The Stranger {The Grove: Travel}

the stranger traveler

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

Looking around frantically in a bustling crowd, I try to find the signs for the ferry station. People brush up against me, carrying luggage and crying babies. I look down at my sticky note instructing me which way to go, but can’t seem to find the correct exit. Was I supposed to walk down that plank, or get on that shuttle bus filling up with passengers outside?

“Are you going across to Hong Kong Harbor?” A deep voice says in English, “This way.”

I follow the man, a stranger, in a tidy business suit out of the mainland terminal toward a walkway that leads us to a ferry boat. I quickly catch his name- he is a German businessman who frequents the two cities I am traveling between. I pray quietly, recognize the characters for ‘ticket station’, and trust I am in the right place. He helps me buy a ticket and get seated on the ferry. We have a pleasant conversation and once we’ve arrived, he hails me a taxi. “Have a safe trip,” he says, then speaking fluent Cantonese, he instructs the driver where I am to go. “Thank you!” I call out the window. He shakes his head, “It’s nothing.” Then he is gone.

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways;” Ps. 91:11

18 months later….

It’s been 12 hours in Heathrow airport. Flights canceled, my husband is on a different plane, and I’m standing in the back of a line with my three year old son who is sitting on top of four massive pieces of luggage jammed into the trolley. I have my arms around him with my head down. I’m at my wits end, exhausted, and desperate to get a seat on the next plane out to Asia. I haven’t slept in almost 24 hours. There are four chatty British women standing in front of me, and I hear them discussing their upcoming trip with excitement in their voices. I sure wish I had a friend right now. 

My son starts whimpering and I grab his sippy cup, but he pushes it away. Goldfish crackers, stuffed animal, board book… the tears set in. I feel myself starting to cry, when the women suddenly crowd around me and sing gently in unison to my son. He begins to engage, then starts giggling. I strike up a conversation with one of the ladies, who promptly addresses her fellow travelers, “Ladies, it seems the Lord has called us to care for these dear ones today.” I protest, but they won’t have it. I get a bathroom break, my son plays happily while I talk to a ticket agent, and I have extra hands for my luggage and my little boy. “It’s nothing dear”, they say.

But it IS something. Every kind intervention counts. We never forget them.

We all have our travel horror stories: missed flights, a broken down bus, flash flood during a village hike, stolen passports, tricky taxi drivers, obnoxious passengers, crowded stations, long lines, irritable customs agents, lost baggage, scary medical event en route…the list goes on. Believe me, I know. 

We get annoyed, glare at the person kicking the seat behind us, and maybe even say unkind things to other people in our presence. We can be so distracted by what’s NOT going right during our travels that we lose sight of the opportunity to bless and be blessed in the midst of ‘everything going wrong’.  

And when you least expect it, God provides the Stranger- the one who steps in during a moment of chaos, confusion, or calamity. They SEE you and change the course of your travels for the good, or at least offer a moment of relief (yes, even the bathroom). The offering of a seat, picking up a dropped wallet, sharing a snack, interpreting, a smile. It’s the mama stepping out of her rice paddy, to carry my daughter on her back as we trek to the village. And it’s my well-traveled teenager who notices a nainai (grandma) struggling with her luggage at the train station- he greets her kindly in her language and carries her bags to the street. Those moments are like a touch of heaven, infused into a weary soul.

No doubt you have experienced the kindness of a Stranger in the same way Jesus and his disciples did centuries ago. We, too, are called to care for the weary traveler, the lost one, the out-of-place. With God’s help and His eyes to see, we can be the kind Stranger and make a difference in someone’s journey. 

Have you been blessed by a Stranger on any of your journeys? Please share your story with us below! Have you thought about ways to look out for fellow travelers; what does this look like in the culture where you live?

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6 Comments

  1. Ruth Felt August 2, 2019

    My second year in China, I was stuck in Bangkok for a day and a half trying to get a flight out – already an emotional wreck after saying goodbye to my new fiancé for a few months. When I finally got back into China, it was late enough that I couldn’t get a bus back to my own city. I did not know my way around this city, and I didn’t have a cell phone back in the day – nobody even knew where I was. And I was so tired that I could hardly remember English much less Chinese. I took a bus into the city that “happened” to have some foreign students, so I asked if they could recommend a place to stay. One of them took me around until we found somewhere and he communicated on my behalf. I was so grateful I could have hugged him, but I decided that would have been weird and awkward.

