It has long been my belief that we, the Church, need to do a better job telling our story. Years ago, as Israel made it’s way from Egypt to the promised land, they were constantly stacking rocks along the way. When they asked “why” – why all these “stacked rocks” they were told that the rocks would help them “tell their story”, when you and your children pass this way, and they ask about the stones, you can tell them …
In 2012, I was given the opportunity to go to Israel on an archaeological dig. Knowing I would be joining up with a team of young, seminary students and flying out of JFK, I took a little time to visit with some friends on the east coast prior to flying to Israel.
If you know me, you know I always give myself extra time when traveling. I arrive at the airport long before the prescribed arrival time. I plan extra time for connecting flights. I call this my “just in case” time. And so, after a visit with my friends, I arrived at the airport in Orlando, Florida – 15 hours before my flight was to leave JFK. I had arranged an early flight out of Florida, plenty of time to rest, contact family, and meet up with the group heading to Israel. Once again, I had planned plenty of “just in case” time.
When I got to the airport, I was informed that my flight out of Orlando was delayed – engine trouble. I smiled as I watched people scrambling, checking their connecting flight schedules, attempting to make other arrangements. And sure enough, when we finally got into their air, much of my “just in case” time was gone, but…
Then our flight got “detoured”. There was a storm out off the coast of New York that was causing a lot of wind and rain and flights were not being allowed to land or take off. We were routed back to North Carolina where we refueled the plane and waited.
We finally landed at JFK five minutes after my connecting flight and my group had left for Tel Aviv. According to the airline, because there were so many folks in the same condition I was in (missed flights) it would be two days before they could get me out of JFK and it appeared as if they were going to send me to Tel Aviv by every other airport known to man.
I was two days in New York with no place to stay, I would land in Tel Aviv not knowing where I was to meet up with the group, and I had no way of knowing how to connect to my group. I was totally lost and afraid.
I called the group’s travel agent and explained my problem. She informed me that she would book a room for me at the JFK Inn and I was to go there for the night and she would see what else she could do.
I felt a little better until the shuttle for the JFK Inn pulled into the airport shuttle garage. I was the only person out of all of these stranded people, who was heading for the JFK Inn. I began to wonder, what did they know that I did not know. And then …
We drove past some very nice hotels – none of which was the JFK Inn. We drove past some very bad hotels – none of which was the JFK Inn. We drove through a section of New York that was nothing but burnt out warehouses – the JFK Inn was not there either. And then we came to a place which cannot be described – that was the JFK Inn. (To call it “flea-bitten” would be to insult fleas everywhere)
I entered the lobby only to be told that I did not have a reservation and they were full. I called the travel agent and, after handing my phone to the man behind the solid glass window and listening to him argue with the travel agent, was finally given a room. I made my way through a narrow door, down a set of stairs (no elevator) and into a hall way. (There in the hallway was a gentleman cleaning his fingernails with a knife. He looked at me and smiled.)
I found my room, entered, locked the door, stacked my luggage in front of the door and sat down and cried. I prayed, I considered returning to the airport and getting the first flight home, and I prayed some more. Finally I fell asleep.
I awoke the next morning from a restless sleep, showered and began to dress. I heard a knock at my door and knowing better than to open the door, I called out “Who is it?” A voice I recognized replied, “Bob Collins! How many people do you know in New York?” It was the leader of our group.
Four other individuals (including the group leader) had found themselves in very similar circumstances. They too had attempted to fly into New York (they were heading for LaGuardia) and while they had been able to land, they were not allowed to disembark from the plane. They sat on the tarmac there in LaGuardia while our connecting flight headed for Tel Aviv. The travel agent booked them rooms at the JFK Inn as well, telling them that I was there.
I was no longer alone. I had friends to have breakfast with, friends to return to the airport with, friends to travel with, friends who were able to get us all to our kibbutz in Israel, landing in Tel Aviv only 24 hours late.
Here’s what I learned from this experience – our God can be trusted. There are going to be times in our lives, in the lives of those who sit beside us in church, times when life takes hard and unexpected turns. We have a story for those going through those hard and difficult times, a story that says – our God can be trusted.
In the year that has past since my return from Israel, I have been with people facing great difficulties. I have been with a family whose granddaughter was born so very prematurely that doctors held no hope. I have been with people who have lost jobs and relationships and hope. And in each of these cases, I have told the story – that things often look hopeless, but our God is a God of hope.
In the events that I have faced with others – not all have turned out as well as my trip to Israel. But in each case, I have been able to tell the story – we have a God you can trust – we have a God of hope.
I wish I were smarter. I wish I could articulate that better, but truth be told, this is what I know, what I believe … no matter what you are going through, you can cling to God, our God can be trusted.
Questions to consider:
* What is the role of faith sharing in your worship experience?
* How does your worship experience enable your people to relate and celebrate their own story with the Gospel story?
Rev. Bob Collins
Centenary United Methodist Church, Modesto