A few of weeks ago in Oregon, I was riding the public transportation to the airport with my friend Kaylie Hodges. We had to get off downtown and switch trains. That’s where we saw him coming, a homeless man asking for handouts.
He told us his story, one I’ve heard from homeless men before. My grandma has died; I’m out on the streets trying to travel to another state.
He had no way of knowing that I’m well versed in talking to homeless. Citychurch is in the crosshairs of the three biggest homeless outreaches downtown. They walk past our building on their path between those resources.
Standing there with my suitcase, I probably looked like a small town girl who’s never seen the big city. The man started naming bad neighborhoods across America because he thought I would be intimidated by the names and stop asking questions. “Harlem, Compton, Camden.”
He didn’t know I had already made up my mind when I saw him start walking my way. I have a strategy. I almost never give a monetary handout to homeless men, but if I feel like I need to, he’s going to hear about Jesus and get a prayer.
He could throw out any name, and I was going to keep talking. His goal was to talk me out of a couple dollars. My goal was to get our subject to switch to Jesus.
I finally wrangled our talking around with a couple questions, “I’m sorry about you losing your grandmother, did she know the Lord?” And, “What about you? Do you know the Lord?”
We continued talking until I saw our train approaching. I took his hand, and I said a quick prayer for him.
I handed him a few dollars, and we got on our train. Kaylie immediately complemented my boldness, which I wasn’t sure I agreed with.
It’s easy to talk to homeless people about Jesus. I don’t have anything invested in their response, only Jesus does.
It’s much harder to talk to my peers about Jesus, someone I respect.
I thought about my strategy for talking to this man. I immediately knew where I had gotten this idea. I had come up with this “Jesus talk” strategy to deal with people that you don’t mind scaring away in college.
My first semester of college, I attended Stephen F. Austin State University, and I shared a dorm room with my high school best friend Cheryl. Cheryl and I had the best time that semester living together. We ate a lot of greasy pizza, watched a lot of tv, and spent a lot of time acting silly.
It was the 90s, and our room had a landline. I don’t know if dorms still have phones. I would be surprised if they did.
Our first week of dorm life, we got a prank call. It was a Saturday afternoon, and the prank caller kept calling back. We discussed some strategies for dealing with this problem including unplugging the phone and telling the R.A., but we finally settled on my idea. “Let’s tell them about Jesus. If they call back, I’ll start witnessing to them. They will either talk to be about God or never call back. It’s win, win.”
Cheryl told me that if it was my idea, then I was going to have to do it. We went on with our dorm room activities. I can’t remember what that activity was, but I can only imagine it included rearranging school supplies in our backpacks and desks, light studying, or something equally as nerdy. I do remember that feeling of butterflies as we waited to see if our phone would ring again. It did. I picked up. I began one of many conversations I would have about God with a young man from, of all places, Oregon.
This prank caller became our friend. We ended up spending a lot of time with him. It turned out we didn’t scare him away. We didn’t immediately convert him, but that call gave me some confidence, some boldness.
If I’m honest with myself, I know that I had nothing to lose in either of these “bold” scenarios. I would not lose a bit of reputation or skin in talking to these strangers about Jesus. I don’t feel proud of myself for proclaiming truth to someone I might never see again.
One of the things that is important to me as a Christian is how I have shared my faith with others because I don’t want to be the servant who buries the talents I’ve been given. Honestly I don’t know how to rank these times of sharing. Are they garbage evangelism? What if I told you that that boy in college became a Christian? Does that make it rank higher? Is it even fair to rank them because aren’t all people important to our Lord?
Sharing your faith with someone you have a relationship with is definitely more difficult. There could be real consequences. Your conversation can shift or even end your relationship. Does that danger impress the God who spoke our universe into existence and grants my every breath?
The truth is that I don’t know how important any conversation might be. God can use any, all, or none of the times I share my faith to change someone’s faith in Him. The important thing is to keep sharing out of a sincere heart. I do care about that homeless man. I looked him in the eye, asked his name, held his hand, and I talked to God with him. I doubt that happens a lot in the the streets of the very secular city he is living in. How many travelers from the Bible belt have done that for him? And do we believe that God can answer prayers about a man addicted to drugs, living on the street?
Share your faith whenever you’re given the opportunity. Bold or not, It is the sharing that is important. It is showing love that is crucial.
I can't mention landlines and not play this song.