by Susan Booth
It was a gorgeous fall day, and the yellow foliage stood out against a dark backdrop of evergreens. Normally, I would just walk our dog from home, but this seemed like the perfect day to drive to the edge of town and walk along the cliffs above the river.
Nearing the end of my walk, I happened to speak to a woman heading in the opposite direction: “Beautiful day isn’t it? What a gift!” She replied, “Yes, it’s almost too warm!” and stopped to take her jacket off.
We commented on the fall colors, and I thought I detected a hint of an accent. I asked her how long she had been living in town, and she told me eight years. I told her that we had moved here from Budapest, Hungary, 18 years ago. Her face lit up, and she squealed, “I’m Hungarian!”
For the next 15 minutes we rattled back and forth in Hungarian. Even though I was definitely rusty, I couldn’t believe how the language came back to me. We walked to my vehicle, and I gave my new friend a ride to her car. It turns out that she, too, had driven to that same section of the path from a completely different part of town. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to get together soon.
A couple of weeks later, Erika and I met for tea. Before I left the house, though, I happened to remember that I still had a decades-old Hungarian/English New Testament. I found it and brought it along, in case it might be helpful. As we sat down over steaming cups of chai, I asked Erika to tell me her story. She filled me in on her life in Hungary and how she had immigrated to Vancouver about the same time that we’d left Budapest to transfer to Alberta.
Several years had passed before she’d moved to our small town.
Our conversation slowly meandered from her story to the story of the Bible. I pulled out the little New Testament and explained the plotline of scripture in terms of creation-fall-rescue-restoration. I would read a verse in English, and then she would read it in Hungarian.
After a while, it became clear that Erika was more than ready to respond to the gospel. We left our long-cold cups behind and went out to her car, where my new friend prayed to receive Christ.
It turns out that a few months before we met, Erika had returned to Hungary to take care of her ailing mother. While there, she’d started feeling drawn to go and sit in old Hungarian churches. When she came back to Canada, she told God she wanted to change her life and asked him to give her new friends. About a month later, our paths crossed—literally—above the river on the edge of town.
Since then, Erika and I have both marveled at the intricate timing of how we met, and how, after the briefest exchange of pleasantries, we discovered such a deep, common connection. The lovingkindness of the Lord never ceases to amaze me!
You might call our meeting a “divine appointment”—a seemingly random encounter with someone that turns out to be orchestrated by none other than God himself. The path of person X intersects the path of person Y. It sounds simple enough, like a couple of arrows in tenth-grade geometry.
But of course God shows up too, so that adds a third dimension. And by the time you factor in precise timing and geographical location, a divine appointment starts sounding more like college-level calculus. Still it should be fairly obvious, right?
The divine appointment described in Acts 8:26-40 seems unmistakable. It was hard to miss when an angel told Philip to leave behind the revival crowds of Samaria and head south from Jerusalem on a desert road. On his way, Philip crossed paths with the CFO for the queen of Ethiopia. The Spirit told Philip to draw alongside the chariot of this treasury official, who happened to be returning home after a visit to the temple. The man also just happened to be reading aloud from Isaiah 53 about the Suffering Servant.
Philip simply asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?” and the man answered, “How can I unless someone explains it to me?” Joining the man in the chariot, Philip shared the good news of Jesus from the Scripture, and the man responded, eager to be baptised. Clearly, God orchestrated this sequence of events. Amazingly, God chose to use Philip—not the angel!—to partner with him to share the gospel.
The divine appointments God places on our agenda may not always be as obvious as two arrows intersecting on a piece of paper. As we begin this new year, our lives may look more like threads running through a woven blanket, so tangled with people and places that it’s difficult to slow down enough to even notice others, much less interact with them.
God wants to partner with us, and we don’t want to miss it! Like Philip, we need to walk in the Spirit and be intentional. We need to know scripture and be ready to share the gospel with those who have questions. How else can they know the hope of Jesus unless someone explains it to them? Ask God to schedule a divine appointment on your calendar—today!
Susan Booth is professor of evangelism and missions at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary and College in Cochrane, Alberta. She and her husband, Steve, served for seven years as missionaries in Budapest, Hungary, before moving to Canada in 2000. She is the author of The Tabernacling Presence of God: Mission and Gospel Witness. Susan enjoys equipping people to share the gospel.