By Cam Roxburgh
There are few places more beautiful than Banff, Alberta. Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, this tourist destination has rugged and breathtaking scenery. The Banff Springs Hotel, one of the finest anywhere, is famous for its architecture and “hot springs pools.”
I was standing in the lobby in total luxury. I was also in the exact place that God wanted me for the next four days. Little did I know that God was about to give me an experience that would have a deep impact on my life. I was about to learn a number of key lessons on being a local missionary that I will share in this next series of blogs, Missional Lessons from Henry Morgentaler.
The scene was surreal. I watched as hotel employees put finishing touches on Christmas decorations. It was early November, but with a wisp of snow on the ground and crispness in the air, winter was right around the corner. To my right was a grand sitting room. Decorated to the hilt, this old fashioned room had high ceilings and luxurious furniture, and amazing paintings of local wildlife. It also had Amy Grant and Tony Bennett filming a Christmas special for some national channel. To my left was the concierge desk, where Henry Morgentaler was asking a question about local services.
Many are familiar with the life of Dr. Morgentaler. This famous Canadian had since the 1960s, fought abortion laws and pushed hard on his pro-choice agenda. Not only did Henry get the abortion laws changed, but he opened many clinics as well. He has been willing to pay the price for his cause. In the early days he was constantly in trouble with the law for his protests against what he saw as injustice. Henry spent many days and nights in prison for doing what he thought was right.
As I watched him for no more than a minute, I was aware of my deep emotions. He was famous for all the wrong reasons. He stood opposed to what I deeply believed. So famous and so close by, yet so disturbing. I was also aware of his huge bodyguard. Henry had come to hide out. Remembrance Day was the time that abortion clinics and doctors had been targeted by the opposition. Some clinics had been burned and doctors had been stabbed or shot at. Many of those who had become violent claimed to be religious people.
I was also aware of God’s voice speaking to me. He wanted me to connect with Henry during my stay in Banff and listen to his story. This was the first Missional lesson that I was about to learn. God is at work in the world even in the most unlikely places and people. And He invites us to participate with Him. We just need to pay attention and listen for His voice.
Prayer is any communication that we have with God. It doesn’t always have to be on our knees, with our eyes closed, or even in some quiet room. Sometimes it begins in the most amazing hotel, in one of the most beautiful locations, with Amy Grant singing Christmas music, while staring at a man about whom you having nothing good to say.
“You want me to do what?” On this occasion, that was the beginning of my prayer.
After checking in and settling into my room, I needed a walk. No more than an hour later I set out to make the 10-minute walk into town. I wanted a cup of tea. I wanted some fresh air. I wanted to be alone. Three minutes into my journey, I could see an older man approaching me on the sidewalk. It seemed as if we were the only two people within miles. “God, what are you up to?” As Henry got closer, we did not do the traditional Canadian thing of looking down pretending to be deep in thought; instead our heads came up and we made eye contact. Greetings were exchanged and I heard that voice from deep within again: “I am going to make a way for you to connect with Henry this week.”
I am no expert on prayer. It is often a struggle for me to sit still and listen. When I think I hear God speaking, I want to make sure it wasn’t just the pizza I had the night before. I want to be sure before I will act on something. I am too skeptical, but this message was getting hard to ignore. On that walk around town, the thoughts of “when and how?” and “really?” occupied my thoughts and conversations with the Lord.
Returning to the hotel, I still had an hour or so before dinner and the start of the pastors conference. I headed to the hot tub for a soak. One of the leaders of the conference had the same idea. As we sat in the water, he asked if I knew that Henry Morgentaler was in the hotel, and that he had asked to meet with a few pastors from our group to clear the air between himself and “those who were religious.” I was fascinated by the request. I offered my services to be a part of that discussion.
Where this would lead? I phoned my mom, a prayer warrior, and told her the story. I told her of God’s prompting, and of the suggested conversation between Henry and the denominational leaders. I asked her to pray that if it was God to me, that He would open a door for conversation, and… I asked her to pray that there would be no meeting of these leaders and Henry. These were good people, but I knew how the conversation would go. Lines would be drawn and arguments made, and they would miss the point. I prayed for God to act. This was another Missional lesson. Prayer is to be front and central of our joining God on mission. No matter how clever I think I am, it is God who works in and through us. It is not about strategy, but about surrender.
Three days went by and nothing happened. I saw Henry from a distance in the hotel several times, but I heard nothing, saw nothing and did nothing.
The van was packed for the long drive back to Vancouver and our team was heading out the door of the hotel to climb aboard and head home. I was the last one out. As I glanced one more time at the concierge desk, Henry was once again standing there, bodyguard in tow. The voice was back: “now is the time.”
Now? Really? The van is outside and we have an 11-hour drive ahead. I shook off the voice and went through the doors. I got outside and stopped. Was this the time? I returned through the doors only to convince myself that this was really just my imagination, and so exited the doors yet again. Outside for the second time, my wife who was a number of steps ahead came back and asked me what was wrong. I told her, and then suggested we just leave. Her encouragement to me was that if I thought God was speaking, then I needed to act. What harm would it be to go back inside and approach Henry about a conversation? I suggested there was a 6-foot-3, 230-pound reason not to, but that seemed slightly smaller than what I knew God could do.
With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced my self to Dr. Morgentaler. The bodyguard drew closer, I must have stuttered out of nervousness, but I forced my question out. “Dr. Morgentaler, I heard that you had requested a meeting with some of the pastors that were here this week. I was wondering if you could tell me how that went from your perspective?”
What happened next was beyond anything I could have dreamed up in a million years.