Close Encounters

June 9, 1999
by Harold McNabb

Hebrews 13:2 – Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

The principal link between Vancouver Island where I live and the mainland portion of British Columbia is an hour and a half ferry ride. The mid-point of the trip is Active Pass, a narrow passage between two of the Gulf Islands between Victoria and Vancouver. No matter how often I make the trip, I usually put down my magazine or book and just watch as we negotiate the passage, which I would guess is about a mile in length and about as wide as a good-sized river. Usually two ferries pass in opposite directions and that is interesting to see. From the middle of the ferry, it almost looks like the boat is on dry land since all that can be seen from the windows are the islands.

There are homes along the shores of both islands, and, one winter morning while it was still dark for the early morning sailing, I had a close encounter with an island resident. He had apparently just arisen and was sitting in his glassed-in living room with his paper and cup of coffee as we sailed past his front window. I could see him sitting there watching us as I sat on board the ferry watching him. It was a curious moment.

There have been other close encounters. From time to time pods of orcas, or killer whales, make the passage and the ferry captain will announce their presence and slow the boat while passengers crowd the railing to watch the show in the sea below. In past years when salmon were abundant and fishing less restricted, the pass would be crowded with small pleasure boats. It was always a bit thrilling to watch a person with a line doubled-over from a salmon react to the sharp whistle blasts of the ferry. Would the fish be landed before the ferry got there, or could the boat manage to get out of the way without losing its prize?

One time a number of years ago, a Russian freighter tried to negotiate the narrow passage and wasn't able to turn in time and sliced into a ferryboat. Freighters have since been banned from Active Pass. Most of the time the passage is uneventful, but unless I am very deeply in thought, I always take the occasion to stop what I am doing and watch — just in case.

I think, though, of the passage in Hebrews where we are encouraged to entertain strangers not knowing when or where we will entertain angels. This is a different kind of encounter. To my knowledge, I have not entertained angels of the sort Abraham and Sarah and other Biblical characters met. However Matthew 25:40 tells us we entertain our Lord unawares every time we take the time to care for "the least" of His brothers and sisters.

Besides being a minister in a Presbyterian Church on Vancouver Island, I am also chaplain to disabled adults in a couple of group homes. Every time I visit them, I leave aware of having been touched, of having met Christ in the broken ones He has given to us. These are close encounters of the most precious kind, and yet I wonder how often I overlook the angel at my elbow.

Prayer: Lord give us eyes to see others as you see them and to see you in the faces around us. Amen.

About the author:

Harold McNabb
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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