We were standing in a line of people in the Atlanta airport, waiting to board our next flight – on our way to Canada.  Home for the holidays.  Passports, bags, snacks, kids, husband, excitement….  I happened to look over to one of the other queues and noticed a carry-on bag sitting alone, unattended.  If you have ever traveled, you would know that an unattended bag is considered a quasi-emergency!  So I had my eye on that bag!  Just in case….

It sat alone, unattended.  Looking the same as every other black carry-on bags most travellers pull.  But this one had no hand attached to it.  No child hanging on it.  No one even paying attention to it.  Just as I was about to notify the nearest security guard of the lonely bag…  one of the airline stewardesses noticed it.  She asked a few people if they knew whose it was – no one claimed it.  She was about to pick up the phone and call main security, when a young man rushed back out from the airplane breezeway, having already boarded the plane.  He said, “Oh, I forgot my carry-on up here.”  And she just let him take it.  There was no call to check the contents of the bag, no checking his ID, no double checking at all.  Just a  “sure, take your bag!” from the unconcerned stewardess.

Was I the only one who saw a problem with the fact that a suitcase that had been unattended for an undetermined amount of time, was now being dragged down the ramp toward the airplane that I was about to board!!??  A slew of thoughts ran like lost sheep through my mind – had he really left that bag there?  Or had someone planted it and then given him the go-ahead to come up and get it?  Was the stewardess involved in the threat?  What was in that bag?  Why had no one searched a bag that had been left unattended?

Ahhh…  I watched too many episodes of 24 with my husband!!  I need more Downton Abby in my life!!

Anyway, I decided not to say anything to my husband, as I didn’t want to alarm him or my children (or I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to appear like a fear monger.)  So I just said a silent prayer and boarded the plane.

36B was my seat number.  18C.  24C.  35C.  36C. Finally, I get to my row, and sitting quietly in his window seat is - yes, the “owner” of that unattended bag.  He is my seat mate.  Carl and the kids happened to be a few rows away from me.

I sit down politely.  Smile at my seat mate and can’t help but notice he is in flip flops and shorts.  Does he not know that we are flying to CANADA?  In JANUARY!  Or perhaps it doesn’t matter because he isn’t planning on landing.

Yes, I am not proud to say it, but those are the exact thoughts that I had.  He then excused himself and went to the bathroom for an extended period of time, just making it back to his seat before the pilot began his take off procedures.

Did I mention that this young man was of Arab descent?

I was sure that he had been placing some sort of exploding device in the bathroom ceiling by now!  Were these really my thoughts?  I was not proud of them at all.

I sat there praying and asking for forgiveness for my racial profiling!  What was I to do?  Then he proceeds to get out his phone and begins reading a TON of messages in Arabic.  This was not helping my panicky state.

I prayed.  Literally.… for that entire first hour or so.  Half of the time asking for forgiveness for my irrational thoughts and half the time begging for our lives! :-)

Then I decided, if this is the end, maybe I can make a difference in this guy’s life.  Maybe I can convince him not to blow up the plane by being a friend to him.  By showing him a non-prejudiced attitude and love.  Cause love is the answer, right?

So… I struck up a conversation.

About his flip-flops.



“have you ever been to Canada?”

“yes, I used to live there.”  says my new Arab friend.

“Then you know it is really cold and snowy there?” I casually ask with a smirky smile.  Not exactly flip-flop weather…

“Yes, I brought a change of clothes and shoes in my carry-on” he replies.

I want to say, “and what else do you have in that carry-on,” but I refrain.

We continue our conversation and he tells me all about his family, where they live, what they do, etc.  He is an engineer working in Texas.  He has a brother who is also an engineer, living in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.  He was going to visit his brother for Christmas.

He asked about me and my family.  I shared all about my kids and our work in South Africa.  He was full of questions and loved hearing about Seed of Hope.  He was incredibly positive about our desire to help alleviate poverty through development and improving education standards, etc.

Our conversation flowed easily.  So much that before I realised how long we had been in the air, the pilot announced that we were approaching Calgary.

And the plane had not blown up!

I had a large amount of guilt for the thoughts that went through my head.  I could not believe that those had originated in my head.  I love my Muslim friends.  I detest racial profiling and yet, I had to admit the fear I had experienced was real.

