Flat Tires, Refugees and Kairos
Life is filled with mundane moments. I recently finished a two-week contract of grading standardized assessments. Grading the same six math equations, thousands of times, for two weeks is the epitome of monotony. I may or may not have fallen asleep a few times mid-grading. The daily grind can do that to us…anesthetize us into a state of walking unconsciousness. I probably live in that place more than I like to admit. But I don’t believe that is the way God wants us to live. God is present everywhere, at all times. Shouldn’t we expect to experience Him in the midst of the mundane? The Greek word for these kinds of moments is “Kairos” and it means, “a propitious moment for decision or action.”
It happened in the midst of a brainless drive home from work…the kind of ride where you arrive at your destination and have no recollection of how you got there. Scary. I was brought back from my lapse of mental numbness by a car with a very flat tire, driving down the road in front of me. The car drove for some distance without slowing so I assumed it was a senior citizen who wasn’t aware of the status of their tire.
I pulled up next to the car and saw a young man behind the wheel talking on his cell phone apparently arranging his next move. I kept driving, assuming he was working out his tire issue. A block later I stopped at a red light surprised to see the young man still driving the car on a very flat tire pull up and stop beside me. I honked my horn and motioned to roll down his window. A young man, handsome and of Arabic descent opened his window and I offered assistance. I have an air compressor in my van (yes, I own a man-van…long story). After he sized me up for a second, he agreed and we pulled into a local high school parking lot…and that is where I became aware of the Lord in the midst of the mundane.
As I was attempting to fill up the tire, we introduced ourselves and made small talk. Taha was his name. He came from East Africa. When I asked him how he came to live in Michigan, he lowered his head and said in a markedly quieter tone, “We are refugees”. The sudden change in Taha’s tone made me realize that he wasn’t sure how I would react to his refugee status. In an effort to ease his discomfort, I told him that I had been a principal at a school that had refugee students and that we were blessed to have students from other nations as a part of our school family. Taha began to express his gratitude for me stopping to help him. He then began to contrast my actions with the members of ISIS and the hate and violence they spread. In that moment I wondered why he would mention ISIS. It was an odd shift in the dialogue that made me think he wanted to make sure I didn’t associate him with violent Muslim extremists because of the color of his skin or the nation of his descent.
After continually heaping praise on me that I really didn’t deserve, I told Taha that I stopped to help him because I am a very imperfect follower of the Prophet Jesus and that I try to follow His example whenever I can. After a failed attempt to fill his ruined tire and an offer to give him a ride, which he graciously declined, Taha went on his way down the road, assuring me he could get further help at his workplace a few miles down the road.
As I pulled out of the parking lot, I found myself wondering why a simple act of human concern would seem so extravagant to my new East African friend. I thought about the negative perceptions he must have to overcome, or live with, each day. I thought about how he may have felt it wasn’t safe to acknowledge his refugee status. And I felt the compassion of a loving God touch my heart for a fellow man who was simply trying to get through the mundane hassles of everyday life with the added burden of a foreign accent and a different shade of melanin than most have in this fair-haired part of the world. And I felt melancholy that we live in a world where a simple offer of kindness is viewed as unusual and extraordinary…
…And I was thankful that the Lord helped me to grow, in a small way, in empathy and perspective for another person’s world. So I will continue to pray, “Lord, today, help me to see what you want me to see, to hear what you want me to hear, to perceive what you want me to perceive and to do what you would have me to do. In Jesus Name.”