I've never considered myself particularly able to approach total strangers and engage them in true conversation. I suppose you could say that while I am great with kids and teens, it always took some time to warm up to anyone else.
One night this past week, my CSM Directors gave me and Michael (my co-host) an envelope with a subway stop in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, street addresses for boundaries on a huge city block, a list of instructions, and $6. We were supposed to catch the train from our neighborhood in Brooklyn and head out to our designated station. Once we got there, we needed to locate various services that could be utilized if we needed a meal, a hot shower, job or housing assistance, or a warm place to stay in the frosty New York February. Once we did all that, we were set out for dinner with our $6. If you have ever spent any time in Manhattan, you know that cheap food is not easily come by... at least, none with any semblance of nutritional value! The catch though, was that in addition to feeding ourselves, we needed to find someone who looked like they could use a meal.
By the time we were ready to eat, it was raining outside and Michael and I were quite drenched already. It also meant that the homeless and hungry that sat on street corners had spread out to find some cover. We stopped to talk with one man who asked us for change to buy pizza, so we invited him to eat with us. He declined, even though we can only hope that the money he sought was going to fill the hunger pains in his stomach...
Michael and I sought our own refuge from the cold rain under some scaffolding in front of an empty retail space, and spotted Maximus. Confidently staking his DRY territory, Maximus turned down our offer to go grab a piece of pizza or hotdog with us, but commented that if we were passing back this way, he liked ketchup and mustard. And onions.
Michael and I set off to find a few hot dogs, and returned a few minutes later with three hotdogs, and no spare change. By the time we got back, another younger guy had joined Maximus under the construction scaffolding. Feeling badly for offering Max a [relatively] hot meal, we offered Ryan a hot dog, and Michael and I shared (guiltily knowing there was a fridge full of coldcuts back at the church where we live).
I think the amazing thing, is that Max and Ryan expected us to drop the food and leave - because no one usually takes the time to engage the "dirty and weary" in true conversation. Instead of dumping a paperbag in their lap, Michael and I ignored the stares of bustling New Yorkers, and sat down next to Max and Ryan, and truly listed as they told their story.
People are so good at ignoring the hurt and pain in the world around them, but if they do stop to notice the reality, they tend to throw money at the problem or offer a one time gift of "love." Instead of allowing myself to fall captive to the ignorance of today's world, I am reminded by a verse in 1 Thessalonians (2:8) that says, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our LIVES as well."
Its not about beating someone with scripture and theology. For so many, that will not only fail to resonate, but it may turn them off. Instead, we need to meet people where they are at, and show them true LOVE. From there, God can do his work through us. If we let him.