DaRT: Divine Encounters in Different Worlds

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Contributed by Julie Atwood.

“Hey. You folks lookin’ for the hotel?”

A smile flashes white in Ronald’s weather-seamed black face as the little man scurries up to greet us. He resembles many of the ragged homeless men who haunt the street corners at West End. But on this balmy evening when we hop off the train, we’re checking out a new location—Union Station.

And in only a few minutes, we’ll be also be encountering a new culture of people.

After Brandy purchases a train ticket for Ronald, and several of us surround him in prayer—“I’m tryin’ to get back home, an’ I’m huntin’ for a better job”—he points us with cheerful thanks toward the entryway to Union Station. Which leads down into a tunnel . . . which by turn ends at twin doors of sparkling glass.

Beyond these doors lurks the glamorous Hyatt-Regency Hotel.

Passing through them from the empty underground tunnel—with its walls stripped of décor and its only sound the clanging echoes of our footsteps—feels like slipping into another world. Plush carpet. Glittery chrome. Murals of abstract art splashed over every wall, in muted shades of blue and green and peach. And as we ride the escalator to a higher level, we seem to also end up on a higher social level. One on which at least some of us, milling about in tennis shoes and comfy jeans or sweatpants, feel a bit like visiting aliens.

Men in three-piece suits, women in high heels and filmy scarves and dangly earrings, glide past us like royalty or settle into squashy chairs or loveseats with the elegance of Persian cats. Those not chatting with friends all appear to be texting on their cell phones. Nobody, at first, seems a likely candidate for our introduction . . . let alone for prayer or the laying on of hands. Ronald’s warm leathery brown fingers, which clutched Julie’s hand as we prayed over him only minutes ago, now seem part of a distant dream.

Where to begin in this alien realm?

The group decides to split up. Brandy, Henry, and first-timer Judy head off for the squashy chairs and loveseats, where Judy—an apparent natural at this—at once plops down to engage two ladies in lively conversation. Dustin, Natalie, and Julie move on to scout a different area. As they near a set of double doors, Dustin notices that behind them sits an enormous audience. “Some kind of conference?” he guesses.

A strain of choral music wafts through the doors.

“A musical performance,” Natalie concludes.

Then she spots him, points him out. A caramel-colored man with raven hair and dark-rimmed glasses, perched on a chair next to the doors. He’s alone. Without a cell phone. “Let’s check him out.”

While Dustin prays on a nearby bench, Julie follows Natalie toward the scholarly-looking stranger. As they approach, he beams at them with geniality. And he proves as eager to share his story as Natalie is to draw him out with questions. “My name is Gupta. I am here for my daughter Gita, who is performing in there.” Glowing with pride, he indicates the doors behind which young voices swell in song. “She is participating in the American Choral Directors’ Honors Choir Conference.”

Noting his trace of musical accent, Natalie finds out Gupta—though he and his family now reside in the state of Washington—grew up in India. Which leads to her question, “Do you mind if I ask you what faith you grew up in?”

“Not at all. I am Hindu.”

“I don’t know anything about Hinduism, and I’m curious. Would you me asking you some questions about what you believe?”

Gupta’s black eyes sparkle behind the lenses of his glasses. He leans forward in his chair and, with gentle enthusiasm, expounds upon his beliefs and his religion’s history. Over the next twenty minutes, the two prayer partners learn many new facts about Hinduism—including that “reincarnation” means a god assuming human form . . . and that what most of us call “reincarnation” is referred to by Hindus as being “born again.” During the course of their question-and-answer session, Natalie shares the Christian definition of “born again.”

Her final question for Gupta is, “Can we pray for you?”

He responds with a cheerful yes . . . so they do.

This is not a “sinner’s prayer” or an explicit plea for his conversion. Natalie speaks God’s peace and blessing over Gupta’s life, that the soft-spoken history buff will come to know God’s love. The prayer partners leave with a new understanding of his beliefs they might find helpful in the future . . . and the assurance that some seeds have been sown and bridges built.

In the meantime, there is Judy’s divine encounter. . . .

