Yes, that’s the title I’m giving this post. And if you want to know how not to suck at sharing your faith, just do like nothing I’m about to share with you in the following paragraphs.
This past Saturday afternoon I found myself at the Starbucks inside Plaza Lima Sur, a mall near where I live in Chorrillos, Peru.
I had ordered myself a manjar blanco frappuccino, and then sat down on one of their sofas with my headphones on and tablet in hand to get some reading done. The headphones, in case you haven’t figured out, were so that people would invite themselves to talk to me, because I obviously put headphones on and read when I want to chat. That’s just to foreshadow a bit where this is going.
Chatting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I do it often. I just didn’t want to do it this time.
So like I said, I was sitting on a couch reading my tablet (I am going through The Passion Translation of the Bible, as well as What On Earth is Glory? by Paul Manwaring, in case you wanted to know) and I was trying to intentionally be oblivious to my surroundings. That’s when I noticed out of the corner of my eye a woman maybe in her mid to late thirties sitting on the couch across from me trying to get my attention. She looked like she might have been talking to me already for like thirty seconds and I just didn’t notice because, you know, headphones.
I pulled one of my ear buds out in case the reason she wanted to get my attention was to ask me if I’d like a few thousand dollars, but it wasn’t. She proceeded to tell me how she was waiting for her friend but that she had forgotten to bring her cell phone and couldn’t call her to see why she was late for their Starbucks reunion.
Thinking I understood why she was telling me this, I then stuck my hand in my pocket to grab my cell phone so as to offer it to her so she can use it to call her friend. That’s when I heard the Spanish words come out of her mouth — and I’m translating/interpreting for you — “so, since I’m stuck here waiting, do you want to have a conversation?”
I think to myself, well, this could be a totally God moment, or as we call them, a Kairos waiting to happen. But before I can say no if I wanted to, she moves over to the couch next to me and starts to continue. At this point, as a sign of respect, I casually yank the ear bud out of my other ear by its cord, and give her my ear. Not literally of course. But anyway.
By this point, she has probably orally composed a few blog posts with her mouth and I haven’t even let her know what my voice sounds like when she finally asks me “Where are you from?” in broken English.
“Canada” I respond.
Since the name of my country is pronounced almost the exact same in both Spanish and English, I didn’t feel this answer should automatically determine which language the rest of the conversation should be in. So of course, she decides to start speaking to me very slowly and over enunciating her words just in case I’m not only Canadian, but also retarded.
I smile and interrupt her, and at that point tell her I understand her in Spanish just fine. Well, when I don’t have my headphones on, at least.
She then proceeds to tell me a stream of consciousness that maybe had 4 or 5 different unrelated thoughts strung together, before I’d had a chance to react or respond to just the first one. That’s OK, maybe to her “have a conversation” meant “would you listen to me share some thoughts with you?” But still, I now realized I will definitely not be able to get back to reading the book I was reading unless her friend now shows up.
She finally asks me, “so what do you do here in Peru?”
Unable to figure out how much time this conversation may last before her friend shows up, and mentally calculating in my brain if she’s given me enough information about herself in her ramblings in the last few minutes to know what a missionary is if I say that, I carefully decide to say “I’m a missionary”, of course.
“Missionary? What is that?” It now seemed my calculations were incorrect.
“Well, in simple terms, a missionary is someone who is on a mission.”
“Well duh, we’re all on a mission, then.”
Steve, she didn’t ask you what the definition of the word missionary meant!
“Well I’m a Christian missionary and I’m a part of a church here.”
When I said this she scuttled over a bit closer and readjusted herself on her part of the couch and started telling me something else that this information provoked her to share, but all I understood was the “I’m catholic” part of it. It should also be noted that I answered everything in as relatively flawless Spanish as you can when you’ve married a Peruvian and immersed yourself in the culture for the previous six years. But for some reason she insisted on carrying on her part of the conversation in her intermediate-level English. The rest of the conversation in this blog post is presented to you as best as I remember it but in English.
“So what exactly DO you do here as a missionary?”
At this point I just name a few examples of things I do, such as “teaching people in the church”.
“Oh, so you’re a professor?” she asks.
“Well, not exactly. But yes, I am a teacher of sorts.”
“So, like a professor?”
“Right. Like a professor.”
“So which university do you teach in?”
“Well, like I said, I don’t teach in a university, but I teach in our church.” Again, since I didn’t know how long this conversation was meant to last and when this elusive friend of hers may finally show up, I’m trying to be calculated with my answers, so as to be useful, but yet not start unloading anything we won’t truly have time to finish.
Her: “So what do you teach?”
Me: “The Bible.”
Her: “Anything else?”
Me: “Theology of the Bible, and practical stuff.”
Her: “So you’re paid to teach the Bible to people in your church?”
Me: “No, my wife and I have supporters back in Canada and the USA. I also have written a few books that give us a small bit of monthly help.”
Her: “YOU are an author? Oh my goodness! I’m talking to an author! You don’t look like one. Tell me one of your books!”
At this point I turn to my tablet that I was reading on when she decided that I would want to have a conversation with her, and I said, “I’ll show you a page with all my books.” I said this intending on going to my Amazon page on my Kindle Fire Tablet and showing her my profile page, where she could see my picture and a list of the thumbnails of my books. But also so that I could subtly say without saying it, “hey, I was actually reading when you decided to talk to me, but I’m OK with it.”
