I have attended several conferences in my time as a minister. And thereby had many opportunities to hear some amazing Christian leaders share their insight as well as their personal stories.

At least 6 times I have heard (or I might have read it in a book or two) stories from these leaders describing encounters they have had on airplanes, in which they shared the gospel with someone sitting next to them. Well, time and time again, I have left those conferences determined to be bold and witness on my plane ride home. And time and time again, I am either sitting next to another minister leaving the same conference (and feeling the same disappointment that I am feeling - having no opportunity to be used as a witness) or sitting next to someone with such an unsettling personality that the desire for any kind of conversation is quickly extinguished.

Well recently I have travelled quite a bit by train. This past week, on a train trip, with no preconceived notion of Christian witnessing brownie points and no ideas of keeping up with the accomplished leaders I have come to respect, God put a witnessing opportunity right next to me. And it was OUTSTANDING.

I was disembarking from the Amtrak bus in Bakersfield, awaiting my train connection. I selected a bench on which to wait for train boarding that had only one other occupant. I sat near him, making a conciliatory nod and grunted a "hi." He was tattooed on most of what could be seen with some tattoos that I know are jailhouse tattoos. He was smoking and asked if I minded his smoke. I said no and minded my own business. After a few minutes I thought it was appropriate to ask about his trip and make some small talk. After a few cryptic answers to my overt niceties, he divulged that he had been in jail and was headed to a halfway house. It was then time to board the train and after introductions, I thought our conversation was over. I felt content, having been kind and maybe even encouraging to someone.

When seated on the train I could see where Roy was seated ahead of me. And I had an overwhelming sense of need to continue our conversation. I sat praying and waiting for the train to move and arguing within myself about how this guy was going to think I was awfully strange to approach him again. Then when our tickets had been collected I went up to Roy and invited him to join me for a bite to eat in the cafe car. He quickly accepted my invitation and we had a deeply spiritual conversation in which I got to tell him about God's love and plan. I told him about Jesus on the cross and the guarantee of NEW life in Christ. Roy revealed the story of his birth mother's abandonment, his adoptive mother's death and his life in the California Youth Authority and subsequent life in and out of jail.

It was awesome. As we approached my stop, Roy reached across the table, grabbed my hand and said, "pray for me before you go." I did. I gave him some of my contact information and was sorry to leave him.

How strangely wonderful that what was once an obligation, or a spiritual trophy to me had instantly transformed into a privilege ordained by God alone. I'm still brewing on the impact of it all.

Finally, I have a story of a travelling evangelism encounter. And finally, I understand it for what it is: God's divine appointment between a believer and someone on the way to belief.


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