“My cell phone’s dead.” Upon noticing this problem, she addresses the older of the two women seated across from her. “Do you have the time?”

“Sure. I never refer to my watch anymore.” Sue laughs as she hands Judy her own phone.

“What brings you tonight to this hotel?”

“My youngest daughter Sara is performing in the Honors Choir Conference.” As the proud mom chats further with orchestra teacher Judy, the two connect through their common ground in music. And when Sue’s older daughter Bethany—seated next to her mother—joins in the conversation, Judy learns she too is musical.

“I’m a music major at Baylor.”

The three women soon find out that music is not their only common ground. As Bethany talks about James, her friend at Baylor who’s a choral grad student—

“I know James!” Judy exclaims with excitement. “He was one of my viola students back in fourth grade.”

All three burst out laughing as they picture “big college guy” James as a scrawny little viola student. Sue shakes her head with amused wonder. “What a ‘God-incidental’ situation!”

“What’s even more ‘God-incidental,’ ” Judy adds, “is that I was on Skype with James only last fall. So I know he will remember me.”

“I’m texting him right now.” Bethany breaks out in a grin. Moments later her flying thumbs start tapping out the message: I’m sitting here talking with Mrs. Pruitt.

But after all three chuckle, speculating how James will respond to Bethany’s text, the young Baylor student grows thoughtful once again. “I’m not sure what I’ll do after graduation,” she confesses. “I don’t know whether to work for my Master’s degree or to get a job as a music teacher.”

“You have so many crucial decisions coming up in your life.” Judy speaks with sympathy. “Could I pray for you? Do you believe in the power of prayer?”

“Oh, YES!” Mother and daughter chorus. And the three women bow heads together.

As Judy stands to leave, Bethany also leaps up and wraps her in a hug. “That was such a God-thing, for you to sit beside us.” Her eyes dance with excitement.

“Thank you for praying.”

“Thank You, LORD!” Judy murmurs praise as the DART group reconvenes and prepares to head back out of the hotel, down to the train tracks.

There, waiting for the train, Brandy spots two women who appear to be inhabiting two different worlds. Lorna leans forward on the bench with eagerness, pushing out a volley of slurred words through several gaps between her teeth. Perched next to her, straitlaced Grace shrinks back a little, a pained expression on her face.

“Do you ladies need any prayer?” Brandy asks them with concern.

Lorna lapses into silence, gazes off through vague, unfocused eyes. But Grace welcomes Brandy’s intervention with relief. “Er . . . this lady was just telling me her mom has liver cancer . . . I think. And that her family’s lost their home. . . .”

As Brandy prays God’s blessings over Lorna and her family, the cloudy-eyed woman remains silent, seemingly lost in her own world. But her companion’s eyes brighten and she offers up a grateful smile. “Thank you for praying,” she tells Brandy. “That was such an encouragement to me!”

On the ride home to Rowlett, Judy has another divine encounter.

A Hispanic family take seats near her and Henry. In fact, young Carlos—a lively second-grader—plunks down onto the seat right next to Judy. “I go to Pearson Elementary,” he volunteers in his piping voice.

“Why, that’s the school closest to our church,” Judy exclaims. “But I’m a teacher over in Garland.”

Elena, Carlos’ mother, glances over at her with surprise. “What were you doing tonight in downtown Dallas?”

Judy explains how her group from church goes downtown to pray for people. “So let us know if you need prayer for anything.”

After that point Henry engages the family in conversation. When he learns they’ve just moved to Rowlett and don’t yet have a church home, he reaches into his pocket. “Here’s a card for our church, New Horizon Vineyard. We hope you’ll be able to attend.”

Whether rambling across rusty tracks amidst homeless men begging for train tickets, gliding over plush hotel carpet beneath lofty choral music, or squeezed in with a friendly family on the train ride home, we can always find people who need a touch of God’s love. And we never know whom our prayers will bless the most . . . the person with the pressing need or the listening stranger on the bench right next to her.

But whether that person is from a different state or culture or an old familiar friend, divine encounters still take place.

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