slip past, I noted the finger-width, gold chain jingling about his neck (similar to those worn by members of the mafia), and the unmistakable scent of alcohol emanating from his person. I stifled a laugh. Out of all the hundreds of empty seats on this train, he just happened to be assigned to the one next to me. God certainly has a wonderful sense of humor.
I felt a little of my sense of adventure returning to me as the man settled down and began making rather loud small talk. Generally, my plan of attack on airplanes, busses, and other forms of transportation is to gently ease my seat mate into a conversation about “religion” and then nail them with a discussion about the identity of Christ and eventually the Gospel. I was feeling a little hesitant today though.
Was this man even sober? Did he speak English well enough to understand what I was saying? Most importantly…could God even use me right now?
This fragile girl, with the shaken faith and the broken mind….
I whispered a prayer for strength, and without really meaning to, slipped into my standard pattern of engagement. Before long, we found ourselves in the midst of a full-blown, honest discussion on the Person of Christ. He asked some very candid, engaging questions and seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. I was stunned to discover that he actually worked for the United States department of the treasury and was on vacation to visit a friend in Chicago.
Though he didn’t make any immediate decisions, he had at least appeared to put some serious thought into the matter, and I could only pray God had planted some sort of seedling truth. (And that he would be able to recall any of previous night’s events the next morning.) The night was black outside our window when the conversation finally died down and thoughts of sleep began fogging my vision.
As I began to relax in the deepening quiet, he bolted up in his seat and exclaimed, “I go get us some munchies!!!” the words were spoken so suddenly and with such enthusiasm that they were nearly obscured by his thick accent. “Munchies?” I repeated. He grinned at me like he had just offered me Christmas morning and before I could protest, began squirming his way out of his seat and into the aisle with a promise to return soon.
I buried my face in my hands. What in the world have I gotten myself into?
I checked my phone to find it was nearly midnight. Did he mean he was going to get us some food? Now!?
I surveyed the otherwise silent cabin to find the lights off and everyone else sound asleep. He was going to wake up the entire train. I scooted down in my seat and hoped I could disappear.
Within a few minutes he had returned, grinning wide, arms loaded with greasy food and fountain drinks. He must have gotten the midnight special. (More likely the chef was so happy to see someone at this hour that he had given it all away) He proudly plopped a giant sausage/hotdog like thing and a bag of potato chips onto the seat tray before me.
“Oh….thanks,” I said, trying my best to look grateful. I stared at my hotdog and it stared back at me. I tried not to be ill.
“Eat, eat!” he encouraged, chowing down on his own portion. I REALLY tried not to be ill.
Dear God, I prayed, please let me be able to take at least one bite.
We had made such progress in our conversation, and he was trying so hard to be generous that I didn’t want to offend him by not at least trying it. I closed my eyes and tentatively nibbled at one end of the bun.
“You see Avatar?!?” he suddenly burst between bites of hotdog.
“Um no….,” I tried to make sense of his bizarre question, “Do you mean the movie? If so, no I haven’t seen it.”
His eyes alit with some apparently wonderful idea and he began pulling his smartphone from it’s hiding place.
“You watch Avatar!” his enthusiasm grew as his fingers frantically scrolled through the phone’s contents for the film.
“Um, that’s ok!” I tried to shrug off his insistent suggestion, “I don’t really need to watch it. I’m good really.”
In moments he had the movie playing and was excitedly shoving the phone in my direction. I had purposefully chosen not to watch this movie due to some of it’s questionable content but didn’t really know how to explain that without offending him. Plus, it seemed like his English was slowing degrading into caveman style.
“Here you watch!” He pressed the warm plastic into my hand.
“Um, that’s really ok,” I said and tried to shrug it off with a grin, handing the phone back gently.
“You watch!” he pushed it back towards me.
“It’s ok really..”
“You watch Avatar!”
“Nah, I mean..”
“You WATCH AVATAR!”
“Ok,” I quickly accepted the phone and leaned back in my seat, eyes glued to the screen.
WOW, this guy must REALLY like this movie!!!
My decision seemed to content him and he relaxed to enjoy the rest of his meal while I gave the occasional encouraging nod.
As I sat there, overwhelmed by the pungent scent of midnight hotdog and relish, trying my best to pay attention to the movie about strange, blue creatures played out on the tiny screen, I realized what a marvelously absurd situation I had found myself in.
I was on a train, at midnight, with a Russian man, eating a hotdog and being forced to watch Avatar on his cellphone. Yes, this may be one of the strangest situations in recorded world history.
