I am the only president/chancellor at the ATS Presidents meeting in San Antonio, home of the River Walk and world-famous Tex-Mex restaurants, to dine on shrimp Teriyaki and fried rice at a mall food court. I was lured by a Mexican-American teenager working there who got me with chicken honey glaze on a toothpick. It doesn’t take much. But there is a story here.
I have been sick since Christmas with something resembling pneumonia and despite good fellowship today, interesting presentations, and energizing dialogue about serving seminaries, I am, well, in a word, drained. So I walked over to an adjacent mall to my hotel to find a souvenir for my wife and son, grab something to eat (despite row after row of magnificent Tex-Mex restaurants below me on the world-famous River Walk, with mountains of fresh fried tortillas waiting to be scaled and jalapeño-thickened salsa flowing like the Rio Grande over the Border desert bed). I found my place in a well-used booth in the brightly colored chrome and linoleum foot court and began to eat my fried rice and shrimp in silence. In between shoveling the Tex-Japanese treat into my mouth with a very small plastic fork, I looked around and saw Air Force enlisted men everywhere. I also saw their families every where. I realized that I had walked into a very happy night of celebrations after a day of boot camp graduation. That told me, “Son, you are on holy ground.” I enjoyed the sights of these families. reunited, preparing for their boys to be shipped out to their schools (to be mechanics and personnel specialists and armament technicians) and then on to Iraq and Afghanistan. I looked at the airmen graduates, replete in their new, blue Air Force dress uniforms and I felt grateful and proud. I saw one family sitting at a table across the expansive food court, the weathered patriarch wearing an orange and black University of Tennessee ball cap, a fine young Air Force airman with his fresh single stripe on his dress blue shoulder at his right hand, and I knew I had to go talk to them. As I walked towards their table, my eyes fixed on the young American in Air Force blue, he must have recognized my intent. He stood up. I reached out my hand, smiling, and without any other introduction said, “Thank you son for your service to our nation.” The young Tennessean stood straight and tall and replied with a simple but strong, “Thank you, Sir.” I turned towards the family. The father reached out his hand to me, “Sir,” I began, “I want to thank you for your sacrifice of your son to serve our country.” The father, mother, grandmother and some younger siblings and maybe a girlfriend all smiled. They were proud. They should be. I returned to my table. I looked around and saw a dozen or more families just like the one I talked to. It was great. I called Mae on my iPhone and told her, “Honey, I believe in the future of our nation because of the kind of young men I am seeing in this food court on a Friday night and the families that traveled across the country to support them in their graduation from Air Force boot camp. When we get down because of national debt, government intrusion, and all of that, we need to remember these young Air Force enlisted men and their families in the food court. Seeing them all gives me hope for the future of America.”
The souvenirs? Well, I found Mae a Buffalo Turquoise pendant hand-fashioned by a Navajo woman on a reservation (I love good stories even if they are not true). I found John Michael a very nice 101st Airborne lapel pin and a mini Texas Ranger badge, also a lapel pin. The middle-aged Latino lady at the kiosk was very sweet and kind. She is the one who told me the story about the Native Americans who made the jewelry and I believe that she believed it. She was good at telling the story. I asked her if she was a Native American. She told me “no” but a second generation Mexican-American who doesn’t speak Spanish! In our conversation my vocation as a minister of the Gospel came up. My admission caused her to want to talk about her life, which is exactly what I had hoped for as I had listened to her Navajo story. I believed that the Lord had led me to her to encourage her. She said that she was a single mom. Her daughter had been only nine years old when her husband had passed away. She looked away. Then she continued with a hopeful smile. “I have worked 15 hours a day since my husband’s death, so that my daughter, who is now twenty-one, could go to a Christian college. She is a nursing student.” I told her that she had every right to be proud of her daughter and that God had watched over them. She asked if I could remember her in prayer. I suggested that we just pray where we were and asked her if she would be comfortable doing so. She smiled, closed her eyes, as she stood next to the register of the kiosk, in the middle of the mall. That was her answer to me. So I laid my hands on her shoulder and began praying out loud. I asked the Holy Spirit to come upon her, giving her wisdom and strength and causing her to know the presence and power and promises of God in Christ Jesus. I thanked God that He has taken care of them in the loss of her husband and the girl’s father. I thanked God that He was such a good Abba to us all. I prayed in the gracious name of Jesus. We said good-bye. As I walked away she said, “I hope your wife likes it!”
I took my small plastic bag of souvenirs, my indigestion from the Teriyaki shrimp and fried rice, and my memories of American heroes, families from the heart of our nation, and a single mom working so hard, and praying so fervently, and living for Christ to make a difference in the world through her daughter. I returned to my room invigorated by ordinary people living extraordinary lives. It had been a very uplifting evening after all. Not a bad evening for a sickly seminary chancellor (elect) at a food court in San Antonio on a Friday night. Not bad at all.