“Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think…” Ephesians 3:20
I often unintentionally underestimate God. Otherwise how could I be so surprised when He often answers my too-general, small-faith prayers in such flabbergasting ways?
This year, as usual, we began searching for tickets at least a month before our return trip to Bolivia. We asked God to guide us in the process, but I was filled with uncertainties. How should I plan? What would be the best day to go? There are always so many variables to consider. At some point I remember asking God not only to guide us in the logistics, but to also give us an opportunity to bless someone else during our journey.
Finally we bought tickets departing from Sacramento on the 28th of October. I chose our seat numbers on the first two flights, but on the last one from Miami to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the only seats available were the ones that cost an extra $60 or more. They can forget it. I thought. They’ll have to give us seats anyway, I’ll just leave it blank and see where they decide to put us! It never crossed my mind that God might want to pick our seats for us.
After a short stop in Los Angeles, we boarded our flight for Miami.
“This is a relatively empty flight,” the stewardess announced. “So you should have room to stretch out!”
“Hey! Everyone seems to have boarded! Maybe we can lie down and get some good sleep tonight!” I remarked to Lyli. “You take this row, I’ll take that one behind us!” Alas, the words
were hardly out of my mouth when the last man to board the plane appeared and made his way past other empty seats all the way to our row.
“Excuse me. I’m 29 A.”
I told Lyli she better take the row behind us before someone else did.
“What if the flight attendants are going to use it? Ask her first!” Lyli responded.
I thought it was better to act first and apologize later if necessary, but I decided my wife was right, as usual, so I asked the stewardess. Naturally she informed me that she had a young mother with a baby who she planned to move to the empty row.
Great, now we’ll have a crying baby behind us yet! I fumed. But the mother and child never arrived. Instead, another passenger quickly occupied the empty row right after takeoff!
I glanced knowingly at my wife, unable to pass up the “I told you so” moment.
Tom, our seatmate, was an amiable fellow, and we chatted briefly before he dozed off like a tractor, snoring nearly all the way to Miami. Sometime midflight I began to move some dreamland of my own, I hope with less noise pollution, than our companion. When we began our descent toward Miami we were all awake, however, and Tom was surprisingly talkative. I don’t remember what, but something I said must have tipped Tom off, and he said “You’re a Christian aren’t you?”
“Yes.” I replied, not sure what would come next.
“No wonder you’re such a nice guy to talk to! I’ve been reading the Bible lately and I really like the book of Proverbs!” Tom’s enthusiasm only increased. We had a nice talk as we landed, and I gave him a few tracts as we exited the plane. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone more excited to receive tracts.
“Man, thanks so much! These are great!” He thanked me a second time inside the airport terminal.
I smiled and could only thank God that Lyli and I had missed having each a row to ourselves.
The horizontal rest we’d missed on the plane we soon recovered in the Miami airport. We found an out-of-the-way corner, I bought a newspaper to cover the dirty floor, and Lyli and I took turns sleeping for the next few hours while we waited for our final flight.
When departure time came, we were among the last to board flight 922 with service to LaPaz and Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our tickets indicated that we had seats close to the front of the plane. Nice. I thought. They must have assigned us some of those good seats that they wanted to charge $60 for! We had scarcely settled into our seats when suddenly, the conversation of the people in the row behind us arrested my attention.
“Oh, the Seventh-day Adventists! You are the ones that have special dietary rules. You don’t eat any kind of meat right?” The question came from a respectable looking gentleman of perhaps 60 years of age seated with his wife and was directed toward a young man with slicked-back wavy blond hair.
As soon as we were in the air, I reclined my seat and turned my ear to the resulting gap so I could hear their conversation better. The young man was explaining the biblical dietary guidelines in Leviticus chapter eleven.
“There are meats that are okay to eat, and there is meat that is not good to eat… what is it called? Not dirty, what’s the word in English?”
I could no longer hold back.
