Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Transit Evangelism

Wordpress has a blog with a daily post prompt that I follow, and every so often I flag one of these prompts for future reference or writing fun.

Yesterday, they posted this prompt, and I immediately began to chuckle, knowing just what story it was that I'd tell.  I have quite possibly told it here previously, but can't resist the chance to tell it again!

Topic #78:
What is the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you on a bus?

It was a Monday morning, around 7 am, and I had just boarded a train packed wall to wall with other rush hour commuters.  I had my headphones on, and a hood up around my face, and was preparing to get lost in the daze of the first day after the weekend commute, tired, and definitely not thinking entirely clearly.  There were people touching me on all sides, all also lost in that Monday morning commute daze.  We shared that mutual, "I want to be alone even though I'm being crushed by people" glaze in our eyes.

She was standing just behind and to the side of my right arm, which was reaching up to hold onto a strap overhead - the only way to keep my balance in a very full and moving train.  She was shorter than me (no small feat since I am barely five foot two inches tall), the top of her head near the armpit of my extended arm.  I'd noticed her when she got on the train, simply because she held a large bible in her arms, with ruffled pages, the mark of one that is well-used.

And then it began.

There was a rustling as she whipped something out of the bag she carried.

"You want this?" (her tone was brusque, confronting, interrupting the glazed peace we'd been enjoying.)

I looked to see who she was talking to.

It was me.


The train was so full that I couldn't even turn to fully face her, but I was her chosen target for the day.

"No thank you."

I returned to my glazed silence.

"Are you a Christian?"

She wasn't catching all of the silent "leave me alone" cues.  She was still waving the object she'd pulled out of her bag, an object that upon closer examination was a sermon CD from a large local church, in one of those white square envelopes.

"Yes, I am."  (Perhaps now this conversation is done?)

"What kind of Christian are you?  Are you evangelical?"  (Her tone remains brusque, insistent, almost attacking.)

"Yes, I'm evangelical."

"You want this?"  She offered me the sermon CD again, and again I politely declined.

"What church you go to?"  English was not her first language, and her tone and words demonstrated this.

Well, now I know I'm in trouble.  I was, at the time, attending a church with one of those non-traditional, post-modern, single word names.  The kind of names that sort of make older members of the faith community suspicious of the church, wondering if it isn't really a cult.

Honesty won out, and I told her the name.  "Epic."

There was a momentary pause as she assimilated this information.

"What kind of name for a church is that?  Should be 'Church of Christ' or 'Church of God in Christ!'"

We lapsed into another momentary awkward silence.  I looked around briefly, catching the eyes of all the other commuters, watching this Monday morning drama play out.  Their eyes said, "I'm so sorry it's you, but I'm sure glad it's not me."  I thought that perhaps this last answer had slaked her curiousity, but I'd underestimated her determination.

She burst out, "You have friends who are Pentecostal?"

"Yes."  (I was smiling, laughing inside, as I pictured a few of the ones with more Pentecostal leanings, including some who'd told me that they thought this sort of "street evangelism" could be effective.)

"You take this," she brandished the omnipresent sermon CD, "and give to them!"

I acquiesced, accepting the CD.  My stop was approaching, and it seemed the easiest way to end this horrifically awkward encounter.

The only thought in my shocked early morning brain was, "That is how NOT to do evangelism."

But that, that is not where this story ends.  There is a laugh yet to share.

After recounting my tale to my dad, he commented that as a pastor, if someone was using his sermon cds in such a fashion he'd want to know about it, so I contacted the church in question, sending an email, describing what had happened, and telling them that I thought that perhaps they'd want to look into this, since it didn't seem to present the best image of either the Christian faith, or of their church.

It was a few weeks before I heard back from the lady at the church that I had been in touch with.

She wrote to tell me of the roundabout way in which they'd discovered who was so brusquely evangelizing while using their materials.

A woman had approached her after services one Sunday, asking for prayer.  The church staffer agreed, asking what it was that she could pray about.  The anonymous woman confided that she'd received a ticket that week, and that she didn't want to tell her husband.

The ticket?  It was for being a public nuisance on the trains!


christianne said...

What?! That's a crazy story! (And a good one!)

When I read the title of your post, I thought I was going to read your thoughts on the merits of transit transportation, perhaps a post talking about how wide-ranging are the benefits of traveling by train, both for personal betterment and for the environment.


Little did I know you meant actual evangelism!

Great story, friend. :-)

Lisa said...

sigh. I wish I was the kind of person who took public transit for the good of the environment. truth is, (though bus reading is a true solace for me!) I take transit because I've had bad luck with my driving record and can't afford car insurance. So, while the environmental benefits are ones that I appreciate, my motives are less than altruistic and hardly worth of that sort of evangelizing :)

but ya. actual evangelism!

several years later and I still chuckle every time I think about her asking if I had friends who were Pentecostals! I remember thinking "Apparently Pentecostals aren't Christians!"

And then to be found out because she'd been ticketed? The justice is just too sweetly funny!