AIDS and Slavery at 39,000 Feet

  • Published Jun 19, 2001
AIDS and Slavery at 39,000 Feet
Was it a coincidence a U.S. senator and Uganda's prime minister met on Dean Jones' flight to London?

God's timing is awesome.

"What is your name?" asked the elegant black man.

"Dean Jones," I answered.

"What do you do?" he asked.

"I'm an actor," I replied, taking my seat beside him.

"And may I ask your name, sir?"

"Apolo Nsibambi," he said, shaking my hand.

We were about to take off from Nairobi, Kenya, for an 11-hour flight to London.

"And what do you do?" I asked.

"I am prime minister of Uganda," he replied.

Although he stopped speaking, he continued looking brightly into my eyes, as if he expected an appropriate response. And I had one.

"It's interesting that we are seated together, Mr. Prime Minister," I said. "I've prayed for your country for over 20 years."

"Why would you pray for Uganda?" he asked.

"My wife and I are members of a church in Los Angeles that encourages its congregation to pray for the United States, Israel, and another nation of our choice. My wife and I chose Uganda."

We were hardly airborne, and we were discussing Idi Amin's slaughter of 500,000 Ugandan Christians, slavery in the Sudan, and the devastating plague killing millions of Africans -- AIDS.

A stewardess leaned closer and spoke to the prime minister. "We have two empty seats if you'd like to stretch out," she told him.

"No, I want to talk to this man," he replied.

It was 2 a.m. before we turned out the overhead lights and tried to sleep. But I couldn't get slavery or AIDS out of my thoughts. Although our non-profit group was supporting slave redemption in Sudan, I was even better acquainted with HIV. I had lost many creative co-workers to AIDS in the United States. In my mind I visited the dying men with whom my wife, Lory, and I had worked. There was Roger (not his real name) who finally lost his hearing and most of his eyesight. In awful pain and covered with boils oozing horrible effluents, he tried to smile when I asked him the question written on a poster board in letters eight inches tall:

Are You OK With Jesus?

Haltingly, he explained how he had come "home" to the Lord and how his past life was dead in its power to affect his glorious eternity with God. Lory was crying; Roger's mother was crying; I was crying. To a casual listener, the only cheerful one in the group was Roger. Two weeks later, he was gone.

I looked at the sleeping prime minister of Uganda. Would there be anyone to ask a "Jesus" question of millions in his country that had the same appointment with death? "Oh God, strengthen those who minister to the sick and dying in Uganda," I prayed. "Find a cure, merciful Lord, for this hellish plague."

As dawn broke and we were served breakfast, I told the prime minister of the work of Christian Rescue Committee, how we transported Jews, Christians, and other persecuted people to places of safety.

"A member of our advisory board is on this flight," I said. "He may be in a better position to help Uganda than a Hollywood actor."

"Who is he?" asked the prime minister.

"A highly respected U.S. senator from Kansas -- Sam Brownback. I'd be happy to give up my seat, if you'd like to meet him."

"Yes," the prime minister said. "Very much."

After breakfast, Sen. Brownback and Dr. Apolo Nsibambi talked while I pondered the odds of such a meeting ever taking place. It was humbling to introduce a leader of my nation, someone with a heart for persecuted people, to a leader of the country that I had prayed for for 20 years. I knew only one thing about this meeting: I hadn't arranged it. But God's timing is perfect. He gets the biggest laughs, records the most touching memories, produces the truly productive relationships.

Secretary of State Colin Powell just announced a $50 million grant to fight AIDS in Uganda. Did the meeting at 39,000 feet have something to do with it? Will refugees escaping Sudanese persecution receive help? Will slavery be diminished? I don't know, but I can tell you this. Those two men did not meet by accident. And God won't waste it. Whatever happens may not be what we expected. And it won't be for what we screamed and yelled. It'll be better.

By Dean Jones, (
Copyright 2001, Dean Jones

Actor Dean Jones has starred in numerous films, on Broadway, and on television. Named a "Disney Legend" for roles in box-office hits such as The Love Bug, That Darn Cat, and Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo, Jones is also a producer and author. As president of Christian Rescue Committee,, he transports to safety Jews, Christians, and others who are being persecuted for their faith.