Connecting with the Saints and the Streets

"Why are you carrying that cross?""Yea well as I've said I don't like religion much either."

“Why are you carrying that cross?”
“Yea well as I’ve said I don’t like religion much either.”

I’m sitting in a local restaurant in Flagstaff, Arizona, as I write this.  Millie and I have been asked if we might like to contribute to the “Wild Goose” on the topic of “Connecting with the Saints and the Streets.”  So with that on my mind I’ve walked into this popular gathering place and I’m praying simply, “God, if you’d like, help me to connect meaningfully with someone here.”

I really like the atmosphere, and the little sparrow flitting about up in the rafters speaks to me of God’s gentle presence in all of creation.  Plus, the food is good and reasonably priced. It just feels like a place where I should be able to connect with people, but I rarely do.  So I’ve chosen to be more purposeful this time and I sit in an area where the smaller tables are somewhat close together, not in a booth that’s closed off from outside contact.  This is good but it’s still not like sitting right next to someone on an air flight for hours.  I’ve found that I often enjoy entering into conversations with people while flying.  Actually I’ve had some really special talks, like the time I said hello to the African-American lady two seats away.  After a bit of small talk she told me how she was the wife of a youth pastor in Los Angeles, whose senior pastor and wife had betrayed them when they informed them of some sinful behavior by their older children.  The betrayal had been so devastating, since the senior pastor and his wife had been like parents to this lady and her husband, that now her marriage was falling apart.  We talked, cried and prayed together as brother and sister for a couple hours on that flight to Texas.

So again, here I am sitting next to a young couple with a child in a stroller sleeping.  They were immersed in conversation about their home decor it seemed.  Then he got up and upon return I made eye contact and said hello.  The hello was returned with a very pleasant smile.  “Are you two locals here in Flagstaff?”  “Yes,” he said, “we came here from Phoenix to go to school and now we live and work here.”  Without being contrived I sought to flow with the friendly talk, beginning to talk more personally about my two daughters who also graduated from the local university.  And this is the way it usually goes until we either reach a natural conclusion or we hit on a topic thread that goes further.  In this case the couple was followers of Christ and I shared with them much of my story of being led into missions work among Native American Indians.  I also learned that we had mutual friends and mutual concerns about the state of the Church.  From there I told of this article I’m beginning to work on and about C of A&H, and of Patrick’s story and inspiration for me in my missionary work with indigenous people.  Praise God, my social world expanded today and it feels good!

A huge problem for our western culture and society today is insulation from each other.  We are so separated from each other that we often don’t know our neighbors, or anyone other than friends at work and church.  Is it a idealized notion to believe there was a time when people actually knew each other… way more than we do today?  Must this be our condition?  To remedy this I’ve been working the last few years to purposely choose to say hello to people wherever I am, and be open to a conversation that goes further.  I have to believe that even a friendly smile or greeting is expanding the influence and love of Jesus.  And then sometimes we hit the jackpot so to speak, like my time with the lady on the plane.

Millie and I work within the larger missions movement called “Youth with a Mission”, or YWAM, and we do a yearly five month long Discipleship Training School.  One of our outreach activities that we sometimes enter into with the students is a sort of mini “white martyrdom.”  The celtic peregrini would sometimes jump into a leather coracle and let the winds of the Spirit carry them wherever he wanted them to be of influence for his Kingdom.  Similarly we ask the students to trust his leading for a day.  Following our normal morning worship and prayer we ask them to get in pairs or threes and quietly wait on the Spirit to give them pictures, impressions, words and such regarding who they should look for that day when we drop them off in town.  They write this all down and we take them to a central dispersion point and say, “Now pray and follow your sense of God’s leading to find those people and situations that he has shown you.”

I think two things that happen are, first that we go out with faith and hope for success because we know that he has spoken to us. Second, there is strength in being together.  Encouragement and ongoing prayer helps us get out of our comfort zone.  Then we see that person wearing a green cowboy hat and our faith wells up even more.  “Excuse me sir we were praying today and got a sense that God would have us pray for someone wearing a green cowboy hat.  Would it be okay if we prayed for you?”  And very often the answer is yes.  And then, “While we were praying we had a sense that we should pray for your relationship with your mother and ….  Does that seem to be helpful for you?”  And we respectfully follow that thread of God’s love for the person and take risks of compassion.

Now back to me sitting here in the restaurant.  Soon after the young family departed I looked to my left and the mother who had been sitting with two young children was now alone. “Hello, having some time out with the kids?  What a great day to do it now that the wind has died down.”  And the conversation flows along like a walk down a gently descending path.  I learn that she and her husband, similar to the young couple, had moved here from Phoenix to go to school but they have have lived here for twenty years.  We talk about home ownership and then the kids return and eventually it’s time to move on.  “Goodbye, it was very nice talking with you.”  Community, care and love has expanded for me and for them.  “Lord bless them.  Bring them a full revelation of your presence and love for them.  Thank you Jesus!”

Yesterday I joined a local church’s public gathering for Good Friday.  When I arrived they were in the downtown central plaza, holding three large wooden crosses and worship music was playing with a small live band.  After a while I went forward in the crowd to take over holding one of the crosses.  I originally had mixed feelings about coming to this event at all.  I had to compose myself and acknowledge my natural fear of man.  I had to further consider that I don’t want to cower because of perceived public dislike for Christian activities, especially those done in public.  I stood there holding that cross as people passed by down the sidewalk bordering the plaza.  I noticed that one young man seemed to be very interested.  He wasn’t dressed like the majority middle class  people from the church.  After about a half hour I realized that I wasn’t glued to that spot so I picked up my cross and walked over to the young man out on the walkway.

“Hello, I’m Will.”  “I’m Charles. I’m visiting here from Florida. Why are you carrying that cross?”  And so begins a twenty minute talk.  “I’m a Rastafarian,” Charles finally said, ” I don’t like religion but we do sometimes read the Bible and follow Jah.”  “Yea well as I’ve said I don’t like religion much either.  Do you and your wife need a place to stay tonight?”  So Charles asks his wife to take a photo of us together, arm in arm.  And I give him my phone number.  “God show Charles and Jan your greater love.  Please draw them into a fuller understanding.  Have them call if that would help.  Thank you Jesus!”

Three young ladies are now sitting to my right.  My heart quickly goes out to them as I hear  one describing some scene of violence, apparently within the family.  The word “death” wafts up from their quiet conversation.  “Lord, have mercy,” I’m thinking, as that little brown sparrow, comes flitting by.  “Thank you Jesus, you know, you care.  Thank you, thank you.”