It was 2003. I was going on a mission trip to Peru for just over two months and I had never been to South America. I had never even been to a Spanish-speaking country. I could feel a sense of adventure pulsing through my veins as I boarded a plane with more than 20 other people from my Canadian college.
As we made our way down the aisle of the plane, I checked my ticket to see where my seat was. We were all sitting in the same area, and I hoped I would be sitting next to my good friend Bryan, a 6’8” giant with whom I had traveled in the past. Surely, they would give him a seat with leg room, and I could benefit from his good fortune.
But as I checked my ticket again, I looked up to see my seat. There was no extra legroom to be found. Sitting in the seat next to mine was the person I was the least acquainted with out of anyone on the trip: Sarah, a black girl from Quebec, a primarily French-speaking province of Canada. I’m not sure why we hadn’t talked much. Sometimes it seemed like she was staying clear of me. I sat down and, as I always do, I started talking.
The conversation went back and forth for a while and eventually we both fell asleep. It was an enjoyable plane ride, and interestingly enough the airline served tacos. (This was back when air travel was a good experience and they didn’t nickel-and-dime you at every turn.)
We got to Peru safely and the trip was going great. We were helping people and God was working. Each night we experienced worship together and each took a turn leading out.
We had all grown quite close, and one night, as I sat down for worship surrounded by my friends, I saw that it was Sarah’s turn to share a worship thought. She seemed a little nervous, stating she was going to share something that impacted her.
As she started to talk about the trip, she got increasingly nervous. Then she admitted that she had not been worried about the trip itself, but about with whom she was going. She hadn’t known most of us before the trip, and there was one person in particular she was really worried about: me.
You see, I am an Alberta boy. If you don’t know what that means, Alberta is kind of like the Texas of Canada. I lived up to that stereotype for the most part; I had a buzz cut and a Fu Manchu mustache—you know, the handlebars that go from your ‘stache to your chin. To top it all off, someone had told her I was extremely racist.
While it wasn’t a big deal for me when I sat next to her on the plane, can you imagine it from Sarah’s perspective? She was the only black person on the trip, and here comes the “racist country redneck” to sit next to her for an entire international flight. She was understandably nervous about her seat partner.
Sarah continued, saying she was surprised to be having a great time with me, contrary to what she had first thought would happen. She shared how my testimony during a previous worship had impacted her. And she was sad that she had wrongly pre-judged me and asked for my forgiveness. Of course, I did.
At the end of the trip, we all wrote in each other's journals, and this is some of what Sarah wrote in mine:
“Oh, Ryan! I gotta tell you, I hated you when I first met you. But praise God, things have changed. You were such a blessing to me on this trip through your testimony, your silly jokes, and spiritual insights. I hope we will always remain friends. Take care, brother.”
The moral of the story is: Don’t judge anyone. They just might surprise you, and believe it or not, God can change even the most disliked of us into someone who can make an impact on others. God has changed me. He can also change you.
Luke 1:37 - “For with God, nothing will be impossible.”