Trains, Planes, and Inconveniences: Part I

Or
Seeing Jesus, Neck pain, and Crying Babies

For those of you who don’t yet know, I am in the Holy Land right now! Last year I decided to make plans to go to Israel with a small group from my church and several others from the midwest area. The next several posts will be about my time here, and I promise to make it readable, enjoyable, and worth your time. But let me start from Monday night—the beginning—when I took a train home the night before my first flight…

I settled in to my seat, thanking my lucky stars Jesus that Amtrak can’t screw up an initial departure and make you nine hours late. (Another story). I settled my stuff around me, desperately needing to charge my phone but not wanting to inconvenience the woman next to me. But Lisa ended up inconveniencing me, and praise God that she did.

“My car broke down,” she told me out of the blue.

“I’m sorry. What were you doing in Chicago?”

“Oh I’m coming back from visiting my daughter in Wisconsin. She’s eight months pregnant. It’s my first grandbaby.” She tried to keep in a grin, but she had Proud Grandmother-To-Be written over her face like fireworks in a 4th of July sky.

She looked out the window over her right shoulder. “Man, I bet this route is beautiful.”

I shrugged and smiled, thinking of a California native and Chicago native I had sat next to on my last train, and the conversations that had taken place concerning Indiana’s plainness, ugliness, and plain ugliness.
“I like it,” I agreed. “Have you ever been to Chicago before?”

“Oh yeah. Mom used to come to the city all the time. She loved to shop there.”

“I bet,” I reply. “A lot of my friends say they’ll come visit me in Chicago and we can go shopping. I’m like, bring a thousand bucks!” Lisa and I laugh, a small token of friendship passed between strangers.

I decide to continue.
“Where are you from?”
“Manchester.”

Comfortable pause. She decides to continue.
“So were you visiting the city?”
“Oh no, I go to school there.”
“Where?”
“Moody Bible Institute.”
“Okay. So…are you…” She struggles to find the words for something. Eventually I catch on.
“Going to be a pastor? Nope,” I answer cheerfully.
“They have other programs?”
“Definitely. Things like Youth Ministry, Elementary Education…” (I promise Moody is not paying me to write this blog).
“So what are you studying?” She asks.
“Ministry to Victims of Sexual Exploitation.”

Her eyes widen a little bit, but I’ve become used to this. People’s eyes widen at most majors longer than two words, as well as anything with the word “sex” in it.

“That’s great,” she nods, “really great. Good for you.”
The conversation could end there easily, but it’s not over—not by a long shot.

“I met Jesus 15 years ago,” she offers, looking right at me. I close my book. Testimonies are my absolute favorite, and I’m planted for the next three hours.

“What’s your story?”

“Well, I got in an argument with a pastor. But I didn’t know he was a pastor; he looked more like one of those biker types,” she laughs, and I can’t help but join in.

“What was the argument about?”

“I told him there shouldn’t be churches in downtown Manchester. He thought differently. It got pretty ugly. I was shouting and everything. Eventually he invited me in for coffee and we got to talking more. What he was saying made sense. I realized I had some stuff going on in my life. I needed healing.”

My heart felt pretty warm. “That’s awesome,” I said. “Did you ever end up visiting his church?”

She laughs openly at me. “I still go there today. Now I want to start a halfway house.”

God, thank you for what you do. Thank you for the people you redeem, and though you change us from saints to sinners, we would still be servants.

“What people don’t know,” Lisa continued, “is that when the recession hit several years ago, northern Indiana was almost ruined. When they took away all those factory jobs–what so many of us have depended on for generations and generations–we got stuck. Lots of people have bounced back, but in Manchester the homeless population is getting worse. The prostitution too. And all these people are getting out of prison, and they end up going back to drugs or back to prostituting or back to prison because there’s nothing for them when they get out. They’re back in the same life. So I want to start a halfway house.”

“That’s awesome,” I repeat stupidly, but still happy.

She nods solemnly. “Yeah, I feel like it’s what Jesus is telling me to do.” She hesitates, then moves forward. “I left some stuff out of my story before…I used to be a prostitute. At one point I moved to Vegas and was a cocktail waitress. I had a kid out of wedlock. I’ve never been to prison. But I really do have a heart for the homeless and the prostitutes.”

“Do you mind if I get your contact info?” I ask. “Moody is doing some awesome things within that ministry, and starting things up in the city as well. I don’t know if I can make anything happen, but I can see if I can connect you with someone who knows more?”

Her eyes widen. “Yeah, sure. My name’s Lisa. Blackwell.” I took down her email and saved it in my phone.

“Lisa,” I start, “The world needs more people like—”

“Excuse me,” a kind-looking, older black man from the row behind us leans over the tall seats. “I’m sorry ladies. I don’t mean to interrupt, but is one of you from the Manchester area?”

Lisa tells him she is, and as the conversation is none of my business, I reopen my book. Only at the tail end of the conversation do I recognize excitement in Lisa’s voice. She’s holding a business card, saying “I know 5 or 6 people getting out of prison in the next few months. Can they apply for this housing?” Halfway turned around in her seat, you can see the cogs working in her head, already trying to put plans into place for those less fortunate. The man is saying something about the Justice Department, and something else I don’t know anything about. Lisa thanks him profusely and he sits down.

We don’t have time to start our conversation back up before the woman sitting next to me—but all the way across the aisle—decides it’s time to close her book and join the conversation.

“Actually, have you ever heard about…”
And off they go. Four complete strangers on a train in the cornfields of Nowhere, Indiana, doing what they can and offering what they have to make the world a little bit better. It was incredible, and I wish words could do justice to the moments that happened, but Shakespeare himself would have struggled.

“Look at you, ya got me networking now!” Lisa grins at me once the woman goes back to her book.

“Me?” I say, genuinely stunned. “I had nothing to do with this; we were just talking! Someone did this, but it wasn’t me.”

Lisa nods immediately. “You know I wasn’t even supposed to be on this train? After my car broke down and I got into Chicago, they put me up in a nice place and gave me lunch. I was supposed to catch an earlier train, but something went wrong on the rails and they switched me to this.”

We both smile at each other, Lisa probably thinking the same thing I was.
God is so good.

“This is great! You’ve got some stuff to go on now, Lisa.”

“I’ve been working on this for a bit.”

“There are some situations where all you can do is pray and wait.”

“Yeah, I don’t know,” she shakes her head, lost in thought. “Sometimes you get too many steps ahead of Him and He yanks you back to where you’re supposed to be.”

“Lisa, do you mind if I pray for you?”

We had church right there on a dirty train at 10:00pm on a Monday night, friends. Inviting Jesus to be Lord of us, Lord of our lives, and Lord of our plans, we sat in fellowship with each other and the Holy Spirit.

Amtrak’s not so bad after all.

Before you go:

**Details (including but not limited to names and towns) were changed to protect the identity of the individual.

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