Pablo’s church here in Chile has a ministry that reaches out to the homeless in the city, and we’ve enjoyed being able to participate from time to time. We give out warm drinks, sandwiches and clothes and pray with those who will let us. If I’m honest though, it’s really more Pablo’s thing than it is mine. He’s a natural, and I need a little nudging. It’s never been easy for me to just strike up a conversation with someone; I was the socially awkward one in high school. I do think I’ve become a little more emotionally intelligent over the years though, except something happened a few weeks ago that made me think otherwise.
We’d stopped to visit with some homeless guys who were sitting around a fire. Most of them are there every week and are used to seeing us, but there was a college kid with them who we’d never seen before and he started talking to me. He was asking all sorts of questions about what we were doing and why we do it. Pablo wasn’t far away, so I engaged in conversation with the guy, but struggled to not get defensive in response to all his questions. He didn’t believe me when I said we were spending time investing in the lives of these guys because we wanted to. He was convinced we were trying to earn brownie points with a “higher power.”
Then all of a sudden this guy looks at me and says the following: “Sorry, but you don’t know God. If you knew God you’d be different. There’s no happiness on your face at all. You don’t know God.”
He said it so matter of factly and then turned away and started talking to someone else.
It felt like someone had just punched me in the gut, and my eyes immediately welled up with tears that I somehow held back until we got home. I was ashamed, angry, defeated, and I swore I’d never tell anyone what had just happened.
I think it’s one of the worst things someone has ever said to me, and I started to wonder if it was true. Here I am, a christian missionary in Chile, and someone I was talking to, trying to share the gospel with, just told me he doesn’t think I know God because there’s no happiness on my face. He might as well have said I had a demon or something! I considered it was time to just quit the whole missionary thing, because apparently I’m failing at it.
This particular day had already been a difficult one. Pablo and I were probably forcing smiles after an especially difficult situation we’d dealt with the day before. It was still bothering us, but we thought it would be good to go out and invest in other people rather than stay home. So when this guy second guessed my intentions and made this off handed comment, it was just the icing on the cake.
I guess life as a missionary can be complicated (as I’m sure it is with any other profession). Sometimes ministry bites back and it hurts. You feel like you give all you have, and you can’t even have a bad day without someone making you feel guilty for it. Your intentions are questioned, every move you make is open to criticism from christian and non-christian onlookers, the very thing you’ve dedicated your life to is belittled because it’s not a real job, and who do you think you are to tell people what they should believe?!
Eh, it’s not that bad. It’s definitely made me a more responsible and self-aware person, but I’m not perfect. I am a sinner saved by grace, and sometimes I have bad days. The wonder of it all is that Jesus loves me even on my bad days and still chooses to use me.
Shortly after this interaction that I had, we said goodbye to the guys and went to the hospital to give tea and sandwiches to the people who were in the waiting room. While we were there, I was asked to give a five minute “sermon,” and now I really wasn’t feeling up to it!
I did it anyway, and I watched people’s eyes tear up because Jesus used me to say something that they needed to hear…at the very moment when I felt the most useless!
Of course this whole thing served as a moment of self-evaluation. I had to at least take some time to think and pray about why this guy would say something like that to me. Moreover, I saw God’s truth magnified in my life when it could have been drowned out by discouragement and lies.
Sure. It’s complicated, the whole missionary thing…but it’s worth it.