The lovely, lilting English of the King James Bible reminds us, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2).
One of the great delights of traveling, especially far from home, are the encounters with unexpected “angels” along the way. By “angels,” I mean perfect strangers (pun intended) who bring God’s help or blessing, disguised as an ordinary mortals.
One of angels Bambi and I met this week was Gary, a British veteran of the war in Iraq. Gary met his Russian wife while working on an oil rig in the North Sea where she served as an interpreter. Now Gary and his wife live in England with their beautiful, young son and another child on the way.
Gary was staying in Salisbury, England while learning to fly a Gyrocopter, a sort of “flying motorcycle,” at the local airport. More on that later.
Bambi and I first met Gary at the “bar,” the sitting room and concession area of the college where we were staying. Gary was sitting alone and Bambi and I fell to talking with him. He found this surprising because in three weeks of staying at the college, mostly populated by theological students and clergy, virtually no one had spoken to him, let alone shared a meal or drink.
Gary said the Church of England was terribly out of touch with ordinary people and represents the worst of the lingering class system in Britain. In his mind, the clergy ignoring a tattooed war veteran like himself was symptomatic of the problem.
One night, while sitting alone in the college bar, yet again, Gary overheard a group of clergy bemoaning the fact the “working people” don’t support the church anymore. Irritated to the breaking point, Gary promptly told them the problem wasn’t the “working people;” the problem was a church that didn’t care about regular Joes like himself. Gary then left in a huff. To her credit, one priest sought Gary out the following day to hear his story.
Anyway, Gary seemed genuinely touched that Bambi and I, a man of the cloth and his wife, took a real interest in him. That was due to no virtue on our part. Gary was an easy person to like. Energetic and engaging, he enthralled us with his stories of combat, flying, and a host of other topics. After learning more about who he was, I told Gary I considered him an “anonymous Christian,” someone whose tender heart and concern for others confessed Christ, even if he did not.
By week’s end, Gary, Bambi, and I were becoming fast friends. He offered to take me up in the Gyrocopter he and his cousin, Simon, were learning to fly. Simon was qualified to take passengers up so I got into his and Gary’s open-cockpit Gyrocopter called a “motorbike of the sky” by flying enthusiasts. With Simon at the controls, I sat back and marveled at the lush, green English countryside sweeping by beneath our rotor-swept craft, riding the wind.
Last Sunday, Bambi and I attended Sunday morning worship at Salisbury Cathedral. The liturgy and music were regal and stirring. During the consecration of new deacons (Anglican clergy-in-training), several bishops took off their clerical vestments and washed the feet of those about to be ordained. It was a touching gesture.
However, still stinging from Gary’s rebuke to the clergy, of which I am a part, I couldn’t help but think: All this is well and good, but in imploring his disciples to “wash another’s feet,” Jesus wasn’t suggesting a lovely ceremony. Jesus was talking about stepping down from a posture of pride and privilege to really connect with and care about another human being. That is the essential calling of the clergy and for that matter, of every Christian.
Somewhere between the college bar and the cathedral, Gary became an angel of God’s grace to me. And not just by arranging a world-class Gyrocopter ride, but by reminding me of the sacred calling that is mine: to listen to every person as if I really believed he or she is a child of God . . . because they are.
Bob Setzer, Jr.
Another angel Bambi and I met this week was a young Pakistani man who not only pointed us to a store in Salisbury, England we needed to find, but insisted on walking us there through a tangle of medieval streets. I told him what a delight it was to meet a kind, helpful Pakistani since the ones we see on the news are almost universally mean and violent. He suppressed a smile and said the same was true of how Americans are perceived in his country.
Sometimes God speaks to us in a sucker punch.
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