Written by: Dean K. Thompson
A plane ride, a conversation, an insight.
Normally, I don’t talk to people much when I fly. Too uptight. But this time was different. I was sitting beside a scientist from the University of Peking. SHe was probably in her middle years of life. Throughout our lengthy conversation, she was somewhat shy, but she wanted to talk very much. She explained that her study was not the type of work that allowed her much time or opportunity for conversations with Americans.
We talked about Karl Marx, Ronald Reagan, dialectical materialism, Chinese communism, Chiang Kai-shek, Taiwan, Chou En-lai, Chairman Mao, the Cultural Revolution, democracy, totalitarianism, and higher education.
We talked for more than three hours. Sometime along the way, she asked, “What is your work?” “Presbyterian minister,” I answered, hesitating a bit. I’ve always hesitated, ever since my college classmates razzed me when I told them near the end of my senior year that I was going to seminary.
“Presbyterian minister. That means you are a Jesus person.” “Yes, I suppose I am a Jesus person,” I responded with some nervousness. Although she was an atheist, she seemed curiously pleased to be talking with a “Jesus person.”
“I knew many Jesus people when I was a child,” she said. “I sometimes attended their services at the mission schools, specially the Christmas play.”
“Is that a nice memory?” “Yes, the Christmas plays are a nice memory. They are a good memory for me, too. I went to them when I was a boy. Still do. I also know about the mission schools in your country. Do you know that Chou-En-lai and many of the older Chinese communist leaders were educated in the missionary schools of the Jesus people?”
“Most of the Jesus people I know are now very old,” she said. “They are nice, but I do not understand their beliefs.”
There was a long silence, and then she said, just as a scientist would say, “Tell me, please, tell me two basic things Jesus people believe.”
That kind of question puts preachers on the spot. We’re used to preaching long sermons about the many things Jesus people believe. Now a scientist/atheist from China was asking me to boil it all down.
“Well, the first thing we believe is the result of a question with which both scientists and Jesus people have struggled through the ages,” I said. “The question is: Why is there something instead of nothing? It seems to me that there are three possible answers.
“One answer is that the world is a funny coincidence or an absurd accident.”
“That is my answer,” she said.
“A second answer is, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s the agnostic’s answer,” I said.
“A third is ‘God.’ That is my answer. God made it all; and somehow, although I can’t see God, God is in control of it all. God puts purpose into human history and God puts meaning into your life and into mine.”
“And the second thing?” she asked.
“Well, the second thing Jesus people believe is that we are all in the same family. Despite all the tensions and wars, despite the radical differences between communism and democracy, we all are in the same family.”
Long silence. Then these words.
“Is that why you Jesus people call each other brother and sister?”
“Yes, sister,” I said.
I shall never see her again. And, although I would like to, that is OK; for that is how life appears to work. The family of humankind is a quickly passing parade, and we are allowed to see some of God’s family in only a twinkling of an eye.
Sometimes, as I travel in those planes over which I have no control, I find myself hoping about her, even praying. Hoping that she, too, will come to believe that God is the reason there is something instead of nothing, and that God is in control. Hoping that she, too, will come to believe that we are all in the same family.
Once, four strong believers carried their paralyzed comrade to a house where Jesus was. The crod was so thick that they had to lower him down through a hole in the roof. Then amazingly, Mark records these words about the incident: “When Jesus saw their faith,” He forgave the paralytic and healed him.
Their faith, not necessarily the paralyzed man’s faith; their faith prompted the forgiveness and the miracle of new life and new health.
I believe these words very much, specially since my plane ride. We who follow Jesus are supposed to believe for other people who can’t believe or won’t believe or are too broken down to believe. Believing for others is a hopeful part of what it means to follow Jesus. So, I will believe for that woman whose name I do not even know. I will believe for her as long as I live.
Why? Because somehow, through the unfathomable providence of the One who is in control, she is in the family. She is meant to be my sister.