“Christianity,” someone says, not talking to me. I look up instinctively from my seat on this Continental Airlines 757, its two Rolls-Royce engines translating 87,000 pounds of thrust into a soft purr. We are cruising at 39,000 feet toward heaven inside this mighty bird — its wingspan almost half a football field in length. More than six miles below, the desert coast of Peru unwinds like a dusty ribbon along the blue Pacific. Across the aisle from me, Mark completes a crossword puzzle with quick dispatch. We flew to Peru last Wednesday on business. Now it is Sunday, and we are bringing home a treasure of wondrous memories permanently woven into the fabric of our respective souls.
I peep over the seat in front of me, where a 30-something father with a kind face gently reads a book on Christian manhood aloud to his preteen son. After a while the lady sitting beside them strolls back through the cabin. I step up to talk while she is gone. “Promise Keeper?” I guess. The father smiles affirmatively. “Are you from Houston?” No, he is not, Steve Ross tells me, as he introduces me to 11-year-old Jorden. Steve proclaims the gospel in the Amazon jungle of southern Peru, he says, where he and his wife Julie moved in 1990 under the umbrella of South American Mission. Jorden was four years old then, and Ashley was six. Benji and McKenzie, born later, have always lived in Peru.
Steve grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, I discover, the Jerusalem of American evangelicalism, and we quickly identify several mutual acquaintances. Among them is my friend Dr. John McRay, who teaches archaeology at Wheaton Graduate School, and whose son Rob preaches for my home congregation in Houston.
Steve tells me about his ministry of teaching Bible school and planting churches deep in the Peruvian jungle — a verdant world inhabited by piranhas and the mantona, a red-tailed boa constrictor that grows to ten feet long. The Shipibo-Conibu tribe of indigenous people live there as well, men and women created in the image of God. Like the apostles before them, and countless confessors, saints and martyrs since, Steve and Julie carry the saving light to the nations. They enjoy already the distinct reward of watching God deliver a people group from spiritual darkness which most of us can scarcely begin to imagine. The “brujas” or witches still control the souls of many in this ancient and beautiful land, a country where even many city-dwellers bypass physicians to consult a “curandero” or healer for potions or charms when illness strikes a family member.
Six hours later, our plane is descending into Houston. We bless each other in Jesus’ name, Steve and I, and exchange our addresses, 3,000 miles apart. This Lord’s Day encounter in the sky has encouraged and enriched my own faith. What a bond unites the worldwide family of God, I think. What love we share for the Father who loved us all first! What love the Spirit of God pours into our hearts for his other children!