Editor’s note: This guest post is by our friend Jennie Anderson, who recently attended the Evangelical Press Association convention in Anaheim, Calif.
What did I learn at the convention?
To be completely honest, what I learned was not gleaned from the speakers, the worship leader or the workshop presenters. While they prompted my imagination and provided practical thoughts for advancing my understanding in the world of communication, what I gained from the convention was a confidence in telling my story.
I do not have any formal education in the area of photography or reporting. So, walking into Sheraton Park’s terrace, laced with Christianity’s leading editors, writers, and designers, I felt more than inadequate with my measly stack of homemade “business” cards. What was I doing here?
Entertaining the idea of serving Crossfield News as its newest photographer and reporter was a stretch of my imagination; yet I was confident that I was meant to attend the convention. During Easter weekend, two weeks before the convention, an excitement bubbled in my heart. As I discussed the opportunity with my parents and prayed for guidance, the roadblocks fell before my eyes in just a matter of days. One by one, every reasonable excuse for not planning a trip from Minnesota to California in two weeks’ time vanquished. The door was open. So, why not?
I reminded myself throughout the course of the convention that this was exactly where God wanted me. And though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was meant to learn during my time there, I had to trust there was purpose.
As of last Sunday, five days after the convention, I still had a difficult time expressing to others exactly what I had learned. If I was convinced God had me there on purpose, why wasn’t the lesson crystal clear?
But as I write this on Monday morning, I know without a doubt the answer to that question. I simply learned the value in confidently telling my story.
While I counted down the minutes before boarding my flight back to Minnesota, I scanned the gate’s waiting area hoping to spot a handsome young man who was sure to wind up in the seat next to mine for the four-hour trip. I had yet to experience that “blessed assurance” – God’s ultimate purpose in bringing me to the convention. Since it hadn’t happened at the convention, surely he was ready to introduce me to my true love on the flight home.
C’mon. Don’t tell me you’ve never hoped for that movie moment!
I filled my blue Nalgene in preparation for the flight, asking God to seat me next to that handsome young man. I always manage to get stuck between two old men with musty body odor or next to an adorable baby with an amazing lung capacity. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask – just one handsome young man in seat 20A. Please, God?
Okay, fine. Maybe that isn’t the prayer I should send heavenward. It’s not exactly what Jesus would do.
“So, God, I guess I’ll leave the seat arrangement up to you. You know best, anyway,” I prayed.
There. I did it.
As I settled into my middle seat – I really was hoping for a spot next to the window – I mentally prepared for a relaxing few hours of reading and sleeping.
And then it happened.
The guy next to me made a comment. And of course, I had to respond. So much for that nap.
That four-hour nap turned into a four-hour conversation. And that desired movie moment quickly became a God moment.
Mr. T is a 27-year old from Sri Lanka. Though he has spent the past 10 years living with his family in California, he was greatly anticipating a four-day reprieve from his parents’ watchful eyes. He could not wait to visit his graduating friend, drinking in celebration to his heart’s content.
The hours passed and T continued to openly share his story: his struggle with the English language, his love for his home country and his feigned guilt for hiding his drinking from his mom and Buddha. We laughed about his fear of skiing and ice skating, and I even taught him how to play the game “Never Have I Ever.”
And then I realized that Mr. T was the answer to my prayer. I had asked for God to arrange the seating, right?
The pilot announced we were preparing for landing, and before I lost all confidence, I asked T if he had ever read the Bible. He laughed, and claimed he didn’t like to read.
“So, how do you like to learn then, if you don’t read?” I asked.
“I like to learn by other people. You know, talking to them.”
Oh bother. Thanks, God.
As our ears popped and the lights dimmed in the final descent, I fumbled my way through my story of life and faith in Jesus Christ. I told him about the freedom I had experienced in grace. Knowing Jesus was not so much a list of do’s and don’ts, as T knew under the watchful eye of Buddha; rather it was an opportunity to honor God in my choices (as much as it sucks sometimes) and to love others in truth.
T looked at me with wide eyes, the wheels turning.
“I feel so free, listening to what you say,” he said.
“Can I pray for you, T?”
He looks at me with puzzled eyes, “Sure, what do I do?”
“Just close your eyes.”
And I prayed. I have no idea what was voiced, but my inner prayer was simple: God, reveal yourself to T. May he come to experience freedom in You.
The plane landed, and as the other passengers began to rustle about in their seats, T leaned his forehead on the seat before him. He was quiet, thinking. He then turned to me, and asked what church I go to. I told him I currently attend a Baptist church, and his eyes lit up in understanding. He had met a Baptist pastor while volunteering for a student event years ago. Perhaps he would go to him while visiting his friend in Minnesota.
“I can’t talk to my mom – she’d kill me – and the Buddhist priest just says prayers over me. Do you think the pastor would want to talk to me?” he asked.
Oh, would he ever!
As we walked together toward the baggage claim, I encouraged him to talk to this pastor and to email me if he had any questions.
“You mean I can ask you any question?”
“Yes, of course.”
I said goodbye to Mr. T with a hug and a prayer.
And this morning, as I reflect on what I learned during the convention, I know what I will answer.
The convention served as a foundation in establishing that “blessed assurance.”
What about you? Are you willing to be bold and confident in obediently and passionately telling the story God is calling you to share?
Whether my story develops on a four-hour flight or in a photograph from one of Costa Rica’s slums, I am learning to be confident.
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.