Billy* didn’t believe me that I was a Baptist minister, returning from Dundee where I had spoken at the Baptist Assembly in Scotland. “You’re no *&%$£ vicar! You’re having a *%$£ laugh!” he declared loudly for the benefit of the packed easyjet plane to hear as we waited to disembark. He looked me in the eye to see if I was spinning some kind of clerical yarn. When I reassured him what I did for a living he said, “What you actually believe in all that Jesus rubbish? How come?” For this big professional darts player, adorned in the most over the top churlish bling you could imagine, which made Mr T look unpretentious and on a tight budget, he hadn’t met a Christian before who actually believed in the story of Jesus. As we walked to reclaim our baggage he spoke about his theory of Jesus being an alien, and his theories of science disproving all that religion mumbo-jumbo. In turn, I spoke about the simplicity of the Gospel: God’s love shown through Jesus. Billy looked shocked. “Are you for real?” he asked. After collecting our bags we continued our conversation, which ended with a rather firm handshake and an unusual plea: “Please pray for me,” Billy asked, and proceeded to share some of his heart-ache. This encounter started all because I asked him a question. It wasn’t one of any deep spiritual meaning. I simply asked how he managed to get through security with all the gold chains and rings that adorned him. “It must take you hours!” I joked.
There seems to be a bit of an unwritten rule when you travel: don’t talk to strangers. Seeing as I find it hard to live by most conventions of the social norm, I quite enjoy talking to strangers, and find that after getting over their initial shock of being spoken to, it seems they quite like talking to one too!
I stood next to Jason on the packed out London Underground. We were like proverbial sardines. It was the first time he was on the Tube by himself. “The last time I was on the Tube my dad was with me,” he shared. He was off to join the army and at 17 years old was nervous for what lay ahead. He thanked me for my offer of praying for him. It was a precious two minute encounter with someone who needed reassurance.
In the blazing heat of the day, Jesus broke all taboos and asked an unfamiliar person for a drink. On their return the disciples were perplexed that their great teacher should talk to a stranger and a Samaritan woman at that. Jesus then teaches them about the harvest being white. ‘Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest!’ (John 4:35) Some versions of the Bible render this saying of Jesus, ‘Lift up your eyes!’ It is in the context of Jesus sharing life-giving water with a solitary person that he then expounds on the ‘harvest.’ Too often I have met Baptist Christians who passionately cry out for the harvest and intensely intercede that they may reap, yet fail to lift up their eyes and see the very ones Jesus calls them to reach under their noses.
Yes, there is a harvest and a mission field right around each one of us and we are called to reap it, one by one. If you haven’t done so, will you start by talking to strangers?
This article first appeared at http://www.baptist.org.uk/blogs/big-hearted.html the Baptist Union web site.