Off-Duty Evangelist in Costa Rica

As I began my 13th year as a vice president for The Navigators, I needed a break—to be off-duty for a couple weeks without the pressure of daily grass-fires. Frankly, I was discouraged.

Since my hobby is bird watching I scheduled a trip to the birders’ Holy Land—Costa Rica—and soon found myself in humid Santiago with a 12-person Canadian birding group. When our tour leader invited us to tell about ourselves, we awkwardly glanced around, and I thought to myself, “I came here to watch birds—not to make friends. I’m not telling anyone that I work with a Christian ministry. I’m ‘off-duty.’ ”

One by one the polite Canadians shared name, hometown, vocation, family. Finally it was my turn. I leaned forward in my chair and said, “Scott Morton, Colorado Springs, married to Alma, three grown-up kids.” I leaned back.

Someone asked, “Tell us what you do.”

“I am a fundraiser.” I leaned back.

“Who do you fundraise for?”

My plan to be anonymous was failing. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed as “a typical American Christian.” I leaned forward. “I work with The Navigators, a non-profit in Colorado.”

Now everyone was even more curious. “What is The Navigators?”

I leaned forward and said calmly, “The Navigators helps people develop a deeply satisfying spiritual journey—in Christ.” There were no more questions.

I went to bed feeling like a failure. I am not reluctant to identify with Christ—I just didn’t want to do it during my downtime. I was “off-duty.”

The next day a fellow birder named George approached me. “You talked about a satisfying spiritual journey,” he said. “I am kind of on a journey; maybe we could talk.”

During lunch, George and his wife, Thuraya, said they’d never heard about The Navigators, and asked several “check-me-out” questions. Finally satisfied, Thuraya raised both arms and blurted, “Thank God for Jesus! If it wasn’t for Jesus I’d be in South Africa married to a Muslim as one of four wives. I’ll say it again, Thank God for Jesus!”

Thus inspired, I shared my spiritual journey to Christ, and we agreed to talk again.

Over the next 10 days George and I enjoyed getting acquainted, but we didn’t talk about spiritual issues. Also, George’s stomach was bothering him.

The day before we left, I sketched out The Bridge® illustration on the cardboard back of my tablet.

“George, I have a final question for you as you head back to Canada.”

“Sure.”

“Your physical life will not last forever. If you get hit by a pie truck in Winnipeg how sure are you that you would go to heaven—50 percent, 75 percent, 98 percent?”

“Great question!” George said, smiling, as we got up from the table. “May I take that cardboard diagram with me?”

The next afternoon, the Canadians headed back to the Frozen Northland while I headed back to Colorado Springs—after having identified 360 bird species! George and I agreed to keep in touch.

But a few days later, an email from Thuraya shocked me. George was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer! But she added joyfully that George had publically surrendered his life to Christ at their small church. He had peace.

In August, while in Minneapolis on ministry business, I grabbed the short morning flight to Winnipeg. George and Thuraya were delighted to see me, though George looked yellow. But he beamed as he said, “Scott, you and I became quite close in Costa Rica didn’t we?”

“Yes, George we did—the highlight was visiting with you.”

After a slight pause I said, “May I again ask you the pie-truck question I asked you in Costa Rica?”

He smiled.

“How sure are you now that if you were to die that you would be in heaven?”

George said triumphantly, “A lot more sure now than in Costa Rica!” We then discussed 1 John 5:11-13.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”

George got it—having Christ means having life!

As Thuraya snapped our picture George grabbed my hand and thanked me for talking with him about his spiritual journey in Costa Rica.

He died a month later.

Why am I telling this story? Maybe there is a “George” in your life—someone who needs assurance. Like me, you may be reluctant to share, but simply tell your story or explain the Bridge diagram you see here. Because as followers of Jesus, we are never “off-duty.”

three people reading Bibles

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