December 24, 1996 was a remarkable day in my life. I had recently returned to Odessa from Russian language school in Columbia, South Carolina. And since I had worked with Stewart McWilliams in the Single Adult Ministry at Temple Baptist Church prior to language school, I was back in Odessa helping where I could at the church until I moved to Israel in March 1997.
In addition to assisting with the Single Adult Ministry during my time in Odessa, I also swept the street and sidewalks around the church, did set-up and clean-up in Sunday School rooms and the auditorium, and did some hospitality for out-of-town guests. When I received a call from Joanna Sadler, one of the church receptionists, that December morning asking if I could have lunch with a single missionary lady, I thought it was in my capacity of hospitality. I didn’t know I was being set up on what amounted to a blind date. Assuming I was doing my duty, I called the young woman and asked her if she would like to have lunch. We agreed to meet at Chinese Kitchen at the corner of Grandview and University.
What I didn’t know was that the receptionist had asked the “visitor” if she would mind having lunch with me because I was having trouble getting my visa to Russia and needed some encouragement (she was mistaken on both counts). Neither was I fully aware that the visitor had grown up in Odessa and had come to faith as a 13-year-old in the Junior High Ministry at Temple. Had I been more aware of some of those details I might have been aware that this was a set up, but I doubt such knowledge would have prevented me from doing my duty and taking her to lunch.
I arrived at Chinese Kitchen a few minutes before our appointed time and waited for my guest to arrive. About 10 minutes late, she finally arrived. After a cursory introduction of ourselves, we went inside and made our way through the order line.
I don’t remember what either of us ordered, and the truth is, the food became quite incidental. We spent the next 3-hours or so, talking about life, faith, theology, and worldviews. I was excited to meet a single female in my age range, who was interested in all the things I was interested in and shared the same priorities in life. On top of that, she was attractive to me.
Based on all the things we had in common we were interested in each other, but there was one seemingly insurmountable obstacle. She was committed to live and serve in Europe and I was equally committed to return to live and serve in Israel.
Since I’m writing this story, you probably already figured out that the insurmountable obstacle wasn’t so insurmountable after all. More on that in another entry.