She then seems unimpressed that I’m trying to show her something on my tablet and keeps insisting I simply name one of my books, to which I start saying I’m not a famous author, if that’s what she was looking for — I haven’t written some book that she would immediately recognize. I mentioned they’re all in English except one.
She responds in a few incoherent sentences that she thinks I’m “swindling” her (at least that’s what Google translate tells me she told me I was doing) because in 20 seconds I’ve still not told her the name of one of my books, and therefore I’m not really an author.
Finally my page loads up (thank you, Starbucks WiFi!), and I show her my photo and list of books and that seems to get me off the hook.
She then asks me, “so Mr. Theologian, who is God?”
I literally had no clue what to answer.
Who is God? How would YOU answer that in an elevator pitch? Again, I wasn’t thinking of how to answer that properly, but how to answer it concisely and fast enough, since, her friend would show up any minute.
So I ask her, “who is He to you?”
Her: “I’m asking the questions. You’re a theologian who has written books, supposedly, so you tell me. Who is God? Why did He send His son to die?”
Now I admit the rest of my attempt at transcribing this conversation, or admittedly just the highlights to give you the jist of it, is going to unimpress you with me. But I had a butt load of things going through my mind like “do I really have time to answer profoundly, or do I give simple answers that sound pithy? She said she’s catholic, so we might be speaking two radically different languages about the Gospel and um, you know, how to be saved.”
So I decide, for some reason that made sense in mind at that nanosecond to say, “He’s the creator of the universe, and He sent His son to die on the cross to take our place for our sins.”
She then had a reaction/response, that again due to her broken English I didn’t quite understand, but I realized my answer was not satisfactory to her.
Since she was drinking a coffee and eating a muffin, she asks me if she would be considered a god if she made the muffin in her hand. Failing to see how that was similar to creating an entire universe, I expressed that I didn’t really put her making a muffin and God making a universe in the same category. Not the least of reasons why being the fact she was created and God wasn’t. Among myriad other things.
She kept insisting my answer didn’t make sense if, according to her, I was saying that creating something made one a god, but I was not allowing her to say she was a god because she made a muffin. Never mind that she didn’t even make the muffin in her hand, but bought it from Starbucks, but I didn’t want to be too nit picky.
I didn’t know if this person was wasting my time, if she truly was a seeker, or if God sent me a test to see how politely I can behave when complete strangers want to talk to me like this.
I really wanted to put my headphones back on and continue reading my tablet if I was going to have conversation with someone and be unsuccessful at trying to convince them they are clearly NOT a god just because they can eat a muffin they bought.
“I’m still waiting for an answer.”
Me: “To what?”
Her: “My question” She then reiterated her bit about making a muffin.
We went around in circles several times and she finally moved on to another “question”, telling me that as a theologian it was my job to convince her that her beliefs were correct.
I politely informed I didn’t understand what her beliefs even were — never mind that I didn’t fully understand her English, but even if we spoke in Spanish, I’m sure I’d still struggle to understand them — and was probably going to fail at convincing her that, no, creating a muffin would no make her equal to a God who created the universe.
To that she said “then what kind of theologian are you if you can’t do that?”
I sat there truly humbled for a moment, and mentally prayed and asked God if he could give me some kind of word of knowledge or something to cut through whatever it is that is going on and help me to be some kind of blessing to her that showed His existence is real — or whatever He’d like me to share with her. I sat there for about 30 seconds as neither one of us said another word, and then I felt like He was nudging me to ask her if she was personally reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
At that, she got up and left saying she had to go meet her husband.
And then I sat there on the couch with my head spinning asking myself what on earth just happened in the last five minutes?
I started journaling this experience a few hours after it happened, and decided to just go ahead and put it on SteveBremner.com as a way to process the experience, and having processed it a bit, I realize this conversation literally took me more time to write about it than how long it took to have — and I’m leaving much out as well.
Does Cold Call Evangelism Really Work?
Even more importantly, how would you handle it if someone came up to you, whether pretending or whether sincerely unaware of the Gospel and asked you to explain it to them in a nutshell? Would you find it challenging or would you be able to simplify it into an “elevator pitch” for them?
Since I titled this post “how not to suck at evangelizing”, there’s a load of ways I’d love to go back and re-do this conversation. But none of the things I’d change would be how to give her better answers to her questions. I have never found that winning arguments or having really smart answers to people’s questions is really the key to touching someone’s heart. But boy do I wish I could have been less annoyed and showed some respect for her while we were talking, even if her questions were a bit loopy to me.
Since reflecting on it, and having shared the experience with Lili, who promptly told me I shared the negatives of the experience more so than looking at it through the positives, which I admit I probably did when I told her about it — I can see that sometimes we don’t know the rest of a person’s story besides the few minutes we rub shoulders with them in public like that. It is the tip of the iceberg of many other life experiences and questions that we don’t get to see on the surface.
1 Peter 3:15-16 states,
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
I somehow doubt the first part of that paragraph is talking about being able to answer any and every objection someone throws at us. I’d give anything for a do-over for the part that says “yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Can you say the same for when you share the reason for the hope that is within you, or do you have to win an argument? I know in the past, the latter was the case for me, personally.
What about you?
If you had only 90 seconds to share the Gospel with someone who came up to you at the mall and asked you directly, how would you handle it in just 90 seconds? What would be your answer?
Leave me your thoughts below.