It was supposed to be a quick hour and a half flight to New York City. I was busy helping the teenagers I was traveling with get settled for the flight, so I took little notice of the three large guys seated at the back of the plane.
The plane taxied to the runway and stopped. The captain announced we’d be delayed due to construction at LaGuardia Airport. Two more delay announcements came over the intercom, and people began to get antsy and move around. It didn’t help that the plane was stuffy and hot.
I noticed a tall man stand up and walk to the bathroom. He was dressed in a white jumpsuit, his feet were shackled, and his hands were handcuffed to his waist. The two men assisting him were dressed in plainclothes and armed.
When I saw this, I was afraid. What if the man tried to escape or hurt someone while we were all stuck on this plane? I tried to calm my fears.
During the three-hour delay, passengers chatted all around me. The flight attendants passed out water and crackers. The armed guards also talked, but the man they were escorting just stared blankly out the window. I wondered what he was thinking.
When we finally took off for New York, my heart was heavy. The man seemed so isolated, so lonely. The Holy Spirit stirred within me as the plane pushed through the midday cloud cover, urging me to talk to him. But what would I say?
As I wrestled with this prompting, I began to reflect on this magazine. Since 2015, I’ve encouraged people to reach out to Jesus and live for Him through my stories. People just like this shackled man.
God was stretching me outside my comfortable boundaries of writing stories for inmates. Now He wanted me to encourage one of His incarcerated children in person. I remembered 1 Chronicles 16:8, “Let the whole world know what [God] has done.” I asked the Lord to provide an opportunity to speak with the man. I trusted Him to guide me.
God answered my prayer through yet another delay when we arrived in New York. I quickly unbuckled my seatbelt and approached the guards. I asked to speak with the man.
My opening line was far from perfect and his response was guarded, but I pressed on. I introduced myself, and asked him his name. He replied carefully. Then, I asked if it would be okay for me to pray for him. Robert smiled warmly.
“God is good,” he said as he lifted his gaze to meet my eyes. “I’m being transferred from North Carolina to a facility in New York. I’m glad to be heading home. I’ll finally get to see my family and friends again.”
We talked more about his situation and about God. It was a pleasant conversation that blessed my heart. Funny how I had gone back to encourage him, but found myself encouraged instead. I told Robert that he would remain in my prayers, and then I returned to my seat.
It wasn’t until we gathered our luggage that my daughter and her friend caught their first glimpse of the prisoner and his guards. They were shocked as Robert and I spoke one last time. I told him I’d be praying for him; he responded by straining his handcuffed hands together into a gesture of prayer before his guards led him away.
The girls peppered me with questions but soon became distracted. Robert, however, remains on my mind and in my heart. Even now, I still pray for him, asking God to infuse his spirit with hope as he faces the trials and obstacles ahead.
I had a plan for that day, but God redirected it. I’m glad He did, and I’m thankful I followed His promptings. If God changes your plans, just go with it. I’ve learned that obedience always leads to blessing—for others and for you.
I probably won’t meet Robert again until we get to heaven, but I take comfort in knowing that then, he will no longer be shackled.