(photo on our recent trip to London)
When we boarded our nonstop flight to JFK in New York City, our layover stop on our flight to London, we were both exhausted from the physical and emotional impact of moving and saying goodbye to our home of sixteen years the day before. I intended to rest on the flight, but I guess God had other plans.
She was in the seat by the window. I was in the middle seat. My husband was in the aisle seat, already settled in with his noise canceling headphones on, shutting out the world around him. I knew he'd be asleep before long. By her feet was portable oxygen being pumped into her nose and lungs. It made a soft woosh, woosh sound. I guessed that she was in her early to mid seventies, but it was hard to know for certain.
Our conversation began by her expressing concern that my foot room was being cramped by her oxygen, or that the noise was bothering me. I could tell right away by her accent that she was heading home to New York City, or at least somewhere close by. I was right. She lived just across from Manhattan in New Jersey. Her husband sat a few rows ahead of us and across the aisle. They were returning home after enjoying a river cruise on the Columbia River. They loved to travel, and were determined to keep doing so as long as they were able.
It was after she found out that my husband is a pastor that the conversation shifted to deeper things. I'm used to this, people tend to either shut down or open up. She did the latter, even saying that she felt she could talk to me because most ministers, most Christians, stand beside Israel. Sheila is Jewish. I explained to her that Christians feel this way because the Bible tells us that God will bless those that bless Israel and that He also told us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I told her that we believe that God is a promise keeper, and that He made a covenant with Israel that He is fulfilling. I even went on to explain that He made certain promises to the Arabic people as well. She and I both agreed that the slaughtering of Arabic believers is of the same spirit as the return of rampant anti-semitism. She's as sickened at the martyring of Christians as I am of the slaughter of the Jews.
The next two hours she told me the story of her family, those that died in the Holocaust, those living now in the United States and what brought them here, those living in Israel. Throughout the conversation there were times when both of our eyes filled with tears. I loved listening to how she tracked down long lost relatives in Israel, how they often fly to Israel to celebrate Passover.
I grieved with her when she talked about the shift in the U.S. policies toward Israel. She worries about her loved ones in Israel not being able to count on the U.S. being a place of refuge for them. She told me about her and her husband's love for travel and all of the places in Europe that they've been and would love to return to. Except, her husband won't let them go anymore. He feels it's not safe. He doesn't want to spend money in countries that are allowing a return of nazism and other anti-semitic activities. He sees history repeating itself. Sheila looks at me and my husband, at the Christians we represent, as the last people who won't forget, who won't let it happen again.
As we neared our destination, where we would board our flight to London and she and her husband would catch their ride to New Jersey, Sheila told me about their winter home in Florida. There, she told me, she has been attending a ladies' Bible study on the book of Revelation. "I'm the only Jewish person at the the Bible study", she told me.
When we parted, I told her what a blessing it was that we had met. I told her that she'd be in my prayers. I often think of her sitting in that Christian Bible study. I pray that those ladies love her well. I pray that Jesus' great love is revealed to her. I pray that she has a revelation of Jesus as the Messiah Israel has been waiting for. I don't think I met Sheila by accident or happenstance. I think God put me there for a purpose, to confirm to her that Christians care and so I would be praying for her. I'm asking you, will you join me in praying for Sheila?
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