The zippers squeaked as I finished packing my suitcase for Minnesota, ready for my best friend’s wedding. It was the middle of a Thursday, and the excitement of the upcoming event and missing all my Friday classes was palpable. Flying is an activity I love, to the extent that I often pray that God would give me specific reasons to fly each year. So to leave on a flight to Minnesota in the middle of a weekday, entirely by myself, I knew would be one of the highlights of this fall semester.
My roommate drove me to the airport in Asheville as we listened to classic 2010 pop songs. I sat quietly almost the entire time, daydreaming of a tranquil trip, especially regarding the airport. One of the grandest wonders of an airport is that feeling of being in a sea of people yet feeling little obligation to talk to any one of those people. You can seamlessly blend into a crowd of thousands without having to be acknowledged in one-on-one conversation.
And yet, every time I go to the airport, I remember stories of Christians, specifically missionaries, mentioning how much they’ve been able to witness to strangers at the airport. If you’ve ever sat in a church service led by a visiting missionary, odds are you’ve probably heard one of the “ripest mission fields” is the airport. And, ashamedly, the introvert in me would always laugh at that notion. My time at the airport was meant for lengthy Spotify listening sessions and catching up on leisure reading. Yet, I was about to be proven wrong in the most pleasant way possible.
I arrived at the Asheville airport and boarded my plane in under an hour, and I was giddy at how smoothly the arrival process went! Sitting down in my typical window seat, I smushed my nose against the window, anticipating the skyline views I’d see as the cities lit up as nighttime approached. Nothing would take away my opportunity to seclude myself in my own thoughts.
And suddenly, a woman’s voice interrupted my internal dialogue. “What are you reading?”
On my lap I had a copy of Thomas More’s Utopia, annotated in hopes I could retain the information for my 1600s literature class. I looked over to see a sober-faced lady with specks of gray throughout her hair. With humorously large glasses and a tribal poncho on, she smiled at me, as she too had reading material resting on her lap. Hoping to cut our conversation short, I responded simply, “Utopia,” and then asked her what she was reading.
“C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. I’m just . . . in a place in my life right now where I’m looking for spiritual answers. It’s a dark world, and I’m hoping there’s light out there.”
My jaw nearly dropped. The amount of spiritual detail she gave me while simply listing her reading material was equivalent to the information most basic introductory evangelistic questions try to get to. It was as if God dropped a light bulb from the top of the plane and made it hover over the lady’s head, and I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
Her name was June, and she was brilliant. A descendant of Filipinos that worked decades to provide an honorable life for their families, June now worked as an OBGYN surgeon. She was also a Minnesota native, and her husband—a man she comedically met through a dating app—and three kids, some of which attended Ivy League universities, lived there too. Yet, despite the many responsibilities of her life, she had one burning priority that she had pursued for the past five years. Was there a God, and was He good? Which religion had it right?
Overwhelmed and nearly a little embarrassed at my relative lack of life experience, I delved into my testimony as a Christian. I found my tongue loosened as I felt ease sharing my personal experience with the redemption of Christ, church and institutional trauma, childhood hurt, homosexuality, and mental health. June herself had personal ties as well as interest in each of those topics, and she seemed fascinated that a twenty-one-year-old wanted to discuss such concepts. Hours flew by as we squabbled over human depravity, the truthfulness of other religions, and the lack of peace on this earth. June believed every human bore inherent wickedness inside of them, and she realized Christianity seemed radically different than most other religions. As an OBGYN surgeon, she shared that time and time again she had seen Christians comforted by their religion amid tragedy, desiring even to share their faith with others despite their own sorrow. June also stated that after COVID she felt as if her eyes opened to the bleakness of human existence, specifically regarding the race conflicts in the summers of 2020 and 2021. I agreed and explained why Christians could have hope.
