Chance Encounter on Sinful Sunday
How a rainy afternoon on a Kentucky airstrip reminded me that God is still in control.
As I write this, it’s been 10 days since the end of the annual Advocates Summit that took place at MAF Headquarters in Nampa.
It’s been 10 days since I’ve had Dutch Brothers coffee – an Idaho staple – and advocate Paul Pfluger convinced me to drink the caffeine-infused “Annihilator.” I’m STILL climbing the walls and chewing small pieces of bark, by the way.
It’s been 10 days since I ambushed Gene Jordan with a camera in the MAF chapel and snapped a surprise selfie. As I walked away, savoring how the camera captured the surprised look on Gene’s face, Gene may have said something like, “That better not end up on Facebook!” I posted it anyway.
It’s been 10 days since I told advocate Craig Talsma that he HAS to start listening to Dr. Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” on a daily basis because it’s one of the coolest podcasts out there. (It’s been TWO days since he admitted I was right, by the way.)
And it’s been 10 days since Mike Snodgrass challenged us all by asking why we’re doing any of this, to begin with.
“What’s your Why?”
That was the theme of this year’s Summit, and as the two days went by (three if you count the fried chicken dinner we had on Wednesday night), we heard from people on-site at MAF US Headquarters in Nampa, Idaho, and from missionary families – live and recorded – out in the field. From Jeremy and Jodie Toews, Brad and Rebecca Hopkins and Kayla Harder in Kalimantan, to Daniel and Kacy Bristol in Papua, to Chad and Jamie Dimon in Nyankunde, they opened their hearts and shared the reasons that drove them to the uttermost ends of the earth.
Some responses were heartwarming. Others were convicting. Others were humorous.
Some answers came unexpected and unbidden. On Thursday, when two dismantled Cessna 185s arrived at MAF Headquarters (they had been shipped from Kalimantan, Indonesia, several weeks earlier), Larry Whiting became unexpectedly emotional when he remembered one of the reasons he spent roughly 30 years of flying in Indonesia: namely a boy he watched grow up into a man who chose to follow Christ in Kalimantan.
“The guys in the village he went to tried to kill him on more than one occasion,” Whiting said, his voice cracking and his eyes tearing up. “He’s now retired, but he loves evangelism so much he’s moved upstream to another village and he’s working today there.”
So what was MY why?
Full disclosure: During the two-day Summit, I didn’t take many notes (Translation: I didn’t take ANY notes). But at the very end of the Summit, when Mike Snodgrass challenged us to come up with three reasons WHY we were volunteering for MAF – and to WRITE. THEM. DOWN. – I knew it was time to set the video camera aside and grab my new, MAF-branded ballpoint pen.
Here are the answers I came up with, taken word-for-word from my workbook:
- I want to serve Jesus because of all that He’s done for me – and because serving Him is the only worthwhile thing that matters.
- I love airplanes and aviation – and I love that they can be used to serve Jesus.
- I love telling stories using print, online and video mediums.
The latter, I felt, summed up my value to MAF. As far as aviation goes, my knowledge is rudimentary at best. At the moment, I’m just a student pilot – one who will hopefully have my PPL ticket by the time the next newsletter comes out. I’m not mechanically inclined. I don’t know any other languages. I have no short- or long-term mission trip experience.
I’m just am an amateur journalist who shoots and edits amateur videos and writes articles for the CONNECT newsletter.
I have to admit, hearing other advocates give testimonies at the Summit about churches they’d spoken at, hangars they’d manned booths in, individuals they’d witnessed to, it made me rethink my approach. They were telling the MAF story to people who’d never heard it before. I was preaching to the choir.
“It’s as simple as just wearing your MAF gear,” advocate Paul Pfluger said (I’m paraphrasing). “I can’t tell you the number of people who’ve asked me about MAF just from seeing my t-shirt!”
“How does that work?” I asked. “I wear my MAF stuff all the time, and nobody ever asks me anything.”
The trip home from Nampa to Louisville gave me lots of time for introspection.
I’ve often said the MAF Advocates Summit is a lot like those old Zig Ziglar business seminars: you walk out of it energized, inspired and ready to get to work.
The word in the back of my mind was “intentional.” “Intentional” is a buzzword these days – and for good reason. We need to be intentional in what we do: intentional about our prayer lives, intentional about our Bible reading and intentional about how we look for ways to build God’s kingdom. As for me, I wasn’t just going to be intentional about my work for MAF, but also for any way God might choose to use me.
I had a brief layover in Dallas, but it wasn’t long before I was ready to board American Airlines Flight 5992, from DFW to SDF, the final leg of my trip back to Louisville. It was Saturday afternoon. As I waited at the gate, they began boarding for passengers with special needs. I saw a boy – probably about 10 or 11 – walk by himself and disappear down the corridor that led into the plane. He looked miserable.
