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Airport chaplains are reminders of God

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (BP)–A British Airways agent prayerfully sits listening to Christian music. Before her, a wooden cross hangs on the wall. As she gets up to leave, an employee of South African Airways walks in, quietly bows his head as he stands there for a few minutes, then exits. Soon, a police officer walks in, Bible in hand. He selects a corner, sits and reads from the Book.

Scenes like this are repeated around the clock at the newly renovated prayer chapel of Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport. It was set up in time to meet the high demand of incoming and outgoing World Cup visitors.

The airport averages more than 76,000 passengers a day.

Chaplain Tricia Lovell said the purpose of a chapel ministry is “to show Christian presence at the airport and to show the love of Jesus.” For some, the chapel is a place of calm amid a storm of activity.

“We deal with different people here at the airport,” said Yvonne Maome, the British Airways agent. “Some are Christians, some are not. And some will make you angry — to the point where you want to boil. So I come into the chapel just to connect with God, to stay calm and to be humble.”

The chapel is staffed by four teams of three chaplains, dividing the hours among the teams. Two chaplains walk the floors of the airport, while one stays at the chapel interacting with visitors, should they request it.

Maome is pleased that the chapel outreach is designed not only to support the spiritual needs of passengers but of those working at the airport as well.

“When you work at the airport, you tend to forget God,” she said. “Every day when you come to work you know that there is someone to remind you that God exists.”

Chaplains who work at the airport also are reminded that God is at work in the lives of airport passengers and employees as well as their own lives and ministries.

“We’ve experienced the power of God in this ministry, because He actually is in control,” Lovell said. “He is the CEO; He’s the captain at the helm. He’s everything, because everything is just happening all around us. We’re incredibly blessed to be part of it.”

The chaplaincy program operates with the support of the airport authority and under the auspices of the International Association of Civil Aviation Chaplains. It continues even after the World Cup; a second prayer chapel is planned within a newly constructed section of the airport.
Charles Braddix is a writer and photographer for the International Mission Board global communication team.

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