Chance Encounter

A young woman finds evidence of God's love on an airplane.

Posted in , Jul 19, 2010

I settled into my seat on the red-eye from L.A. to D.C.—a trip east to tour some college campuses before I had to make the big decision.

The seat next to mine was empty and I couldn’t wait to get some sleep. Then I spotted a big guy maneuvering down the aisle, bumping passengers and apologizing profusely, and I knew—lucky me—I had a seatmate.

Sure enough, he sat next to me and started talking. “Never did like flying, always too hot or cold. And these seats are too small, don’t ya think? But I can’t complain. Lord knows, I’m a blessed man…”

So much for sleep. At least I was used to the annoyances of flying. Every summer for the past six years I’d flown to South America for mission trips. I’d heard babies crying nonstop, had my seat kicked and my tray table bumped, often when I was deep in thought or prayer, trying to make sense of my faith in the context of all the suffering I’d seen. Once I’d even lost my favorite book in the mad rush to disembark. So I smiled politely, listening to him chatter away. “Name’s Billy,” he finally said. “What’s yours?”

“April,” I said. “April Grube.”

Abruptly, the man stopped talking. The strangest look came over his face. “Excuse me, but I didn’t quite catch that,” he said. I said my name again.

“Have you ever been to South America?” he asked. “When? What airline?”

South America? Was he on one of my mission trips? “You don’t know me,” he said, “but if it weren’t for you, I don’t know what would’ve become of me.”

Three years earlier, Billy said, he was unemployed, living with his parents, desperately unhappy. He’d gone to South America, hoping new places would renew him. But everywhere he went, he saw suffering. No God would allow such pain, he thought. He headed home more miserable than ever. On the plane back, he searched his seat pocket for headphones. Instead, he found a book, Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller.

The pages were filled with handwritten notes. At first, Billy laughed at their sincerity and naïveté. But the doubts and questions and thoughts echoed his own. Here was someone else struggling with their faith. He read the book cover to cover. There, written on the last page, was the name of the owner: April Grube.

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