About 15 minutes later, I was among one of the last groups to board. As an airline passenger, I love window seats. In fact, for the life of me, I can’t understand people who prefer aisle seats – or worse – pick window seats, only to shut the windows. In my book, those people need to be incarcerated.
So you can imagine my disappointment when I discovered that my seat was all the way in the back, in an aisle. Next to me was the boy, alone, looking sad as ever. And instead of a window, there was only a curved wall where the window should have been.
I tried to mask my disappointment as I sat down, awkwardly. Then my sense of purpose kicked in. I may not like the circumstances, but God had placed me here for a reason. This kid looked sad and dejected, and maybe God wanted me to be a light to him. Maybe God placed me here at this moment to cheer him up.
“How ya doin?” I asked, holding out my hand and smiling. “I’m Travis.”
He looked pitiful as he shook my hand, grumbled his name and looked away.
I tried again.
“Where are you from?”
The kid grumbled again.
No matter. I was going to cheer this kid up. Somehow I was going to be a blessing. I was being intentional. God had put me next to this kid for a reason, and I was going to be a light and a witness–
“Excuse me sir?” It was the stewardess. “I apologize sir, but we’re going to have to move you. The plane can’t take off unless we have someone sitting in the window seat next to the emergency exit. I’m really sorry for the inconvenience.”
I can’t say I was upset. But I didn’t understand what God was doing. I was supposed to be a blessing to this kid. I was being intentional.
So instead, I sat next to a girl who unfortunately had no interest in talking to me.
I never saw that kid again.
The next morning, I was not being intentional.
It was Sunday, and I had planned on going to the 9 a.m. church service, but it was already 7:30 and I didn’t even hear the alarm go off. Not getting home until midnight the night before, after six hours on a commercial airline flight will do that to you.
I did manage to make it to my 10:45 Adult Bible Fellowship class (which is the same thing as a Sunday School class, but if my church called it “Sunday School” we wouldn’t have the cool “ABF” acronym).
Then it was on to Sinful Sunday.
Sinful Sunday is an annual fly-in that takes place at Lee Bottom airfield (64I), a 4,000-foot grass strip in nearby Hanover, Indiana. Hosted by the Bluegrass Chapter of Women in Aviation, it features $5 hot dogs and hamburgers, as well as $5 ice cream sundaes. Proceeds go toward the local WIA chapter.
(They call it “Sinful Sunday” because they’re feeding you ice cream, NOT because they’re sacrificing goats or anything.)
After church, I ran home changed into shorts, a t-shirt and donned my MAF cap. (I wish I could say I did it because I was prepping for a ministry opportunity, but really I did it just because it is a cool hat.)
Admittedly, it’s not as awesome to drive to a fly-in as it is to fly to a fly-in, but I had no access to a plane Sunday afternoon. Usually, a flight in a Cessna 172 from my home airport, Bowman Field (KLOU), to Lee Bottom takes about 20 minutes. It takes about an hour to drive that distance.
By the time I arrived, the event was wrapping up. Rain was in the air, and encroaching storm clouds had chased away most of the pilots who had been there earlier in the day. All of my friends from the flight school had already left.
Originally, I had big plans for what I was going to do. I was going to shoot some still pictures. Maybe get some video. At least meet up with some friends. Now all I wanted to do was scarf down a hot dog and some chips and scram before the weather hit.
“Are you from MAF??????”
The question came from a wide-eyed young woman who noticed my MAF hat as I was loading potato chips onto my plate.
“Actually, I’m just a volunteer, I’m –“ then I recovered. “YES I AM.”
She was incredulous.
“I actually thought about flying for MAF!”
The silence was so piercing you could almost hear the ketchup congealing on my hot dog.
“You need to meet the president of our local Women in Aviation chapter!” she continued.
A few minutes later, I was shaking hands with another, middle-aged woman.
“We would love to have you bring an MAF booth to our Women in Aviation Career Day event in October!” she said. “Do you have a business card?”
I did not. I was not being intentional. It seemed like a half-mile dash back to my car to retrieve my MAF advocate business cards and brochures, but I returned a few moments later. I took down their names and numbers. I promised to be there in October.
A few minutes later, the storms rolled in and we all went home.
On the drive home, I was excited. Potato chips flew everywhere. In the 20 minutes or so I had been there, I had only managed to accomplish one thing: I had somehow managed to ACCIDENTALLY STUMBLE INTO an MAF ministry opportunity. I had met two women who were interested in MAF, and now I had the chance to share MAF with several more in October.
As the rain poured down and my windshield wipers streaked, it seemed to me less and less likely that today’s meeting had been a simple coincidence. I don’t think it was by coincidence that, months earlier, I had shot a video of pilot Kayla Harder sharing her testimony – a video that would be perfect to show at a WIA Career Day event.
The more I thought about it, I – and the two women I met – had been at exactly the right place, at the right time.
Sometimes the most important thing isn’t that we’re intentional. Sometimes the only important thing is that He is.
TRAVIS K. KIRCHER is an advocate for MAF. He can be reached at email@example.com.