"God bless you on your journey," the young man at the airport said as we walked off to our gate.
We had been eating dinner with the young man (let's call him Chris) at the food court in the Atlanta airport because the other tables were all taken and he was the only person at his. Not only did he immediately reply yes when we asked if we could sit with him, he engaged us in conversation as well. It turned out that Chris was on his way home to Alabama from an orphanage in Honduras. "Mission trip", I immediately thought, and sure enough, his next words were, "I heard about it through my church." Chris had spent a month at the orphanage doing handyman jobs, while other volunteers came and went "playing with the kids".
As I told Chris, I worked for 36 years at a non-profit rehabilitation center for children, and what I know about volunteers is that they all want to play with the kids, not do the chores like cleaning mats and toys that aren't glamorous but are necessary. So, I added, I respected him for being willing to do the chores he did.
"That's nothing," he said. "The first week I was there, I cut the grass with this thing like a weed eater. The Lord was really working on me then."
Reading this dialog, I'm sure it sounds like Chris was the kind of believer who welcomed us to his table to ask us about our relationship with Jesus and urge us to pray the sinner's prayer with him, but not so. Most of our conversation from then on was about his studying at Auburn to become a civil engineer. Since John is a civil engineer, they had a lot to talk about: math and physics classes and how hard they are, when to take the FE Exam, what kinds of things civil engineers do. So I didn't tune back in until we were getting up to go catch our flight, and Chris wished us God's blessing on our trip. I thanked him sincerely. I don't know why it is that the kind of thing that usually makes my teeth grit coming from other people sounded different coming from Chris, but it did.
The reason we were in the Atlanta airport, and at dinner time at that, didn't suggest God's blessing on our trip, more like maybe he was working on us. We had arrived at the Baton Rouge airport at 6 that morning to catch a flight to Memphis, another one to Minneapolis, and a final flight to Grand Rapids Michigan. We were to arrive there at 5 PM and then drive another two hours or so to my sister's rented beach house in Elberta, Michigan, where my older nephew's wedding would take place two days later. Due to storms in the east, however, the crew that pre-flights the plane in Baton Rouge arrived late, we missed our connection to Minneapolis, and spent four hours waiting for a flight to Atlanta and then another two waiting for a flight to Grand Rapids that arrived a little after 10:30 PM. I spent the waiting hours frantically trying to contact my sister, who had no phone service at the lake house, but fortunately checked her voicemail, emails, and Facebook messages while running errands.
"I don't know how you are going to find us," she said. "It's dark here and we have no phone service." She emailed us directions anyway. We had our GPS device and her directions. How hard could it be?
When we finally found Hummingbird Lane at 2:15 AM, we realized what the problem was. There were about half a dozen cabins scattered throughout the site, and it was pitch black, making it difficult to match the description (a tan chalet) to the buildings. Finally we decided to go back to the main road, look for a motel, and look again in the morning. John turned the car around and drove back down the gravel road, our headlights catching a sign on a tree. "What was that address?" he asked. I checked the saved email. The address matched the one on the sign. I went to the door and as I tried to key the password into the lockbox that held the key, my other nephew, Anthony, opened the door. "I thought I heard someone out here."
In the morning my sister was surprised to see us. "Al had trouble finding it in the daylight."
"We did too, at first." I didn't mention the young man at the airport and his prayers, even though that kind of story would have delighted my sister.
But when we left two days later, as Anthony got ready to catch his flight back home and then to Hawaii, where he is stationed in the military, I wished him Vaya con Dios*.
Go with God.
*A song with that title was popular in my youth, but the phrase itself is archaic among native speakers of Spanish, according to my internet research.