My trek by plane to Mozambique took 27 hours—from Grand Rapids to Chicago to Washington D.C. to Senegal to South Africa to Mozambique. On the Chicago to Washington flight, I evangelized a young man. After chatting about his family (married to a devout Roman Catholic, with whom he has two girls—6 and 2—and is expecting a third in two weeks) and work (a contractor) for a while, I asked him if he was a Christian.
“Sort of,” he said.
He went on tell me that his dad was a leader among the Gideons and flies all over the world to promote Bible distribution. His mother is a strong Pentecostal who is constantly telling him that he is on his way to hell because he doesn’t take his Christianity seriously.
“I struggle with lots of things,” he said. “I struggle with having Christianity crammed down my throat. I struggle with the idea that the Bible is inspired, though I do recognize that it is an amazing book. I struggle with the irrelevant messages I hear from the priest on the odd occasion when I do go to the Catholic church with my wife. I struggle with the idea that if you don’t know Jesus, you’re on your way to hell. I know a lot of good people who aren’t Christians who don’t deserve to go there.”
For the next hour, we dialogued about each of his concerns. He was receptive, but not easily persuaded. Todd is an outstanding conversationalist, a very likable guy, but he has no awareness of the gravity of sin. I tried hard to explain the basics of the gospel—why we all need Jesus Christ, why Christians in themselves are no better than non-Christians, how God looks on our hearts, our desperate need to be born again, and why no other religion can give us a Savior accepted by God.
Then I gave him a breather, but he kept asking questions. He wanted to know more about the Reformation. “What is the difference between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism? How did Protestantism split up between the Lutherans and the Calvinists? Were there other groups involved as well? Just who are the Puritans? Are you a Puritan?”
So we had a basic church history lesson. He told me that he found it fascinating. I gave him my card and asked him if he would read a few books if I sent them to him.
“Sorry,” he said, “I’m not a reader.”
On the flight from Washington to Senegal, I sat next to another man, who is trying to promote “Green Energy” in a West African nation. He was on his way to meet with the president of that nation for the fourth time, hoping to seal a business deal this time around.
He describes himself as “a solid Lutheran.” He meets often for prayer with his closest friend. In fact, before the plane even taxied out, he called his friend and said, “You won’t believe this, but I’ve got a preacher guy sitting next to me who runs a seminary. I’m going to bend his ear for the next eight hours. The poor guy won’t be able to do any of his work.”
And bend my ear, he did. He is a non-stop talker; his conversation is a stream of consciousness, covering anywhere from one to five topics per minute. We covered a lot of ground, but I’m not sure how profitable it was. He seemed to be antinomian in some areas of his life and devout in other areas. He certainly loved to talk about Christianity. After three hours, I had to finally tell him that I needed some rest.
In Senegal, I stayed on board the plane, as our plane continued on to Johannesburg, South Africa, which is another eight hour flight (so I was on this plane for 17 hours in all). On this flight, I sat next to a 6’8” slender black fellow from Senegal (a former basketball player) who was working in South Africa, also in the field of energy.
When I asked about his religious beliefs, he said, “My father is Muslim and my mother is a strong Christian.”
“So where does that leave you?” I asked.
“Well,” he said, “I’m a Muslim because in Senegal it is a custom that the son takes over the religion of his father.”
As I pondered how to respond, a lady next to us, who was listening to our conversation, jumped in. “Religion is something you can’t take automatically from any parent,” she said incredulously. “You have to know what is right and true for yourself!”
The young man answered very shyly, so shyly that I couldn’t understand him. Clearly he didn’t want this conversation to proceed further.