INSIDE STORY: When the journey is as memorable as the destination
Inevitably, I mention how much I love traveling all over the nation, meeting fellow Christians and telling their incredible stories.
In two-plus years with the Chronicle, I have spent time with church members in 25 states. What a blessing!
Travel to that many places, though, and you’re bound to hit a few bumps along the way — or, perhaps, end up in the back of a police car.
My brush with the law — and it’s really not as bad as it sounds — came last year when I traveled to the Northeast.
I had spent a few days in Stamford, Conn., working on a 40th anniversary story on the Exodus Movement. The day I left Stamford, I ate breakfast with Lori Bumpas, Shiloh Camp’s executive director.
Later, Lori drove me about 25 miles to an apartment building in the Bronx, N.Y., for a meeting with house church planters Ben Cheek and Jared Looney. After lunch with Ben and Jared, I hopped on a subway to Penn Station in Manhattan, where I caught an hourlong train to Riverhead, N.Y., the Long Island home of Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch.
But when I arrived in Riverhead after dark, my ride was nowhere to be found — thanks to a communications problem on my end.
Moreover, I found myself in a not-so-nice part of town without a cell phone (that’s another story). And when I used a pay phone to call my contact at Timothy Hill, I got a voice mail.
I was stranded and not sure what to do.
Thankfully, God sent an angel to my rescue — in the form of a police officer.
The kind officer advised that I could pick a better place to hang out at night. After hearing my sob story, he offered me a place in his patrol car and delivered me safely to the children’s ranch.
Another harrowing experience on the road — actually, in the air — came last year when I traveled to Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn., to cover a “Contemporary Discussion” on unity.
Returning home on Northwest Airlines Flight 5929 from Memphis, I was jarred when the pilot came on the loudspeaker and reported trouble with the controls that direct the plane. He said we would need to make an emergency landing in Tulsa, Okla., and rescue vehicles would be waiting as a precaution. But he stressed that the flashing lights on the ground shouldn’t alarm anyone because he didn’t expect any problem landing the plane.
That statement would have provided more comfort if I hadn’t kept asking myself: If the plane were going to crash, would he be so honest as to say so?
“Attention, passengers, I fully expect that we all are about to die. Please buckle your seat belts and get your affairs in order.”
Heavy-duty praying occurred over the next 15 minutes as our flight approached the runway. When we touched down, 49 fellow passengers and I clapped loudly.
Of course, some travel experiences are more funny than frightening.
My wife, Tamie, the Chronicle’s online editor, and our three children joined me last year when I traveled to Chicago to work on a few stories.
One morning, we met up with church member and public relations guru Steve Shaner, who does marketing for Shults-Lewis Child and Family Services in Valparaiso, Ind., about an hour from Chicago. I rode with Steve. Tamie and the kids followed in our minivan.
But Tamie became so engrossed in an audio book that she neglected to follow Steve when he exited a major tollway.
Unfortunately, the next exit was roughly 15 miles away. So, we did not catch up with each other for a while.
More recently, the Rosses decided to combine family time with a reporting trip out West — in the midst of record-breaking heat. Driving through the desert, maneuvering twists and turns at the Hoover Dam — a 726-foot-high piece of concrete and engineering genius at the Arizona-Nevada border — the dashboard gauge measuring the outside temperature flashed 123 degrees Fahrenheit.
At that moment, as dry sweat sucked any remaining moisture from her pores, my wife looked at me, her expression equal parts frustration and amusement.
I can’t recall exactly what she said. But the gist of it was: “Aren’t the cactuses lovely this time of year?”
I doubt the temperature inside our rental vehicle ever dipped below 90 degrees.
But I’d gladly brave the heat again.
In Las Vegas and Phoenix, we got to know Christians whose faith inspired us — and reminded me once again why I love what I do.
Long after the travel bloopers and blunders fade from my mind, the faces of God’s people remain vivid.