    A couple of years ago we stopped at McDonalds at the Beijing airport and overheard a couple of English speaking Asian ladies looking destressed. We said hi, and they were so happy to find someone who spoke English. They explained how they were connecting in BJ on their way to meet their husbands in the US, but they got lost and missed their next flight. They couldn’t figure out how to change the flight, didn’t have any local money, didn’t know how to make a phone call, and were totally lost and scared. I let them use my skype to call their husbands and explain what was going on, and we tried to help out however we could. Anyone who has ever felt confused and alone in a foreign airport knows how they were feeling! It was such a little thing – letting them use my phone – but it meant so much to them.

    I love this: “But it IS something. Every kind intervention counts. We never forget them.” I’m sure that foreign student who helped me 12 years ago doesn’t remember, because it wasn’t a big deal for him. But I have not forgotten because it was a huge deal to me. Sharing my phone was not a big deal to me at all, but I was able to help someone when they really needed it. It is such a good reminder to look for all those good little moments that happen every single trip.

    1. Monica F August 5, 2019

      What a neat story of how you passed on a blessing that you had experienced in your travels. Because you didn’t forget a kindness, you were able to gift kindness onto someone else. Those little interventions really do make a difference! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Sarah Hilkemann August 2, 2019

    I love these stories, Monica! And also the reminder to be intentional about finding ways to help others and notice people when traveling.

    I spent 2 months working in Italy the summer before my senior year of college, helping an expat family. For the last 2 weeks I traveled from the island of Sicily to Rome, and then was taking the train to a small town outside the city. I had only traveled internationally once before this and never by myself (other than the flight to Sicily). This was my first time taking a train. I managed to get from the Rome airport to the city center train station and to the correct platform but right before the departure time something didn’t seem right. I realized there had been a last minute platform change and rushed to find the train. I wasn’t sure if it was the right one, and didn’t actually speak Italian, but there was a man sitting right in the open doorway of the train and I attempted to ask him if this was the train headed to my destination. He responded in English that it was indeed and pointed me to a seat. The train immediately started going but about 10 minutes later stopped and an announcement came on in Italian. The man came and found me and explained in English that the train had broken down and we all needed to switch to different trains. He was tall and I managed to follow him through the stream of people and got on the right train but then I never saw him again. I was so stressed and anxious but I know I wouldn’t have made it to the right spot without him!

    1. Monica F August 5, 2019

      Love this Sarah! I believe God sends us these strangers who stand out in subtle ways…if that makes sense:) . What a powerful experience you had of God looking out for you and providing exactly the what you needed (INFORMATION!) at that point in time.

  3. Amy August 2, 2019

    When my husband, then-3-year-old daughter, and I were returning to the U.S. from Honduras, we had been through many stressful travel issues en route and were weary and frustrated. We needed change for a $20 bill so that we could get a luggage cart to help us with our heavy bags and could not find anyone with money on them, nor a store in the airport willing to make change for us. It was the last leg in our long journey which had begun 23 hours earlier on the drive to the airport and we had had enough. A man with white-blonde hair was coming off the plane and I told my husband that I was going to ask him for change. As I approached the man, he smiled and said hello, which was a balm already to my weary heart. I asked him if he could make change and he said that he was returning from Africa and felt that he was to give us the cash that he had on him, which was $30. He would not take the $20 nor make change for us but insisted that we take the $30 and he placed it in my hands, looked me squarely in the eye with his piercing blue eyes, and said that The Lord wanted us to have this. It was SO encouraging and blessed our hearts beyond words, and we have never forgotten his kindness to us!!!!! We have even wondered at times if he was an angel; either way, he was one in our eyes that day!!

    1. Monica F August 2, 2019

      This is a wonderful story Amy; I could feel the relief in the way you described your experience. I truly believe God sends us angels in moments of desperation- and I think the ‘wonder’ of it all gives strength to our faith. What a cool story!

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