Here are some facts about angels: Angels are real. You never know when you are going to meet an angel. Angels aren’t always beautiful or terrifying. Sometimes angels are just annoying. Like last
After an eight-hour delay, my return flight was finally aloft. Settling into my window seat, I was trying to sleep, but a shadow kept crossing my face. The kid next to me kept taking pictures of our takeoff. Finally, I offered and he agreed to change seats. As he continued to snap pictures, my irritation turned to curiosity: “Is this your first flight?” No response. “Esta el tiempo primero para usted en un avion?” “Si.”
Using my high school Spanish, I learned that this young man’s name was Felipe. He was 18 years old. He had walked to from Nicaragua to Houston. He was flying to someplace called Indianapolis where his father was waiting. Felipe was coming to Indiana to find work so he could send money home to help his mother and his younger brothers and sisters.
Felipe held on his lap a plastic bag with his immigration papers. He never let go of that bag. When the flight attendant came by with snacks, I saw with the light from her beverage cart that Felipe was wearing sneakers that had no laces.
“Do you have any other clothes than what you are wearing?” “No.”
“Have you eaten anything today?” “No.”
The flight attendant must have overheard because she said: “I’ll be back with a crew meal.”
She returned with 3 crew meals.
“I don’t think Felipe can pay for those,” I told her.
“Don’t worry about that;” she said, “I will.”
After I told her what I knew about Felipe’s situation, eventually she returned with a jacket. “Fall is coming,” she said. “He’s going to need a jacket.” A male flight attendant behind her handed Felipe several folded shirts and said to me: “Tell him these are clean. I won’t miss them.”
By now Felipe, who’d been gobbling down his food, had tears running down his face. “Gracias,” he softly said over and over. He was so overcome with emotion, he could only whisper: “Gracias. Gracias. Gracias.”
After the flight attendants departed, the businessman across the aisle, who’d been reading the Financial Times but who had also been eavesdropping, folded up his paper, took out his wallet, and handed me several hundred dollars. “Hey. Give this to the kid. He needs it more than me.”
I handed the money to Felipe. There were more tears.
Finally, I thought: “Hey, John: You’re a pastor. For heaven’s sake, can’t you do something, too?” So, I emptied my backpack and gave it to Felipe. He boarded the plane with nothing, but was leaving with many gifts. His plastic grocery bag wasn’t going to hold it all. He carefully zipped his immigration papers in the front pouch.
There were more tears and thanks – and eventually a smile.
Felipe was finishing his meal with something he’d never tasted before. He showed me the bag his snack came in. He really liked his desert, but he didn’t know what it was.
“Oh, that,” I said as we began our descent; “That’s called popcorn.”
As passengers began deplaning, a student sitting next to the businessman, took off his Boilermaker baseball cap, saying with a smile: “My seatmate filled me in on things. Please give this to your friend – and tell him to root for Purdue University – NOT Indiana University.”
I handed Felipe the cap; he said thanks for a final time; and then hurried off to meet his father.
As our section deplaned, I thanked all the people who had helped Felipe. To a person; all of them dismissed what I said, saying it was nothing.
Finally, I put my things in Felipe’s plastic bag. It was midnight. I had been up since 4 a.m. I was tired and grouchy, but I also felt oddly blessed. Then the Holy Spirit nudged me, reminding me of this Truth: “Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”
Was Felipe an angel? Or the passengers and crew who had helped Felipe angels? Maybe they were all angels.
As the cleanup crew entered the plane, they waited on me as the last passenger to depart. We silently passed each other, but I stopped the last crewmember and said, “Just wanted to give you a heads up: You might find some feathers back there.”