1/6/17 Raphael, Dave 20's
Twice in two days, I have initiated outreach conversations in which I immediately wondered what I had gotten myself into. At McDonald’s yesterday I approached a hooded young man finishing his meal at a booth and asked if he would be willing to talk about his views on what happens after we die. More often than not, I don’t really notice too many details about people before talking with them, and it isn’t until a conversation is under way that I realize I might be speaking to someone who is somewhat unusual. So this young man turned to me as I began to get his attention and I couldn’t help but notice his large mid-brow piercing bar, a very large unkept beard, multiple tattoos and black stains all over his hands and clothes. But the way he answered quickly took my attention off all that as he launched into a rapid fire succession of loosely related ideas about life after death involving quantum physics and his childhood fear of death and reincarnation with a range from the very simple to deeply profound. At first I wondered if he was homeless and possibly mentally disturbed, but with some patient listening and responsive questioning I began to see a logic to his beliefs and how they have developed over time. His name was Rafael and he is an artist from Los Angeles, the paint stains evidence of some of his recent work. He works in a Chicago after-school program and loves to teach and communicate through art. We talked over an hour as it took time to work through his random thoughts and focus on the basic biblical narrative, but he was very open to gaining a better understanding of the basic Gospel message which he had long ago dismissed as irrelevant.
Today at a laundromat I spoke to a similar young man, Dave, who carried on a conversation while rapidly sorting his laundry at various machines, avoiding almost all eye contact but speaking about profound scientific theories and theology and philosophy without missing a beat while I followed him trying to hear and carry on the conversation. Dave grew up Baptist, wanted to be a pastor and made it to his final year at a seminary, dropped out for a masters in church history, began to work on his PhD but dropped out for a career in subatomic research. He now claims to be an atheist. I felt he had some signs of being on the autism spectrum, being able to focus deeply on certain subjects but somewhat socially awkward. I don’t know that I was able to tell him anything he hasn’t already heard about the Gospel, but I think I was able to “put a rock in his shoe” about some of his atheistic assumptions.
What strikes me as important about these two conversations is that these men were definitely diverse learners who need to hear the Gospel just like anyone else, but maybe they need to hear it in different ways. Gospel truths need to be shared and shared often, and they also need to be shared in a multitude of ways. Whether I was able to share some truths with Rafael and Dave in a way they could receive them may be only for God to know, but that’s okay with me. God can bring to mind what was shared at just the right time and in just the right way for even the most diverse learners. Jesus promised in John 14:26: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” I believe we just need to obediently put ourselves out there and be as willing to listen as we are to speak.