Lay Ministry Blog: Portland Train Ride

5/17/2016

Bishop Wallace-Padgett often asks her Operational Team the following question, “Where have you encountered Jesus recently?”

On Sunday during the COSROW worship service at General Conference in Portland, Oregon,  Bishop Wallace-Padgett asked this question in a little different way and it immediately triggered my memory of what I had just heard and seen on the way to the service. During her sermon, Bishop Wallace-Padgett asked where the congregation had seen Jesus in Portland during the first week of General Conference?

Portland has a very fun and effective public transportation system called the Tri-Met, so it is very easy to travel in Portland. It’s economical and friendly for everyone providing handicap access, access for people with small children, pets and many other traveler situations.

Sunday morning was rainy, cool and that day Portland reminded me of Scotland with the weather – cool and just enough rain to be aggravating. I boarded the train in that car were a grandmother, a mother and a small girl. The little girl was very talkative. She and her mother were talking small talk with the grandmother listening. I was listening, too. It was evident by the clothes the three wore that they were not affluent but clean and travelling as a family. At the next stop the door opened and a man in a wheelchair boarded the train. The man looked like a veteran. He had long hair, was neat in appearance and was missing one of his legs. The little girl watched the man get on the train. She stopped talking to notice the man with the missing leg. He noticed she was watching him and he asked the little girl if she would like to know what happened to his leg. He explained that he had gotten in the way of a land mine in Afghanistan and lost his leg.

After the man told his story, he asked the little girl, how old she was adding that she must be 7, as her two front teeth were coming in. She said she was 6 and that she had kittens on her tee shirt because she had a kitten at home.

At the next stop of the train, the man got off and the mother told the little girl to say “thank you” and to wish the man goodbye. The man waited for the handicap ramp to emerge from under the train, then the man rolled down the ramp onto the platform under the overhead canopy. I could not help but watch as the man sat there on the ramp as he had apparently done many times.

As the train was about to leave, another man walked up to the man in the wheelchair who touched his arm as if to say hello. It was then that I realized the man who walked up was blind and was using a cane to navigate the train platform. No doubt these two had passed each other many times and were acquainted.

After watching those interactions, the train took me to the Civic Center where I got off and made my way through the rain. The little girl, mother and the grandmother continued on the train going somewhere down the line.

As I entered the Civic Center, I went through security. The security personnel were cordial as they stood in the rain to check and ensure the safety of the people entering the Civic Center. I spoke to them and to many other United Methodists who were coming for the COSROW worship service. I spoke to Bishop Wallace-Padgett as she was welcoming everyone to the service.

The service was uplifting and upbeat. Bishop Wallace-Padgett asked all in the congregation to pause and ask the person next to them; “When have you encountered or seen Jesus this week in Portland?”

That’s when it all came together for me.

I immediately thought of what I had witnessed on my 15 minute train ride. I realized I had just seen Jesus in my life in the face of others.

So what did I see?

I saw a little girl with lots of energy waiting for two new front teeth in a tee shirt with kitties on the front. I saw a caring mother and grandmother.  I saw two men with handicaps. I saw how all their lives and mine intersected on the train. I also saw security guards standing in the rain ensuring safety of United Methodists, and I saw God in the face of our beloved North Alabama Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett.

Sometimes, we have to open our minds and hearts to see Jesus. Thanks to Bishop Wallace-Padgett for keeping this question in front of us, so we can see Jesus in our lives every day.

Where have you seen God in your life recently?

I am glad I got to see God on the train in Portland!

Steve Lyles
North Alabama Conference Lay Leader


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