A stranger who changed the way I think about things. Christopher.
Last summer when I went to San Francisco with YWAM, I met Christopher. It was the second day, we were doing hot chocolate evangelism on Market Street, and he was the very first person we talked to. Actually, he came straight up to us. He was well-dressed, smelled faintly of alcohol, and asked us if we were with a church group. "I need to find a church," he told us, "I need to get help." We referred him to the church we had visited that morning, and offered to pray for him. Then it started, he wouldn't stop talking about how much he hated America, and how all the churches he'd visited had screwed him over -- he was preaching us a message of hate and hopelessness full-force, and his hurt was as obvious as his alcohol addiction. And my group eventually just walked away.
I couldn't believe it. He was so angry, he needed help, he was asking us for help. We walked away. We walked away relieved to be out of an uncomfortable situation. I felt sick to my stomach for almost the rest of the night. I've relived the experience nearly a hundred times. The frustration at not being able to make the loving words come out, the regret that we didn't take him straight back to our base for some counseling, the guilt that we just walked away. Discouragement pervaded my faith. And that night, I learned about hope, about God's power, about faithfulness.
And lo and behold, on Friday I have a déjà vu.
I was in Boston with my mom, and after lunch with her friend [so good, rosemary ham sandwich with toasted gouda, eggplant salad - hit up The Red House next time you're in Cambridge] we studied the T map to see if we wanted to ride over to Quincy Market for some gelato. A hot dog vendor working right next to the map came over and randomly started conversing with us, "You live in Alewife, what's the rent like there? I ask cos my wife just left me on Monday, I need a new apartment." We responded lamely with some vaguely sympathetic remarks. But he wouldn't stop talking, about how his wife was so sneaky, about women's rights, about how awesome divorce is, and other stuff that was only half-intelligible to me. We somehow managed to walk away. My mom's friend apologized for the strange folks in the city and my mom and I got on the train.
"That was bizarre, eh?" And all I think of was Christopher. I blurted passionately, "He needed help, he was asking for our help, he was sharing his problems, and we just walked away. I wish we could have done something." My mom asked matter-of-factly, "Well, do you want to go back?" And I sheepishly shook my head, no, I had no desire to go back.
Because it was protocol. Just like in San Francisco, that's what you're supposed to do in situations when people are dumping their problems on you unsolicited and won't let you get a word in edge-wise. You're supposed to walk away. Those people won't hear reason, they're not open to healing, they won't hear what you have to say. So you're supposed to walk away.
I know this is the by-the-book way to handle those situations, but the idealist inside me wants to throw a temper-tantrum regardless. I mean, are some people beyond helping? If they are, does that give us license to just ignore them? That, doesn't sound like love to me. But then, what could I do for the guy? I'm no expert on marriage counseling. Pray for him? Yeah, I could have, and yes, I will, but would it make any difference to tell him that? I don't know what I could have done, but . . . just walk away? That's wrong, right? What would Jesus do?!
We are God's instruments, responsible for carrying on the ministry Jesus started here on earth. It's a struggle every day, to live as Jesus lives and to love like Jesus loves. I don't know, really, if I did the right thing with Christopher, and with this hot dog vendor. No, I probably did the wrong thing. But. God is powerful. He is not limited by whether I mess up or not. There is hope for the lost and the hurting, and He is teaching me how to be useful. I don't understand why both those situations panned out the way they did, but that's how they happened, so instead of filling myself with regret, I think on hope. [For the best for what we lost, to understand when no one wants, it makes me laugh, it gives me hope.]