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“I’ve Never Heard This Before!” Two Pastors On A Plane

177737866Armed with headphones and ready for a quiet flight home, Wheaton Bible Church Pastors Jeff Walser and Mark Irvin were pleased to find a couple of open seats on the crowded Southwest plane.

Jeff took the center seat, and Mark sat by the window. They were returning from a ministry conference in Monterey, California, and the meetings had been good but intense. Both were anticipating time to think and reflect during their flight from San Jose to Midway.

As they settled into their seats, Mark and Jeff exchanged pleasantries with Susan, who sat in the aisle seat in
their row.

“So, are you headed out of town or going home?” one of them asked her.

“Actually, I am just coming back from a spiritual-awareness seminar,” she responded.

“What was that about?” Jeff asked, intrigued.

“Oprah was there,” Susan responded, “and some other speakers.”

185794449With a little prompting, she went on to explain. “I was just feeling like there was something missing in my life. The truth is, I’m coming off a pretty hard time. I’m divorced, but I had a good relationship with my ex-husband, and he had a good relationship with our kids. But he just passed away, so we are in a tough season right now.”

She shared a little about how her kids were struggling with the loss of their dad. Then she told Jeff and Mark about how her sister had invited her out to California for the seminar.

“I thought maybe it would help, because I can’t seem to get myself unstuck.”

Connecting with the pain she was experiencing in her life, Jeff was able to share a little of his own story about how he and his wife, Jill, had come from a place of no spirituality of any kind and how hearing the story of Jesus and His forgiveness had been a turning point in their lives.

“She seemed interested, so I talked a little more about the forgiveness that’s available because of what Jesus did on the Cross.”

As the conversation continued, Jeff and Mark offered to pray for Susan’s kids, and she gratefully accepted.

“She asked us if we held hands when we prayed,” Mark remembers, “and told us that if it was okay with us, she’d like to. So there we were, holding hands on top of our tray tables across the row.

“After we each prayed for her kids,” Mark said, “and Jeff was telling her a little of his own story, I was praying, Lord, take this where you want it to go. Use this time.

“I could definitely sense the Spirit guiding the whole thing,” Jeff adds. “I would finish a thought, and Mark would have a personal observation. It was really organic and so natural.”

Susan’s appreciation for the prayer time was heartfelt, and the two pastors were glad for the opportunity they’d had to minister to this fellow traveler.

“At that point,” Jeff added, “the conversation kind of wound down. But as we were both about to put our headphones on, I remembered that I had this little booklet in my bag that I could give her. Some of us at the church had written out our personal faith stories and put them together with a brief explanation of the Gospel.

“As I gave it to her, I wrote my name and email address on the back and said, ‘Let me know if you have any questions. Just contact me, and I’ll be whatever help I can.’”

He handed Susan the booklet, and she thanked him. Then he put on his headphones and literally, as he was closing his eyes, he looked over and saw her reading it. Right then and there!

“She’s starting to read my story. And she turns the page and continues reading,” Jeff remembers.

As Jeff and Mark watched, Susan read through the pages of the booklet, and as she was reading Jeff’s story, she
was making comments like “Wow! That’s amazing.”

“Yes,” Jeff responded, “God has done some amazing things in my life.”

She continued on through the booklet, through the pages that tell “God’s story,” and the Scriptures that explain the steps to finding peace with God.

As she read, Mark and Jeff were hearing comments like “Oh my goodness! I’ve never heard this before. This is amazing!”

“I’ve never heard this before!”

She’s reading through the pages, Jeff thought to himself, watching her and aware of the truths those pages convey. “‘God loves us and wants us to experience His peace and life’ . . . ‘sin separates us from relationship with Him’ . . . ‘but our efforts to reach Him fall short’ . . . ‘so God made a way by sending Jesus to the Cross’ . . . ‘Jesus Christ died on the Cross and paid the penalty for our sins’ . . . ‘so that we might be restored to relationship with God.’”

Susan continued turning the pages, reading the words and thoughtfully examining the illustrations.

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Then she came to the point in the booklet where, Jeff knew, she would read this question: Would you like to place your trust in Jesus as your Savior?

Susan turned to that page.

Jeff waited a moment, then asked, “Would you like to?”

“Yes, I would,” she replied. “Right now.”

The three talked briefly as Mark and Jeff explained a little of the meaning of what Susan was about to do.

“We are going to pray now,” Jeff remembers saying, “and we are going to lead you as you pray a prayer of accepting what Jesus did for you—because of His great love for you.”

The three again held hands across the row, and right there—at 30,000 feet—Susan prayed the prayer that changes everything!

The conversation that followed, Jeff says, was sweet. “As we said good-bye—Susan was continuing on to the East Coast—we promised to keep praying for her, and we have. But beyond sending her information about a good church near her home, we need to trust that God will continue to create connections for Susan.

“We had the total sense,” Jeff continues, “that this was a piece in an overall story that God was orchestrating. And Mark and I were so encouraged that we got to play a role in that.

Even Susan recognized that God had His hand in their meeting. She told Mark and Jeff, “I know this isn’t an accident that this has happened at this place, at this time in my life.”

“My takeaway,” Jeff says, “is that I don’t want to miss any of these divine appointments that God has scheduled into my life. Sometimes it’s a challenge to initiate conversations about spiritual things. In fact, on my flight out to California earlier that week, I really struggled to reach out to the man sitting next to me.

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Executive Discipleship Pastor Jeff Walser and Mark Irvin, Pastor of Marriage, Men, and Care

“I knew I should,” he admits, “but the guy looked so put together, so cool, and maybe a little intimidating. But would you believe that when I finally did—probably halfway through the flight—I found out that he’s a believer, and we ended up having this beautiful time to encourage one another.

“I really don’t want to miss what God has for me, and I can tell you that it’s a pretty incredible experience to share the truth of the Gospel and the gift of new life in Christ with someone who responds with ‘I’ve never heard this before.

“We’ve been talking a lot about this as a church staff, praying for one another and encouraging each other to be people who share our stories of how we personally encountered God’s saving grace. And our conversation with Susan—the divine appointment that God orchestrated—is an awesome reminder there are people who could say, as she did, ‘I’ve never heard this before.’

“And when that happens,” Jeff adds, “we can have the joy of sharing how none of us can be good enough but how God made a way for all who believe and accept what Jesus did for us on the Cross, enabling us to become His sons and daughters, for now and for eternity.”

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2015 by in Spring/Summer 2015.

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