Thursday, September 30, 2010

On how God can bring good things from tracts, in backwards ways.

I went to a local park to eat my lunch yesterday, one of the main hang-outs for low-income folks in the neighborhood.  I was sitting on the bench, reading my book, when I saw a man out of the corner of my eye who didn't seem to fit the scene.  He was wearing nicer clothes than anyone else (including me), and he seemed to be praying over two people on the bench across from me.  Sure enough, when he was finished, he approached me and handed me a tract and a yellow lollipop.  He asked if he could pray for me.

I'm not one to turn down prayer when it's offered, so I humored him and said yes.  He launched into a generic prayer that seemed almost memorized.  I guess he couldn't help but be generic, since he hadn't even gone to the trouble of asking my name.  He did, however, make some assumptions about me in his prayer, evidenced in phrases like "Lord, free her from her addictions" and "Holy Spirit, convict her of her sin."  Amen, brother.  God knows I have addictions and sin I need freedom from, but something tells me they're probably not the ones he was imagining.

After wrapping up his prayer, he asked me two questions in rapid succession: "Do you have Jesus in your heart?" (pointing at his chest).  "Yep."  "Do you have a Bible?"  "Yep." 

This satisfied him, and without so much as a goodbye, he moved right along to a skinny girl dressed in a dirty, tattered t-shirt and sweatpants, who was sitting about five feet away from me.  I watched as she accepted the lollipop and tract (though she threw the leaflet in the garbage as soon as he turned his back).  She gently declined his offer to pray.

When the man had left the park, I caught her eye and said, smiling slyly, "At least he had lollipops."

She grinned, and said quietly,  "I didn't have the heart to tell him I'm a practicing witch."

I laughed, imagining how the man would have responded.  She continued with a story of what happened the last time she told a "Bible Thumper" the truth about her religious beliefs: "I literally got thumped with a Bible."

With that, we launched into a great conversation.  I asked whether she practiced witchcraft in community with others, and she told me about her coven.  She asked if I was a witch.  (Somehow, this was a lot more refreshing than being asked if I "had Jesus in my heart.")  I told her that I was a Christian, but I found myself suddenly reluctant to be grouped with the man we'd just encountered, so I awkwardly added, "maybe not quite the same kind of Christian as that guy." 

We shook hands and exchanged names, and talked for twenty minutes.  We talked about our belief systems, and how ancient they were, and what we had in common - a belief in the spirit world and that we were privileged to interact with it, a desire to act in love, to seek peace and light.  She told me about growing up on the streets, and how despite all the pain and temptation she experienced, she never let her "Self" be compromised, "because all I really have is myself, and if I give that up, I might as well be f***in' dead."  She told me how she gave up her crack habit for a cat habit - "it's expensive to take care of six cats, but not as expensive as buying crack every day."  She showed me a beautiful marijuana pipe she'd found in a parking lot.  She said she enjoyed talking to me, and hoped we'd see each other in the park again.  I enjoyed talking to her, too.  It felt like the start of a friendship.

And that's how the ever-surprising Holy Spirit, who has a pretty good sense of humor, brought an encouraging avenue to relationship through the most anti-relational, dehumanizing, well-meaning but misguided "drive-by" evangelism attempt I've ever personally experienced.

In hindsight, as I think about the guy who prayed for me, I wish I'd thought to ask to pray for him.  I would have prayed that God would free him from his addictions, too.  Of course, I probably shouldn't do that kind of thing unless I at least know the person's name.  And maybe their favorite musician.  And maybe I'd want to know whether he'd had difficult experiences in his life, whether he had pains he was dulling with his addictions.  But by that point I'd probably feel like I had to share some of myself with him, too, and that might be too much vulnerability, and it might take too much time...

... and honestly, I have trouble interacting with people who have such different ideas from mine about sharing the Gospel.  I'd rather not admit that we're part of the same family, that we're Christian brothers and sisters who need to learn to love one another in spite of our different approaches to evangelism.  And besides, I'm far better at talking to homeless witches. 

Yeah, on second thought, I think it was best to let him go on his way.


cookiegirl said...

I try not to be associated with dehumanizing drive-by evangelism either. :) - jo

rochelle laura knox said...

powerful stuff beth. thanks for sharing. encouraging to hear how God lives through you.

Anonymous said...

your story of your encounter with the tract pusher touched a nerve with me. your response to the woman touched my soul. i am praying for you.

Ryan said...


Anonymous said...

Beth, I love you.

Sam Chaise said...

Beth, you are good at what you do! Great story -- I hope it makes it into your book . . .

Rosie said...

Thank you Beth! You constantly challenge me to think differently and hopefully to act differently as well.

Anonymous said...

You really know how to touch a persons soul, and you touched my soul! It is so awsome to see how God is working through you to touch other people. Great job Beth!

Ingrid said...

hey Beth!
Thanks for sharing your experience and reflection; thought-provoking. Being back in SoCal has challenged me to think more about the proclamation part of evangelizing; there is a place for that, I think, if done well. Challenging, though!

Sarah-Jane Melnychuk said...

It's difficult to be in relationship and in community with people that we're different from.

If we think about it there is marginalization everywhere.

Being in my line of work people judge me because of the uniform I wear while others are judged because they're wearing dirty clothing, while others are judged because they have money, wealth, possession and make presumptions about how they use their finances.

The uniformed person might actually be providing resources and support to those who are in distress, the person wearing dirty clothes may be fighting off poverty and may very well be working towards getting off the drugs, or maybe they're a drug and alcohol counselor :-) The person with a lot of money may be spending thousands of dollars to help organizations that seek to better develop communities and help at-risk youth, and organizations that help reach out to orphans, and the drive by evangelist may be hurting so much inside that his only sense of well being and value in himself is what he can do for the Lord so he works and works and works somehow finding comfort not necessarily in his faith but perhaps he's addicted to work and if he can just do enough work for the Lord maybe the Lord will love him. The self righteous person may actually hate themselves and have a hard time forgiving themselves because their religion doesn't allow for brokenness and gives no room for pain.

Being in community with people and relational is perhaps more beneficial then the drive by evangelist for sure.

You said ...

"... and honestly, I have trouble interacting with people who have such different ideas from mine about sharing the Gospel. I'd rather not admit that we're part of the same family, that we're Christian brothers and sisters who need to learn to love one another in spite of our different approaches to evangelism."

True community, true relational evangelism, truely living in the body of Christ is to have the same heart for the wealthy as you do for the poor, recognizing that you might not have prejudice towards those in poverty but maybe you do for the wealthy?? And we might need to recognize and understand the heart of the drive by evangelist who may be just as hurting as the witch you were able to have a conversation with... perhaps the drive by evangelists has more pain in his heart then the witch... one never knows what motivates a person to do what they do unless they are in relationship and in community with that person.

God doesn't call a person to poverty, he calls us into blessing. He calls us into stewardship of what we have whether little or big. It's not a sin for a person to have money and they're not all bad people who ignore the cries of those on the street that many assume. Some are called to live among marginalized people and others have a different calling.

We are all apart of the body of Christ with different callings and different ways of reaching out. We're not all called to be the foot, or to be the hand, we're not all called to be the head, some of us connect the hands and feet so that the hands and feet can do what they're called to do... some are gifted and planting seeds while others are gifted at bringing in the harvest but I assure you if there were no people to plant and water the seed there would be no harvest to take in. Maybe the drive by evangelist has a gift and he's had nobody to mentor him in his gifting and so now we find him not really all that aware of how to be relational with his gifting.

Just thoughts ... :-)