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The Pastor’s Piece – February 5, 2023

The Pastor’s Piece

Village Voices

February 5, 2023

I was on an airplane a few days ago flying home from Florida. My seat was a window seat in row 7. I’m never in a hurry to board the plane because once you get on, you are stuck in there for the next three or four hours with hardly any room to move, walk or stretch. By the time I boarded, the aisle and middle seat were already occupied so those two people had to get out and let me in. As the guy in the next seat was sitting down, he leaned over and said to me: “It’s this guy’s first time flying.” From that moment on, we didn’t stop conversing. Every now and then he’d lean over and ask the new guy how he was doing. The guy was always doing well, so we’d keep talking.

I found out my new friend lives in Illinois and his son plays football at UW-Platteville. That was cool because both myself and my son went to Platteville. I also learned that when he and his wife drive from their home in Illinois they like to drive to Beloit and then eventually get on Highway 11 and head west across the state. Interesting. As we talked, we talked about all the little towns along the way – from Brodhead to Gratiot. He had all kinds of questions that only a local boy like me could answer. He wondered about the Juda Truck Stop and why they had combines and tractors there? (It’s because there’s a machinery dealer right next door). He asked questions about the three lane highway west of Monroe. I told him if he turned left on County M at Browntown and went south 5 ½  miles he’d find himself at Martintown Community Church. He knew exactly where Highway KK was west of South Wayne and I explained that if he turned south that’s where most of the Cernek farms were. He asked about Roelli’s cheese store on the corner of Highways 11 and 23, and I told him he could get squeaky, fresh cheese curds there on Tuesdays and Fridays made 100% from milk from my brother’s dairy farm. 

He told me how his son didn’t care for the Wisconsin route to Platteville, he preferred taking Illinois Route 20 from Rockford to Freeport. Then west of Freeport he’d turn north at a place that had a brewery and a restaurant near the highway and a big corn processing plant of some kind. I identified the restaurant and Brewery as Rafters and the corn processing plant as an ethanol plant just outside of Lena, Illinois. Then his son would travel through Lena, Nora, and eventually Warren. I explained that he came within about a mile of my house. Outside of Warren he’d go west on County Road W to County Road P and end up at Roelli’s Cheese Store on his way to Platteville.

He talked about his contracting business, golfing, the Chicago Bears, and going out to dinner with friends. He talked about his two sons. We talked about deer hunting, gutting and skinning deer and processing our own farm beef. We talked about liverwurst sausage and fresh-baked Bavarian bread. Sometimes when I fly, I prefer not to converse with the person next to me. I felt that way when I first boarded the plane, but after chatting it up with this guy, I was glad he took the initiative to talk. I made a new friend that day. All this while traveling at 600 mph, 35,000 feet in the air. It was very interesting and was soon to get even more so.

Our other friend, the first time, elderly flier didn’t fare so well. He had an accident part way through the flight and soiled his pants. My contractor friend helped him find his way to the bathroom while I contacted a flight attendant and told them of the dilemma. Everyone sprung into action to help the poor man. The problem was the guy needed some pants to change into but his clothes were all in a suitcase under the cabin along with everyone else’s luggage. But my contractor friend had clothes in his carry-on so he gave one of the flight attendants a pair of his pants to give to the other guy. Once they got him situated in another seat, they came back and thanked the contractor guy profusely. They just couldn’t say thank you enough. They kept telling him what a nice man he was. The man was very humble and was not looking for thanks – but they were relentless in expressing their gratitude. Finally, in humble desperation, he pointed at me and said: “That guy is nicer than I am!” Which wasn’t true. I wasn’t the one who gave the shirt off my back (or pants from my duffle bag) to a total stranger – he was. He had a heart of gold and it showed in everything he said and did. And he did it instinctively. I’d like to be more like him.

As we parted ways, we exchanged contact information and I fully expect we will meet up again for dinner or a football game – or church – or maybe all three. I told him if he popped in some Sunday, he’d get celebrity-like status. Then again, that might scare him away. 

Matthew 25:40: “When you’ve done it to one of the least of these, you’ve done it to Me.” 

(Kevin Cernek is Lead Pastor of Martintown Community Church in Martintown, Wisconsin)