I decided that this was definitely one of the best moments of my life.
I even got out my phone and began discretely texting a few friends for the pure joy of it. “Can’t talk now, on train, Russian man, hotdog, avatar. Will explain later.”
It always amazes how God knows exactly what we need, when we need it, and often brings them to us in the most creative, unconventional packages. I hadn’t even been looking for adventure and He had plopped it, thick with the unexpected, and fat with fun on my lap.
Looking back on the experience, I can reflect on God’s goodness not only in giving me a good laugh, but in teaching me a few life altering lessons.
First of all, never assume that you are too weak or too broken for God to use you.
If I would have paid a little more attention to the Biblical narrative, I may have noted the innumerable accounts of God’s choice to use, “The weak to shame the strong.” (1) Though we should not use this as an excuse for spiritual apathy, we should never assume that we are beyond His ability to utilize for His service. He often uses our service to Him, however frail, as the agent which brings restoration to our ailing spirits.
As I began speaking to my new friend about who Jesus was, I noticed an interesting phenomenon sweeping over me. The truths that had been unraveling themselves in my weather-beaten brain began slowly adhering themselves back together. What had seemed so muddled in my mind, became perfectly clear as it rolled off my tongue and into the light. As I defended the deity of Christ to this searching man, I found I was also defending Him against the doubts warring within myself. Outside the confines of my internal confusion, I could plainly see that what I was claiming to be true,…was actually true. Though I wasn’t completely through the wilderness yet, simply verbally expressing unchanging truths about the character of Christ had a profoundly healing effect on my soul.
When you are going through a dark season, and your faith is floundering, do not avoid opportunities for Christian fellowship or to teach the Truth of God’s Word. Purposefully seek out these opportunities. Spoken truth is one of the most effective weapons we have for combatting the lies and mental fog that the enemy often throws our way. Even if you have to preach to yourself, do not give up the practice of speaking truth about who Jesus is. The unalterable truth of His Person will be the anchor that holds you through the storm.
Second, never assume that a person will be unreceptive to the Gospel.
We’ve all done it–passed over the opportunity to share Christ with someone due to some physical attribute or apparent social status.
Perhaps they have spiked purple hair. Tattoos of deathly objects and unutterable sayings covering every square inch of skin. Enough facial piercings to set off a metal detector. Maybe they just seem disinterested.
When we choose not to share Jesus with someone because of our preconceived notion about their receptiveness, we are grossly misrepresenting Christ and undermining the Gospel. Jesus is for EVERYONE.
Jesus NEVER allowed a person’s social status to stand in the way of receiving His message. This Son of God was the Guy who called vertically challenged, tax-collectors down out of trees, broke every “religious” norm to have a chat with the town harlot, and enlisted former prostitutes as frontrunners in His movement for holiness.
It is not our job to decide who will be receptive to God’s message. It is our to job to preach the Truth, faithfully and without discrimination.
Once, on a plane ride, I had an incredible conversation with an older Hindu man. Though I had initially assumed that he wouldn’t want to talk with me, he shocked me with his eagerness to hear about the history of Christianity. As the plane landed, I was struck with the urge to offer him my Bible. I immediately rejected the notion, since my Bible at the time was patched together with pink, polka-dotted duct tape, and covered in multi-colored cards which included multiple pictures of kittens. Surely, I thought, this man would never want this brazen manifestation of girlyness. The impulse would not leave me, however, and I half-asked, half-croaked if he would like to have my Bible. His eyes lit up with excitement and after some assurance that I was serious, eagerly accepted the book. He thanked me repeatedly all the way through baggage claim and I watched as he walked away, affectionately cradling its brilliant cover like a precious treasure. I was nearly moved to tears by this man’s passion for the bright pink Bible that I nearly hadn’t offered him.
We are surrounded by “unlikely” people who are eager to scoop up and cradle the Gospel. They will never have the chance if we do not offer it to them.
I am forever grateful for the lessons my eccentric Russian friend taught me, and even managed to sleep a little that night on the train. Though I reached my destination before he had awoken, I scribbled a note daring him to investigate Christ further, and tucked it into the back of his seat pocket next the infamous smart phone. Whether or not he woke up with any memory of the previous day and our conversation…I will never know.
I do know that God graciously gave me the opportunity to speak His truth, and I can confidently leave the rest in His hands.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll see my friend again one day in the Presence of Jesus….We’ll share a good laugh and talk about God’s often hysterical goodness.
And how you should never eat train hotdogs.