Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Free Ticket to Heaven

Little did Jim Florada know, while strolling through the lobby of a downtown Toronto hotel, that an invitation to breakfast from a stranger would change his life for time and eternity.

Several Toronto Blue Jay ballplayers were sharing their faith at an outreach sponsored by Athletes in Action in the spring of 1987. My future wife Carol and I had reserved a table for 10 but found that we had an extra ticket. Carol suggested that I go to the lobby to find someone to join us. An elderly man was walking toward me and I asked if he'd like to join us for breakfast. He consented and listened intently as Joe Johnson, a pitcher with the Blue Jays, explained how he'd found peace, joy and contentment through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jim and I exchanged addresses following the breakfast and parted company. Several weeks later he wrote me and said that ever since hearing the Blue Jay players, he wanted to have what they had. He asked if I'd come down and help him with his search for peace. Jim lived in Oneida, NY, east of Syracuse, and I told him I'd be down that way in early July. We arranged to meet at the ballpark in Syracuse and go out for something to eat after the game. A wise, all-knowing God had His plan mapped out and Joe Johnson had been sent down to the Syracuse Chiefs by the parent club, the Blue Jays. I asked if Joe would join us following the game. He agreed and another Christian teammate, Don Gordon, came along as well.

The game went longer than usual but we arrived at a nearby Denny's Restaurant around midnight. We spoke of spiritual things, the most important issues of life, and Jim was more convinced than ever that he needed to make a decision. At 2:30 in the morning we went out to my car and after another hour of conversation, Jim prayed, asking Jesus Christ to come into his life and give him the peace he so desperately longed for.

Instantly Jim became a new creation, a new believer, a Christian. I gave him my study Bible and wrote an inscription in the front. We stayed in touch by phone and mail and several years later we visited him in his home. He wasn't well but he had grown in his Christian faith and kept his Bible at his side at all times. Due to failing health, Jim was moved to a health care facility and in January of 1999, his wife Ellen wrote to tell me that Jim had passed away. She told me he had been attending Calvary Temple in Oneida. The people there had extended much Christian love and care.

Desiring to learn more of Jim's involvement at Calvary, I phoned the pastor, Mike Usborne, and was encouraged to learn of Jim's spiritual growth. He had been a blessing especially to the men in the church. I told Mike "the rest of the story" how Jim had come to faith in Christ. Mike asked if I'd speak to his congregation and I had the joy of relating Jim's story in August of 1999.

Joe Johnson planted the seed at breakfast in Toronto and was there to see it come to fruition at dinner in Syracuse two months later. God is sovereign. He makes no mistakes. He used that breakfast ticket to lead Jim to an encounter with the living Christ and eternity in heaven with Him.

Keep sowing the seed. God will bring about an abundant harvest in His time.

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