Coffee, violence, and the meaning of ministry.

I’ve been grappling with a blog post for the last two days. There are times when I literally cannot find the words that convey my meaning best. Maybe they aren’t in the English language. I’m still in trouble because English is the only language that I know. So I’m going to give it a shot anyway. Two days ago, I was sitting at Peets, doing my normal writer thing. By that, I mean sipping a drink, editing documents on my laptop, chatting on my phone, and putting things down in ink on the pages of my notebook. It’s a tough life to be sure. At that moment, I was talking to Caleb, my boss of sorts. We had been brainstorming about changes to the website, budgets, and all sorts of other fun and mundane things. Then she walked up. I don’t think I noticed her before. Maybe I did. I vaguely recall a woman sitting at the table that had been recently vacated by a pair of bicyclists. She walked over to my table and put a folded piece of paper on my laptop. Then she walked away. At first glance, I thought the paper was personal stationary. The letterhead was big enough and I was in the right part of town to run into someone who carried around personal stationary in their clutch. My second glance revealed that it was a page ripped out of a book by Eckhart Tolle. The “Also by” page. Beautiful, loopy handwriting in black filled the back and front of the sheet. As I skimmed the note, I wondered who the woman was. She caught my attention with these words…

…has read some of my writing about the murder of my 21 year old daughter…There are no coincidences — so here I sit, wishing for advice. Would you mind calling me?

She left me her name and number. I stared at the paper for a few moments. Did I really want to get involved? What could I offer her? Something kept me from throwing the paper away. Instead, I said a quick prayer and called the number. I got her answering machine. Later that night, she called me back and we talked. Her daughter was a few months older than me. The murder was brutal and like most, unexpected. Even though it happened a few years ago, the woman’s pain was fresh. Have you ever heard a stranger sob? It will break your heart and make you want to cry as well. There’s nothing you can do. You can’t offer someone your arms. All they have is airspace. You aren’t sitting beside them so you can’t wipe a tear from their eye. You can’t comfort with touch or a kind look. All you have is words.

We talked about writing. We talked about her daughter. It could have ended there but it didn’t. It had to be taken that one step farther that can be awkward even though it’s the most meaningful. I asked her if I could pray for her. She cried harder. I prayed. And I felt humbled. There was nothing that I could do for her but everything that God could do.

We’re going to meet up again, she and I. The date hasn’t been determined but she’s going to start writing about her daughter. She’s on a journey of emotional and spiritual proportions. And I’m going to keep praying.

I was talking to another stranger today. No, it wasn’t at a coffee shop but it was on the phone. I was interviewing him for an article and I was surprised at the words that came out of his mouth. Not because they were shocking but because they were so true. He was talking about how more people come to Christ because of love than anything else. He stated that as Christians we aren’t called to be like Christ, we are to be Christ.

Think about it. Think about it again. Now wonder what the world would be like if all of those that flicked the “Christian” box in the religion category actually did that. It would be radically different. He went on to quote St. Francis of Assissi, “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words.”

I agree with that to a point. St. Francis isn’t Biblical cannon but he does shed light on the situation. It’s not about campaigns. It’s not about crusades, legislation, programs, or even “ministries.” It’s about people. It’s about a man. It’s about a cross. And it’s a lot about love. You can do so many “good” things, say thousands of good words, and give away millions to charities. But an empty message, no matter how brilliant it may sound, is still hollow and devoid of meaning. There is no salvation in works.

Another person put the idea of ministry another way. She’s anonymous not because I’m protecting her identity but rather that I don’t remember it. She said the secret to ministry is “just showing up.” It doesn’t mean showing up to church every time the doors  open or putting a cot in the janitor’s closet. To me, it means taking the time to care. To be Jesus. To love someone even if you don’t know how.

Perhaps the reason I’ve struggled with this post isn’t because my language skills are lax but because my loving skills are. It isn’t politically correct to pray with strangers. It isn’t safe to call people who leave you notes. It isn’t convenient to take the time to care. But at the end of the day, at the end of a life, is that what matters? Is your daytimer more important than the Kingdom of God? Or perhaps is the Kingdom of God really what it’s all about?

Be real. Love people. Cry with a stranger. And don’t be afraid to BE Jesus. You may be the only one that someone sees.



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