I sat down in my seat anxiously waiting to feel the wheels lift off the tarmac. There’s just something about knowing that the next time you touch ground it’s going to be back at home. As I wait I’m going through my typical preflight inspection. iPad – check. Candy – check. Bag properly stowed – check. Seatbelt on – check. Sky Mall magazine in hand – check. It is about that time that I heard him coming down the aisle. He was talking to everybody on the way. He had a friendly, slightly nervous voice that just kept talking. He sat down beside me and quickly buckled up.
It took me about .2 seconds to realize that not only did this man live in San Francisco but he was in fact one of the thousands of homosexual men that I’ve heard about who live in San Francisco.
Now I need to let you know right up front, I have known many homosexuals in my life. Although I don’t approve of the lifestyle, I’ve always been a little proud at my ability to be friends and to focus on “the things that matter the most”.
With that being said though, we started right away with the usual airline conversations. Where you headed? Is Cleveland your last stop? What brings you to town? It was during this kind of questioning that I discovered that he was on his way to Cleveland to bury his father. I offer my condolences, and decided it was time to sit back and mind my own business.
That lasted about five seconds until he asked me where I had come from and where I was headed. When I told him that I was returning from a 16 day visit to Southeast Asia, he smiled a huge smile and began to tell me about all the many places and he’s visited in Southeast Asia. The conversation went on for an hour. It is actually very interesting. The only problem was, I had one reoccurring thought through the entire hour:
He seems like a nice guy, but he’s still gay.
…Wow, he’s traveled all around the world, but he’s still gay…
I wish I could say that it wasn’t a barrier, but it was. I wish I could say that I could just relax and listen to this man’s stories, but I couldn’t. It is about an hour into the conversation that all of this made a turn. When he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor. As soon as I said the word “pastor” he flinched. I could see it in his eyes. He was at a personal crossroad. He had to determine what he was going to do with this information. Then he looked at me and said, “Well you seem like a really nice guy anyway”. Then he smiled and relaxed.
Something happened in those few short seconds. I heard the Holy Spirit screaming a few truths in my ear.
Truth One – This man has had some very bad experiences with Pastors and “Church.”
Truth Two – This man is heading home to bury his father and is grieving deeply.
Truth Three – Despite all of these fears, this man just chose to share a piece of his life with you.
Truth Four – …and all you can think about is the fact that he’s gay… not a wounded man, not a grieving man, not even a scared man… just a gay man.
I immediately felt ashamed. I have no idea why it bothered me so much that he was gay, but it did. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t focus on the human being right beside me. I don’t know how you’d respond to a situation like this, I hope better than I did up to that moment, but here’s how I chose to respond after:
I turned to the man an asked him if he’d tell me about his father. You know, what kind of man he was, what he did for a living, etc. Then I asked about his family that he would be joining in a few hours. We talked about his faith (he was Jewish) and then I asked about his experiences with Christianity. We talked and talked for the remaining 4 hours of the flight.
We talked about everything from the reality of (him) living with HIV for over 30 years now to the difficulty he was having with the colostomy bag he now had to wear. All of a sudden, I saw him for who he was. He was valuable in God’s eyes and therefore, valuable in my eyes. I stopped looking at this man as a gay man and just started looking at him as a man who God loves deeply and is pursuing… just like me.
I doubt I’ll ever see this man again and I’m sorry to say that this story doesn’t end with him coming to a saving relationship with Christ or anything cool like that, but I do know that probably for the first time in a very long time, this man had a good encounter with a follower of Jesus. He felt genuinely valued and cared for.
I’m not sure if this conversation is going to change this man’s life in any way, but I do know it changed my life in a few very important ways.