The conversation didn’t end in conversion or any remarkable outcome, but June and I shared a hug and exchanged numbers. She even donated some funds for my time in Minnesota, hoping I could treat my friend on her wedding weekend. Before leaving the plane, I looked out the window, aware I hadn’t glimpsed out of it even once during the plane ride. Yet I smiled, knowing the view out of the window seat was a small sacrifice to make for such a rare conversation. I felt the Lord grip my heart as I acknowledged the ease with which He placed June in my path. I knew I was destined to connect with people on more than just a survival basis.
The wedding weekend itself felt as if it passed in only a matter of minutes. I discovered maid of honor duties may or may not entail finding the bride’s dog on the day of the wedding after you’ve lost him. Then, to make up for the embarrassment of losing her dog, you’ll climb a ladder that’s been placed on top of a cooler just to grab a tarp that’s hanging twelve feet up in the air in the garage. It was all surreal, to say the least; nobody prepares you for the joy mingled with sadness and pity at times for a best friend’s wedding.
Before I knew it, I found myself back in the Minnesota airport. The flight I bought back to Greenville was the cheapest I could find, and that deal happened to include a ten-hour layover in Baltimore. Although most people would dread the idea of a layover that long, I had concrete plans to visit Washington, DC, by myself. My mom was mortified at the idea of a single woman roaming a city she’s never been to by herself, and that situation did result in a couple strange catcalls and fast walking through strange alleys. But ultimately I left the situation with hundreds of photos of the national monuments, a full stomach of local DC food, and a pervasive pride in my successful independence.
Toward the end of my layover, I returned to the Newark airport in Baltimore and decided to grab dinner before boarding my last flight of the day. Once again, I placed Thomas More’s Utopia in front of me on the high counter I was sitting at. That day I was craving shrimp, and the only available restaurant in the airport that had that was a hybrid of a bar and diner. Thinking of my interaction with June as I ordered shrimp and French fries, I looked at the people around me, wondering if I could start a conversation with them. But it was 7:00 p.m., airport food rush hour, and no one was interested in talking. A little downcast, I continued reading my book, and in a matter of minutes became fully immersed in the world of Utopia.
Only to have my academic fervor interrupted by an eighty-year-old man. “Aren’t you a little young to be seated at the counters here?”
I smiled and responded I wasn’t quite as young as I looked, and then I asked the man where he was traveling to. He told me he was a seminary student at Oxford and somebody that was hoping to study basic theology enough to have faith in the same religion his mother had faith in. Again, I was flabbergasted at the amount of detail he gave me in one simple question I asked. We discussed what religious background he came from, and he mentioned his mother was a devout Catholic. He said he loved his one-hundred-year-old mother too much to tell her he didn’t believe in her religion. He simply couldn’t reconcile his idea that man was a depraved animal with religious concepts.
Surprisingly, the more we talked, the more our conversation attracted strangers around us. One man popcorned his way into the conversation to mention the idea of Pascal’s wager, that it was worth the potential benefits to believe in the religion than it was to accept the potential cons. We even had the attendants behind the counter join us, stating their enthusiasm at having customers that would rather discuss religion instead of drunkards that would later insult the staff.
The old man, Patrick, left the conversation still sure of his spiritual opinions: he didn’t believe a God could forgive or love him or any other depraved human. It was disheartening to see how firm in his beliefs he was, but we left the conversation on amicable terms. He also mentioned how impressed he was that my generation not only had a desire to talk about such topics but also knew basic theological arguments for and against it.
I boarded my last flight with a sense of accomplishment, thankful for my education and thankful for the spiritual curiosity of others. There was slight disappointment that so much time was spent that weekend witnessing without any tangible results of people making decisions for Christ. Yet, I knew so much was going to happen behind the scenes for both June and Patrick, and I thanked God for the ability to connect with others on a multitude of levels. Most people in airports simply want to survive the trip without awkward social interactions or talking to someone during their entire flight, but some of the most beautiful niches of life are experienced when you talk simply to experience a stranger’s company.