• Steve McAtee

My father just passed away yesterday, I'm on my way to his funeral

By: Andy Sharpe


Here I am, in shock… sitting at a booth in Ethiopia. It's been less than 12 hours since my wife, Lisa, called me to tell me my dad had suddenly passed away. He was my hero… my mentor… the one guy I shared my highs and lows with. Being in a remote part of Africa, I can't think of a worse place to receive this kind of news. No way to control anything. No way to get home quick. The best I can do is start at least a 30 hour journey. I've been barely holding it together. I feel lost and disillusioned, and alone. My only connection to my lifelines are dependent on poor cell signals and periodic WiFi hotspots. My daughter, Hannah, is with me. We just got off the plane in Eithiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa. I was confident that we were going to be disappointed, having been here in this very airport on a long and horrible layover almost exactly one year ago. As soon as our feet hit the ground here, Hannah & I started scouting for wifi or a restaurant with wifi so I could stay in touch with my family and our friends. As we walked through the terminal, Hannah said she wanted a neck pillow for our next leg… a long one that would take us from Addis Ababa to Washington D.C. with a fuel stop in Dublin, Ireland without getting off the plane. As we walked, we saw a typical airport store with lots of cool leather goods and tourist trinkets. I was pretty sure she’d never find a neck pillow or any sort. We were looking at the store's various products, turned into an aisle, and there they were... a stack of neck pillows. To my surprise, these were as nice as I had seen anywhere, so we grabbed two and headed to the checkout. I could hear familiar music playing in the background, and as I approached the sales counter, I heard a soft and tender voice singing "This is the air I breathe... This is the air I breathe... Your Holy Presence... Living in me". This was a Vineyard worship song, and it was like fresh air to my dry and weary and grieving soul. I laid the neck pillows on the counter and told the clerk that I liked his music. This middle-aged Ethiopian man named Sam looked me directly in the eye and asked "Why do you like my music?" I knew I was in a predominantly Muslim country, and I knew that I was supposed to be careful… but I didn’t care. I said "Because of Jesus." He asked "Are you a Christian?" I said "Yes... yes I am. I love Jesus." A huge smile grew on his face and he said "My brother, I am a born-again Christian!" He then asked what we were doing and where we had been. I briefly told him about our work with Living Water, our pastor’s conference in Sierra Leone, and me helping a bush pilot in Tanzania. He then said "Well, I give missionaries a discount!" and he proceeded to check us out and immediately reduced our price. His kindness was overwhelming, but I didn’t tell him how badly I was hurting on the inside. As he was checking us out, he looked at me and said "You know… there is a time for everything... things change. It's like a flower that grows and then fades away... but it's okay." Stunned, tears started to flow down my cheeks, and whispered "My father just passed away yesterday. I'm on my way to his funeral." He said he was so sorry, and he handed me our bag. As we were turning to leave the store, he pointed to a large cold drink display and said "Please, grab a cold water or Coke on your way out" and bowed slightly as if to say goodbye. I was speechless. I turned and moved towards the refrigerated display, grabbed a pineapple soda (since that is what my father would have most likely picked) and walked away. As we strolled through the crowded airport, I looked at Hannah through tears and said "What just happened?" and she laughed and said "Dad… I have no idea!". I asked “Did I tell him anything about dad before he said those words?!” and she said “NO! You didn’t!” We were laughing and crying at the same time as we realized we had just been ambushed by the Holy Spirit working through another human. We just found a café and wifi, and even though I’m sitting here enjoying a slice of pizza and a pineapple soda, I have to write this down. I don’t want to forget how God shows up when I need Him the most. He is present and is the Air that I breathe, living in me

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