Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Something about us screams sympathy machine

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.]


Michael said...

*sigh* Sadly I've experienced several similar situations. I don't know any more than you do. All I can do is ask the same questions with you.

Micah E. said...

The one time I went street evangelism, I got into a conversation with a woman who was completely drunk. She wasn't making any sense, I didn't know how to talk to her. We were outside of CVS, and the store clerk must have seen the conversation. He came out and motioned for me to leave. I shouldn't have. But I did, I had been given the excuse I was waiting for.

Later I saw the same woman crossing the street with a shopping cart full of booze. I felt terrible. (yah, it's group confession time)

It's a comfort to know that everything will work out in the end. I still wish that I could have helped though.

Art said...

It makes me sad that there are people who need hope and we aren't always able to give it. It makes me annoyed that some people are fakes. I wish everything was real! I wish there was no risk to our safety involved.

Elizabeth said...

Ah, sounds like you have some opportunities. Use 'em girl.

Okay, easier said then done, I know, but I can't help but think of all the people who were prosecuted for sharing the gospel. Stephen, for instance, was stoned. Stoned! You have to listen to Christopher talking about hating America, and a hot dog vendor talking about divorce. Stephen, was stoned.

We shouldn't be afraid of those people, we should talk to them about Jesus, we should share with them the zeal we have for our Creator. There should be no question whatsoever about what we should have done.

I can talk on about this passionately, but be just as scared and reluctant as everyone else. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Of course there are times when the situation is out of control, you're with other people, the "timing" is off; but there should be no question. The principle is laid out for us. And wishing isn't going to help anything.


Hayley said...

Liz, you cut to the very quick of my dilemma! I wanted to share the Gospel, in Christopher's situation I did, but, he wouldn't hear it. I told him that God wanted to free him from his addiction, but he brushed me off. We told him about the church we visited that morning, but he said that all churches are corrupt . . . and my conflict is, at what point am I casting pearls before swine? Protocol says it's foolish to talk to someone who just won't listen - how can I help those that just won't /hear/ the gospel? I agree so fervently with what you said, which is why I was so confused to see these blatant opportunities to share the gospel fall completely on deaf ears. I certainly don't believe anyone is beyond salvation, but it was so strange to see individuals so impervious to the name of Jesus. Maybe I didn't say the right thing, maybe I didn't say enough. Either way, I felt strongly the need to break "protocol" but it just seemed foolish.

I wish, it were less complicated. I wish they had listened when I tried to speak the truth. I wish, it was easier to see how God worked. All I can do is be faithful to the message I have, and share it whether the ears are deaf or not.