I was going to try to sleep on the two-hour flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town, but in God’s providence, a talkative atheist, who wanted to talk about God and religion, sat next to me. The two hours “flew by” in a moment.
My atheist companion was from California, but was presently working in Nairobi, Kenya, as a diplomat in the U.S. embassy department. Our conversation about his work was fascinating and eventually led into him asking about my work, which became the bridge to talking about God and Christianity. He was friendly enough but remained adamant throughout our conversation that God did not exist. He was very intellectual and yet woefully ignorant of what Christianity was all about. He gave me opportunity to explain exactly what the gospel is, but had a hard time understanding the concept of “free grace.” He kept thinking that Christianity teaches that we merit heaven. That conception was no doubt due, in part, to his having married a Roman Catholic, whom he since divorced.
At one point in the conversation, I graciously tried to point out to him how small his worldview was, because if everyone was their own “god,” as he claimed, then his worldview was no bigger than the human individual. Instead of getting angry, he agreed with me, but said he would rather have it that way than believe in a God who didn’t exist!
I don’t think I made any headway with him, but pray with me that the Holy Spirit will bring back certain things to his mind that may give him pause. The only time in those two hours when he seemed a bit stumped was when I said, “Well, what if Christianity is right, and you are wrong, and there is an afterlife. What then?” He was silent for a few moments, then said, “Well, then, my gamble didn’t pay off and your afterlife will be a whole lot better than mine!”
When we exited the plane, we were taken by buses to the terminal. It was only a five-minute ride. I asked the lady next to me how she was doing, to which she replied, “OK.” I said, “You say OK, but your tone of voice sounds like you’re not OK.”
She then changed the subject by asking me how I was doing. After I said I was fine, I told her that I was a pastor and didn’t want to pry, but that she seemed troubled, and I would be grateful for an opportunity to pray for her if she opened up.
Through tears she told me that her partner who was planning to be with her on this vacation in Cape Town had been murdered by a stranger two weeks ago. He was walking out of a bar in Johannesburg, and a stranger just walked up to him and shot him through the heart, took his wallet, and ran away. By the time she finished her sad story, the bus had stopped at the terminal, so I quickly wished her God’s grace and told her I would pray for her. I looked for her around the baggage claim area, thinking that perhaps I could find a more private seat somewhere to pray with her, but I couldn’t find her in the throng of people. Please pray with me for this hurting soul. And thank God for your living relatives as well as for the amazing gospel of Jesus Christ which alone can meet the needs of this unbelieving, broken, needy world.
By mid-afternoon, I had settled in at the home of Francois and Eileen VanderWesthuizen. It wasn’t long before we shared conversion stories. Some years ago, after Francois’s brother was radically converted one day, he called Francois the next day to share what happened to him. Francois could see that his brother was powerfully changed but didn’t know what to make of it. His dad thought his brother had joined a cult and asked Francois to save his brother from it! It wasn’t long, though, before Francois and Eileen returned to church. Astonishingly, the Lord began to deal with both of them under the first sermon after they returned. Already that week they met with the pastor of the Reformed Baptist church they attended (where I was invited to preach), and soon were brought to know the Lord savingly. What a delightful host and hostess I have been blessed with!