In the middle of a long Sunday of frustrating international travel, TWR’s Branko Bjelajac sorely needed his spirits lifted. He wasn’t expecting the inspiration to come from an immigration agent.
Bjelajac, who is from Serbia and serves as the TWR’s vice president for ministry in Africa, was flying from Bratislava, Slovakia, to Cary, North Carolina, for a meeting of TWR leaders in mid-July. He crawled out of bed at 4 a.m. to get started on a trip during which, as is often the case with lengthy flights between countries, he ran into several hitches.
There was the confusion over a boarding pass … the flight delay in Amsterdam that would cause him to miss his connecting flight at a large Midwestern airport … a random security check involving lots of questions and a chemical test checking his fingers and shoes for explosives residue … the delayed flight from Europe improbably arriving in the U.S. in time to catch the originally scheduled connecting flight – but Bjelajac’s reservation had already been canceled!
Disappointed and tired now roughly 16 hours into the journey, Bjelajac lined up at the immigration checkpoint expecting the usual probing questions. Why are you visiting the United States? Business. Where are you going? Raleigh airport for a meeting in nearby Cary. What is located there? Trans World Radio.
The last answer caught the immigration agent’s attention. Does Bjelajac know anything about Thru the Bible, the agent asked? “Yes, I know a little bit about Thru the Bible,” a surprised Bjelajac responded.
It turned out that the immigration agent – who will remain unnamed to preserve his anonymity – tunes in regularly to a Midwestern Christian radio station’s weekly airing of TTB, as the world-famous Bible-teaching radio program is known to many of its fans. The Thru the Bible ministry, founded by Bible teacher J. Vernon McGee, is TWR’s biggest and oldest cooperating media partner. Not only that – Bjelajac happens to be the radio voice of the Serbian version, one of more than 95 TTB translations broadcast around the world by TWR.
Bjelajac recalled the agent’s words: “It’s a tremendous program. I really respect what you guys do. In fact, when people come to my booth and I see they are pastors or missionaries or come from Africa and places like this, I ask them, ‘Do you have a TWR360 app on your phone?’”
“Really?” Bjelajac asked, even more surprised to hear this stranger enthusiastically promoting the app for the ministry’s multilingual web portal, which offers free Christian audio, videos and text.
“Yeah, of course,” the agent said, “and then I show them how to download it, and I explain to them how to change the languages. This is tremendous value, you know. I really speak to everyone about TWR’s work.”
What a boost for the weary Bjelajac! Here was a government worker who went out of his way to share the TTB and TWR resources that spoke to his own heart with people who came to his immigration window from all over the world.
“It was a lovely, lovely, light-up-my-day moment,” Bjelajac said.
By the way, Branko’s no good, very bad day didn’t end in the Midwest. Because of the delays, his ride wasn’t there when he arrived – without luggage – at Raleigh-Durham airport. A glitch involving the paperwork for his hotel reservation meant that he would have to wait awhile before he could check into his room, get a shower and collapse on the bed. When he set out for Walmart before dawn the next day to buy clean clothes to change into, he discovered that the key to the vehicle he was supposed to drive was locked up.
Still, as soon as he got the chance, Bjelajac eagerly told his TWR colleagues about the airport encounter.
“It was a terrible travel day. I got a random security check, had lost luggage, delayed flights – all that stuff. But this was just a breath of fresh air – from a government official in the Midwestern United States.”