By Cam Roxburgh
This story is part 2 of a series. Get caught up with part 1 here.
It had already been a spectacular week. Banff at its finest was only the start; it was the voice of God urging me to connect with Henry Morgentaler that made this week extraordinary.
I was not sure how I was supposed to connect with Dr. Morgentaler, so had been praying and invited others to do the same. Had I really heard God, or was it the pizza I had for dinner? It was time to go home and I had not connected with him.
But as I was leaving, there he was again at the concierge desk. Could this be the moment?
With more hesitation than I can ever remember, I approached the concierge desk and introduced myself 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?”
His response was peculiarly unexpected: “The meeting did not happen. In the end, they told me were too busy.” Hmmmm. This outcome was what I had been praying for during the past few days.
“Our van is packed and we are ready to head back to Vancouver, but I would be glad to have a conversation with you if you wanted.” Without a moment of hesitation, Henry responded with the invitation to have coffee in 15 minutes in the hotel coffee shop. He would be delighted to meet with us and just needed to go back to his room for a few minutes before we met.
After parking the car and conversing with my friends and teammates, we headed towards the coffee shop, not having the slightest clue what to say or what the conversation would be like. But, surprisingly, I was becoming less nervous and more confident in how the meeting would go. I was reminded of the fact that God promised to give us the words we needed when the time would come for situations such as these.
As the group of us (his bodyguard and a few of my friends) sat down for coffee and tea, I knew God’s presence. There was a calm I experienced that both surprised and comforted me. I should not have been surprised, but I was. Beyond a doubt, this was a “God-thing,” and I knew He would lead the conversation.
“Henry,” I began, “as we start our meeting I just have a few things to be clear on. Of course you and I are going to disagree on the whole issue of abortion, and I am not wanting to debate that with you this morning. My purpose in wanting to meet with you is twofold.
“First, I want to apologize for the fact that some of my colleagues were too busy to meet with you. What is more, I’m sorry some who call themselves followers of Jesus would treat you and other abortionists in the way that they have. I am deeply sorry for the way some have treated you.
“Secondly, you asked to have a dialogue and for these pastors to discuss with you things you think we have in common. Well, I am here to hear your story. I want to listen.”
The words came out without even a voice crack. Confident, direct, and full of grace. To be honest, I was even amazed at what I had said. There seemed to be an extra measure of grace thrown in, but without compromise on my position.
This was a wonderful missional lesson. I learned that even though I think I have such little in common with the person I am in conversation with, much can be gained and bridges built through being willing to own even the sins of other Christians and in listening to the story of another. Dialogue is created.
Two and half hours seemed like no more than 30 minutes. I heard Henry’s story of being in a concentration camp and the loss of his whole family. I heard the rational behind his passion to eliminate the world from any unwanted babies—Hitler had been an unwanted baby himself. I heard him share about his family now, his life in Canada, and—most of all—things he was thinking about now as he was getting older and drawing closer to the end of his life. But the conversation was not a one way street by any means. He asked questions of me, my family, and my work. He asked why “religion” was so important to me. He was a thoroughly delightful conversationalist. Of course he was intelligent and knowledgeable on many subjects.
Several times during our time together Henry tried to steer the conversation towards more controversial issues. He shared of his view on sex, and made a few comments that were clearly in opposition to where I would stand.
“Henry, that’s ridiculous,” I said with a smile on my face. “Surely you have thought that one through more carefully?” With a little laughter we would banter back and forth, but every time he tried to get me to agree with him on some secular position, I pushed back—and firmly. I was gaining a confidence in this conversation by the minute.
I was learning yet another missional lesson. Normally I have a tendency to respond more aggressively and harshly, but I was discovering that even when I disagree, I can stick to my deeply-held opinions, and do it with grace. We may think that in order to build a bridge with someone, we have to capitulate on our positions. This thought couldn’t have been further from the truth that day. It seemed as if the stronger I was in holding to my own convictions, the more impressed Henry became and the more he opened up about what made him tick. He gained a confidence in our conversation as well.
We were getting tired, and this almost-three-hour delay meant we would be getting back to Vancouver rather late. It was time to say good-bye. I wondered how this conversation would end. Before I had figured out what to say, Henry stated how much he had enjoyed the conversation and wondered if there would be a time when we could reconnect. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a business card. Turning it over, he wrote his private cell number on the back of the card, and encouraged me to call him. When was the next time I would be in Toronto?
This is the second of a series on Missional Lessons from a relationship with Henry Morgentaler.