by the Rev. Jay George
Do you remember what airports used to be like? I don’t mean pre-9/11; I mean pre-’95. Before Starbucks and shoe removal and cell phone lots. Some of you are thinking, “’95? Son, I remember when they handed you a five-pack of Luckies and a mini-bourbon as you boarded.”
I flew from San Antonio to Charleston for a youth ministry conference in 1993. It was my first real, grown-up-job conference. I had a credit card. I was going to rent a car. This was a big deal. Caught my flight out of SA, no problem. Transferred planes in Atlanta, no problem. Landed in Charleston. Problem.
I strolled off the plane, grabbed my bags (which flew free, even on a non-Southwest flight) and even managed to find the car rental counter. The guy behind the counter was nice and helpful. Gave me a free upgrade. I filled out the paperwork, declined the insurance and reached for my wallet to show him my driver’s license. Only my wallet wasn’t there.
What — no wallet?!?! Not in my left, back pocket where I carry it. Quick. Check all the others. Nothing. Backpack. Maybe in my backpack? Nope. Oh man, I bet it fell out on the plane. Is that plane still here? Can I get on and check? Leave my bag with the car rental guy. Run to gate. “Have you checked with lost and found?” Run to lost and found. “No sir, no wallets.” Run back to gate. “Sure you can check the plane.” Run onto the plane. Look in the seat. Under the seat. Behind the seat. Check the pocket, the next seat, the tray table. No wallet. No wallet? NO WALLET!!!
No ID. No credit card. No checks, no cash, no change. All I have is the phone number of some guy I’m supposed to meet at the conference. I’m in a city I’ve never been in, where I know absolutely no one, and have no idea how to get where I’m supposed to be going.
Walk, dejectedly, back to the car rental counter.
“Sorry buddy, no wallet, no car.”
“I don’t even have change for a payphone.” (Remember payphones?)
“Well, hey, least I can do is let you use our phone.”
I call my wife. We’d been married a whole five months. My wedding ring was still shiny. “Uh, sweetie, I’m in Charleston. Yeah, made it safely. But, uh, well, I kinda’ lost my wallet. No, I’m sure I put it in my pocket. Absolutely sure. Yes, one hundred percent absolutely sure. Oh. On the kitchen counter, huh?”
Can’t get money from the bank. No card.
Can’t use Western Union. No ID.
Can’t get wallet FedEx-ed. No time.
Can’t sleep in the airport.
Call the guy from the conference.
“Hey, random-youth-minister-guy-whom-I’ve-never-met-or-even-talked-to-before, I’m stuck in Charleston. Got no wallet. No way to get to the conference. Really? You’ll come get me?”
Bill, from Greenville, left the conference (which by this time had already started), drove an hour to come pick me up. Drove another hour back to Pawley’s Island. Stopped on the way to the conference to buy me dinner. First two problems solved.
Did I need an ID to check into the conference? Nope. “Here’s your nametag and a bag of Funions. Enjoy.” Gotta’ love youth ministry. Third problem solved.
Bill introduced me to a bunch of people, including Smith. Yes, that’s his first name. Smith knew the guy whose family ran the hotel I was booked in. Smith made a few phone calls. Smith vouched for me. (Remember when people actually vouched for each other?) Smith got me checked into my room. Fourth problem solved.
And so it went.
For three days.
The hotel gave me free breakfast because I knew Smith. A youth minister from Columbia bought me lunch. Another youth minister bought me dinner. Someone else gave me cash to buy Cokes. And someone else offered to drive me back to Charleston to catch my flight.
I spent three-and-a-half days in a town I’d never been to before.
Where I had known absolutely no one.
Without a wallet or a dime to my name.
And I was fine. A little embarrassed, somewhat chagrined, but fine.
Years later, I was talking to a friend from Liberia. I had just read an article about miracles occurring in African churches. Real miracles. Everyday miracles. Loaves of bread being multiplied. Healing of broken limbs. Water changed into wine for communion. I told my friend I had a hard time believing these miracle stories. I had prayed for miracles, I told him, but I had never seen any. Not even a little one.
He said, “What do you need miracles for? You have grocery stores. You have doctors. You can order a hundred different kinds of wine on the computer. Why would God waste miracles on you when you can take care of yourself?”
The Rev. Jay George is vicar of Grace Church, San Antonio TX. Reach him at email@example.com.