Jesus, Joy and Wichita

A few years back I flew out to Witchita, Kansas, to preside at my nephew's wedding. And while I was there I found Jesus. Right there in the middle of the country, on a very cold weekend in December. Even more amazingly, I spotted him in the airport.

I was reading the paper and Linda was knitting when a family of Hispanic folks settled into the spaces around us, and the matriarch of the family sat right beside Linda and struck up a conversation.

The family had all been in Wichita for her grandson’s graduation from college, and now they were headed back to Austin. She, it turns out, had immigrated to the States with her late husband many years ago, and her children were all born here, as were her grandkids. Her late husband had been a professional baseball player, a pitcher, and her grandson, a budding shortstop, hoped to follow in his footsteps. As they spoke to each other, the family members easily moved back and forth between English and Spanish—clearly enjoying the time together.

We noticed that one of the young men, the best friend of the matriarch’s grandson, was dressed in boots and a cowboy hat, and sitting in a wheelchair, with a cast which stretched from his ankle to his hip. He’d broken it shortly before the trip to Wichita, she told us, but he was doing well. Then she chuckled. We looked at her a bit puzzled, and she explained.

“While we were here,” she said, “We went to Wal-Mart, and there was one of those Salvation Army red kettles out front. The bell ringer was giving it her best, but everybody just walked by—nobody gave her a thing. So Juan, he’s the one in the wheelchair, he wheeled up beside her, put in a dollar, and then he started to sing “Feliz Navidad”. He sang and sang, and pretty soon, folks started throwing in money—almost more than the ringer could handle.” And with that she chuckled again. And so did we—for we realized that we’d spotted Jesus, seen a touch of the holy, right there in Wichita. We saw God at work through a Hispanic man in a wheelchair, and a faithful bell ringer for the Salvation Army, and a grandmother mother who was willing to tell the story to strangers in the airport. And it filled us with joy, deep, deep joy.

In Wichita! Imagine that!

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