A note from the author: I have been enjoying all of the varied blog writers and their tremendous, content-rich contributions. It seems that I have positioned myself as the “light-hearted humorist” blogger. Well, someone has to do it, right?
This story begins in the midst of strategic planning for powerful ministry…Okay, maybe not. A colleague and I were out looking for something good to eat.
Hosted by a fellow missionary in the Balkans (a region located in southeastern Europe), we went to one of those “hole in the wall” food establishments away from the tourists and treasured by the locals. (As an aside, if you want to know where to find the best food at bargain prices—ask a missionary!)
Our remote, private dining experience was disrupted by the whining chatter of a two-year old scrambling through the entry followed by an exasperated middle-aged guy dawning a scruffy face and weary look. What startled us most was not the rambunctious toddler, but the man harshly speaking perfect, American English. I can not express adequately the shock of both of us, as that was the last thing we anticipated in this remote, mountainside basement restaurant in Macedonia.
Being shy, socially subdued global workers, we just quietly kept to ourselves. JUST KIDDING! We immediately engaged the little guy, trying to ease his distress, and then began a conversation with the man.
We addressed the dad: “Hello! It’s obvious that you’re an American.” Equally surprised and slightly taken aback by our presence, he began to share his story. We exchanged names and he—with eyes peering side to side as to see if anyone else was in the (empty) dining room—began his story.
“Yeah, um, I, ah, work for the US government. Yeah, I work with Homeland Security...I’m on a special mission here.” Trying not to burst into laughter as this is not the typical introductory disclosure with two American strangers in a restaurant. We presume he must have been a NEW secret agent.
We could see he was a bit uncomfortable, so we let him (slightly) off the hook and asked him, “Where are you from?” He said, “Miami.” Florida being a home of the other missionary, he said, “What part?” The man began fumbling and exclaimed, “Oh, I just moved there a couple years ago,” with subtle cues of “please don’t ask any more questions.” He then gushes a simple dismissive statement of “I grew up in Chicago.”
This was intriguing to me as my wife grew up in Illinois, and we pastored in that district.
I inquired further, “Ohhh, did you grow up in the city or in the suburbs?” Fumbling again, he reluctantly said, “The suburbs.” With normal people, this answer would have sufficed. But we were relentless like seasoned interrogators. “The western suburbs? The northern suburbs? Oak Brook, Joliet, Naperville???”
“No, it’s in a different suburb. Um...in the suburb of Springfield. The capital of the state.” (In case you don’t know Springfield is located about three hours south of Chicago. That may stretch the definition of a suburb!) Again, desperately trying to keep a straight face, we finally relented by saying, “Ah, yes. That beautiful southern suburb of Chicago.”
All along, we were feeding the little guy as he seemed hungry, and we even prayed for him before they scrambled out the door into the night.
Secret Agent or fugitive? We’re not really sure, but we’ve laughed about the experience and oft remembered the energetic young man with compassion, trusting God to protect him and that our blessing would be brought to remembrance in the years ahead.
Meeting this man left us with what I would describe as “homeland insecurity.” There are a few lessons to learn in this situation.
If you’re a secret agent, work on your cover story as you might actually have to defend it.
If you’re trying to keep your identity and background secret, NEVER engage global workers who’ve itinerated in every city and traversed every highway you’ve ever been on.
If you find yourself in unique situations, look for the humorous and speak life any chance you get!