And that’s how I introduced myself into the conversation. The couple, Jack and Jenny are Canadians with Mennonite background. Jack is partial owner of a company that sells agriculture equipment in Bolivia. I asked Jack about farming techniques in Bolivia, and explained that we are trying to improve our agriculture program at the school.
The young man, Edwin, haled from Holland, and was on his way to work at the Television Network, RedAdVenir, in Santa Cruz. He was very happy to make our acquaintance, as he had been worried about who would pick him up at the airport since no one had responded to his emails about his arrival, and he doesn’t speak any Spanish. He grinned and showed us a sign “Red AdVenir” that he had prepared to display upon arrival.
It didn’t take long however before the conversation returned to topics of faith.
“I know God exists, but I don’t believe the Bible is the infallible word of God. It has too many contradictions. It is just man’s attempt to explain God. For example, in Genesis when God put a mark on Cain and sent him away, it says that he built a city. How is that possible when he and his parents were the only people on the earth? How could there be a city?”
I found myself praying silently for the right words to answer Jack. We had a lively and friendly discussion for several hours ranging over various topics. Arguments and explanations seemed to come clearly and rapidly to my mind, and it was one of those rare and awesome moments when I could sense the Holy Spirit moving with power, both in what I shared as well as in Jack’s reaction.
“Why make a big deal about diet and the Sabbath? These are just all details. The only important thing is what Jesus said, that we love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.” Jack
“I agree with you, that is absolutely the most important! But how can we know what that really looks like? What you think it means to love God and love our neighbor may be different than what I think it means. Does it matter what we think? What does God say it means? How can we know? From my perspective, a plain reading of scripture as God’s Word to us is the only objective standard that we have!”
It is difficult to reconstruct the conversation as it occurred, but I remember being able to share the following as well.
“The topic of diet is really interesting because although it has a lot to do with our physical health, it also has deep spiritual implications. The bible is clear that there will be no death in heaven, so that rules out eating any dead animals! So I choose to accustom myself ahead of time to a vegetarian diet. But I have been discovering that the issue of diet has to do with a whole lot more than just whether or not I eat meat! The real issue has to do with my heart. Am I willing to give up my own desires and make sacrifices because God asks me to, because I want to have a closer and better relationship with Him? Am I willing to do it for the benefit of my own health? For me, the Holy Spirit has impressed me that I need to control my appetite for sweet, sugary foods. I know it must have been the Holy Spirit, because I never would have thought of this on my own! But I felt distinctly impressed, how do think you will ever learn to
make real sacrifices for the good of others if you aren’t even willing to make them for your own good? It’s like you were saying, the most important thing is to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and love our neighbor as ourselves. But I am slowly learning that that takes in a lot of territory!”
During one of the natural breaks in the conversation, Jack went to the lavatory, and his wife took the opportunity to apologize.
“Please excuse my husband. He always likes to ask the hard questions, but he loves to have conversations like this. He really is a good man; he just has always had a lot of doubts. Every Easter we watch the movie (I don’t remember the title, but it is about the crucifixion) and he cries and says, “If only it were true!”
When we said good-bye to Jack and Jenny we parted like old friends. They gave us their contact information and invited us to visit them anytime.
At the airport we helped Edwin negotiate immigration, although when we arrived at customs he got the green light while we had all of our bags searched. When we finally got out, there was nobody waiting to pick us up. I made a couple of phone calls and found out the missionaries who had planned to come had car trouble and couldn’t make it, so we hired a taxi. As we left I was again deeply impressed by the goodness of God.
“Praise God you were willing to speak up about your faith!” I remarked to Edwin. “Not only would we have missed the opportunity to meet Jack and Jenny and have such a wonderful conversation, but if you hadn’t said anything we could have easily passed the entire flight and left the airport without having met you!”
“Yeah, and I would have had to spend the night in the airport!” Edwin agreed with a grin. “Our God is amazing isn’t He?”
Isn’t He ever?
Kody & Lyli Kostenko