I'm on my way to MAF's ground school in Idaho. This trip got off to an early start when the Checker Limo showed up for me 10 minutes before 0100 in the morning – that's 10 minutes early. Frantic carry-on packing ensued. All the important items had been checked off; change of clothes, no liquids, candy samples left for the girls who earlier had happened to catch a glimpse of the snacks I'd packed for the trip and were promised some, kisses for all three girls (and Grandma). The emptiness of London's streets at oh-dark-hundred resulted in a speedy trip to Robert Q's HQ downtown. By 0145 I was on the mini-bus, heading out of London, just a talkative driver and me in a whole Bob Q bus.
Fortunately Chatty McDriverson was full of fun topics;his conversation migrated to Theology after a half-hour of how and why the government should be smaller and yet provide free health and free university education for all. He outlined for me his unique perspective on life as a giant tapestry in which we are all threads, constantly influencing and being influenced by those threads we're connected to and ultimately being guided by 'the master weaver'. He had me at tapestry. For the next hour and a half we discussed the finer points of figurative textiles. His view was fairly convoluted: a mix of the legalistic structure of Roman Catholicism with the 'flexibility' of the universal unitarians. My goal was to try to run with his thread and weaver analogy while fitting it to the Truth of scripture. I stitched on the concept of a break in the pattern early on which was messing up the whole fabric. Later I wove in a golden strand which served as an example to save us from constantly messing up the pattern and a guide for us to wrap our own strands intimately around. Who knows, it was a try. After all, it was a fun discussion, but I did try to leave him with a distinct idea of what I believed about Jesus, loose ends aside.
At the border I'd have a great opportunity to put my stated faith into action – if only I'd be willing to quash the fear of man; and not just any man, many big men with scary US CBP uniforms and the power to give you a no questions asked, all expenses paid vacation in Cuba if you dropped the wrong keyword.
Mission Aviation sounds like a good way to smuggle drugs
We picked up two ladies in Windsor, just before the US border. One was a student heading to South Korea for a semester abroad in her Psychology major. She was good to go at the border and was the first one ready to get back on the bus. For me, being a pilot of small aircraft, travelling into the US for more training so I could eventually fly in North Africa meant the keyword alert alarm was ringing like a fire engine in the officer's head. Eventually I was released but only after a cheeky comment about how mission aviation sounded like a pretty good way to smuggle drugs! Now the other lady was an older woman on her way through the US to Aruba to meet a friend for a week of sun and sand. The short story is that she was never going to make it across the border due to a 25 year old criminal charge which had not been addressed through the appropriate channels. You can imagine this lady's face when the officer came back from his little room in the back and calmly stated, "I'm sorry ma'am, I have some bad news…" The unfortunate reality is that if she'd sprung for the more expensive option of a direct flight from Canada to Mexico she'd have been reclining at 30,000 feet without a care in the world. Now she would be loosing the $700 she spent on the flight and had probably lost her week in 'paradise'. My heart ached for her.
Say and do nothing
Now we all know how one is expected to act in the presence of a United States border guard. Basically, become a mannequin; say and do nothing unless first asked. And by all means, stand behind the red line. If you can pretend that you have no rights, no religion and no emotion then you'll be fine. But every bone in my body was demanding that I do something for this poor woman. The only possible action available to me was to stand up, walk across the room, sit between her and the only other detained traveller (a large man of African descent who looked anxious about his unexpected delay). With that done the rest happened naturally and after an arm around the shoulder and a brief prayer she was ushered away to a fate unknown.
Clearly my action had zero visible impact on the situation. I will never know, nor is that the point. But what happened next was simply glorious. That nervous looking African man turned to me and asked if we were with a church group because he saw us praying. Smile. We had a brief explanatory exchange after which I asked where he was from. "I'm from Nigeria but I pastor a church in Chicago." That's when I noticed, peeking out from under his long trench coat, his traditional West African attire. Awesome. And then to my mind, and simultaneously to my lips, came that question you ought never ask but everyone does anyway. You know what I mean, especially if you're Canadian, because you've been asked it yourself. I blurted it out, half cutting him off, "From Nigeria? Do you know Gbile Akanni?" "Of course, Gbile is a good friend of mine, yes indeed!" He replied, now beaming!
Those talks changed my [life]
For anyone to understand the significance of this encounter you'll need to appreciate the following: Gbile Akanni is a Nigerian pastor who made a trip to Canada last year and one of his stops was Three Hills, Alberta. Akanni delivered a series of three messages to no more than 30 people on the subjects of manhood, leadership and discipleship. Those talks changed my views on my role as a man in the church and as a father and as a friend. I still give them a listen on the iPod when I'm in need of a boost.
Right Next Door
As soon as it had gotten interesting it was over. Our poor "ex-con" lady would be probably be returning to Canada and my philosophical Robert Q driver was itching to keep to his schedule. I didn't even get the name of my new Nigerian friend…I seem to recall that is sounded like Aseph. I merely had time to hand him my contact information and ask when he'd be in Nigeria again. "Next year!" he said, to which I quickly replied, "Well then I might see you one day, next year we'll be right next door in Chad"
And that's how a pilot, recently from Three Hills, Alberta, shared a moment in common with a Nigerian pastor in the Detroit Customs and Border Patrol office. All because a talkative Robert Q driver made me talk the talk and the bones in my body forced me to walk the walk. As an ambassador of Christ, we are message bearers who represent the king and we can boldly walk into the scariest places with the authority of the King that we represent. Nothing can touch us, because even if we loose our very lives, we have instantly gained Christ! And may God forbid that we ever, even for an instant, deny Him.