I hope you are reading this post with a smile on your face – and not judging me for my thoughts! ;-)

What I learned from this experience is that I cannot judge those who face fears about things they do not understand.

But what I want to encourage you to do is take the time to understand – meet those who you “fear.”  Put names to faces.  Make it personal and your fears will dissipate.

My husband told me last year about a story from Kenya in which Muslim terrorists boarded a bus and asked the Muslims to separate from the Christians – and we know what would then ensue from previous attacks.  But in this case – the Muslims on the bus refused.  No one separated.  The terrorists could not tell anyone apart, and soon just got off the bus.  Without incident.

Thank you, my Muslim friends.  Thank you for standing up for those Christians and saving their lives.  Thank you for not judging us when we show fear.  And may we all grow to understand and love each other more.

And to my Muslim seat mate.  Hope we run into you again on a flight to Calgary!

*This story happened in December 2014 on a flight from Atlanta to Alberta.

**With all the hard things happening in our world, I hope this story brings a smile to your face and helps you understand how important it is love each other! :-)

***On reflection, I realised I didn’t learn about his religion, but assumed he was Muslim because he was reading in Arabic.



10 Responses to Unattended
  1. Stu Reply

    Thanks for this post Michelle, thought provoking and honest. As long as people remain distant to me it’s easier to label them. It’s in bridging the gap between, or as a a wise theologian once said, in embracing the other, that we are kept from dehumanizing those who are unlike us.

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks for your vote of confidence. I wondered if I should post this blog – but it does feel like an important message. It becomes very easy to “dehumanize” those you don’t know. We have to take the time to get to know each other. We have to bring the “human” back into humankind. Thanks for commenting! So nice to hear from you!

  2. Paloma Reply

    We all have times were we step back and go huh? One day I was with my children (who were about 3&6) and a STRANGER approached us and said hi to the girls. I encouraged them to respond as “it’s good manners”. When we walked away my oldest looked at me and said “Mommy I thought we weren’t supposed to talk to stranger?”

    What do you say too that? I’d been caught by my 6 year old with a double standard.

    Yes I think it’s good to have a healthy fear of things BUT it shouldn’t run our lives or make us fearful of every little thing that is around the corner. So I explained that sometimes you just have to be careful of strangers but trust yourself, have faith that people are generally good and believe that God will take care of us.

    I’m also REALLY glad your plane didn’t blow up, that you made a friend and that you had faith and trust!

    • Michelle Reply

      Thanks for commenting, Paloma. So nice to hear from you! I read recently that in the Bible there are 365 texts that say “Do not fear.” :-) Pretty sure God planned it that way. :-) And about strangers – I learned to teach my kids about “strange behaviour” rather than “strangers.” Because most strangers are nice people… our kids need to know to be wary of strange behaviour, not just strangers. That helped me so much not have a double standard, because I do want my children to be polite to people. Miss you, dear Paloma!!

  3. Dawn Reply

    This brought a smile to my face and no judgement here as I would have likely followed the same train of thought but not sure I would have seen the light at the end of the tunnel as well as you.

    • Michelle Reply

      I think it is my attention to detail that got me into trouble – as no one else even noticed that bag! ;-) You never know how you are going to react in a situation such as this, but prayer never hurts and always helps! So a good thing to fall back on! Thanks for commenting, Dawn!

  4. Amanda Reply

    Okay this is funny. I was literally LOL’ing. Had to read it to my husband who also laughed out loud. As an missionary/expat that is also in a country filled with Muslims, people from Arabic descent and many other places/beliefs, and who travels a lot, I can totally relate to this! Well written and a good chuckle.
    Also, glad you didn’t blow up. :)

    • Michelle Reply

      Hi Amanda! Super fun to read your comment! And to go to your website and read a bit about your family and ministry. We have been reading lots about your country of ministry with your recent new president! Inspiring!! How did you find my blog, just out of curiousity?

      • Amanda Reply

        Hey! Honestly, I don’t remember how I found it. Maybe ALOS or maybe a google search back in the day? I keep a random list of missionary blogs in my bookmarks and peruse through them every so often when I feel the need to commiserate with fellow missionaries or get perspective on life :)

        • Michelle Reply

          Haha. What a fun idea! ;-)

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