My new bus route is a little scarier than the old one. It starts out in a nice area (the area where I live..Imagine! me in a nice area!) but then heads off into the hinterlands of silverlake and echo park.
There are more interesting specimens of humanity on this route. Last week, there was a pungent gentleman with a huge growth on his thigh. I’m sorry, but it made me ill. I couldn’t even look at him. The thing was, though, he was yakking up a storm with the driver. Hard to ignore.
Yesterday, on the way home, the bus was really full. People were getting on and off, and sometimes people had to stand. There was a beautiful older Asian woman holding onto the rail at one point. I thought, Maybe I should stand up and let her have my seat. But then I realized that the seat next to me was empty anyway. She could sit if she wanted to.
And then she did. She sat right next to me. And she turned to me, trying very hard with all the small bit of English she could muster, asking if I knew Jesus.
I stifled a spasm of laughter, and told her yes, I did.
“Are you go to Heaven when you die?”
“I hope so,” I told her.
That was chink enough in my armor! She plunged in with her evangelical message. God Bless her, she was extremely earnest, if rather unintelligible.
Don’t you love that evangelical certitude that they are hell-proof? 100% inspected, guaranteed brimstone- and hellfire-free, just sign on the dotted line. Extra credit and jewels in your celestial crown if you can shed a tear or two.
I remember beginning those witnessing classes when I was 14. Evangelism courses at the church on weekday nights, teaching us to be brave and uninhibited about butting in on people. They had pre-fab answers for ALL the possible excuses people gave for not asking Jesus into their hearts.
Each excuse had a folded tract explaining and dismissing it. Things like, “What about all the pygmies in Africa who haven’t heard about Jesus? Are they going to hell?” Of course! and here’s a tract about it.
Most of the questions in the set of tracts were ones I’d never thought of. I was a little worried about them, for a minute or two. But then I had much bigger things to be worried about-I actually had to approach strangers and wrangle them into saying the Jesus prayer.
Years later, I would run into these “Are you going to Heaven?” roadblocks. I thought I should give them a little thrill. Ever hear of a secret shopper? The random customer that goes to the stores and checks out the customer service? I was the secret sinner!
I’d give these evangelical wannabees a line they shouldn’t be able to refuse, “So, if I wanted to become a Christian, what would I have to do?”
They would wig out. “Umm…Um…You should read this..!”
“Well, okay, but can’t you just tell me?”
“You should come to our meetings, they could explain it a lot better.”
Both these things went along with the same training I’d recieved: push out literature, and get them to come to church. But I was disappointed, why didn’t they try to move in for the kill? It was humiliating to know that I was probably as inept a missionary as they were.
I had actually realized this at the time. In the middle of trying to evangelize my hometown, I figured out that this was not the way to do it. Mostly, my efforts were rebuffed, and the very few times I managed to “lead someone to the Lord,” we would smile blissfully at one another for a moment afterwards and never see them again. “Hey it was nice to meet ya! See you in Heaven!”
It was so not fair! How did they get off so easy? I had to go to church and give up worldly things all the time. THEY just got off scot free. Happy on their merry way.
I had my doubts about that being all there was. Did it count, if you just said a prayer once, and then lived your life no different?
Besides, it seemed wrong to just walk up to strangers. Shouldn’t we be friends with people? Show them love and be involved in their lives? Why should they listen to a total stranger? We lacked credibility, I thought.
The evangelism class instructors admitted that “friendship evangelism” was the most effective kind. But that put me in a bind-I wasn’t allowed to know anybody that wasn’t a Christian.
Back to the mall with my wallet of tracts. That is, until I gave up on the whole idea as flawed. Tracts weren’t in the bible! Knocking on the doors of people’s home and staying completely uninvolved with their lives was wrong.
That still didn’t mean I was allowed to make friends with them. Because they would drag me down into their sinful ways. One bad apple makes all the rest rotten! Despite my protestations, I was defenseless before the evil lure of the world.
It’s been a while since I’ve been witenessed to. I almost thought it had gone out of style. I asked the woman on the bus where she was from.
“Korea!” she said.
“Where do you go to church?” I asked.
It took a while for her to understand what I meant. She at last told me it was a presbyterian church on Wilshire.
After a moment more of her discussing the perils of sin and death, I tried to let her off the hook. I told her I’d known about Jesus for a long time, ever since I was a child.
“You go to church?”
“yes!” I said.
“Presbyterian or Baptist?”
I wonder why she picked those two denominations in particular? I told her Orthodox, which did not satisfy her. She gave me a japanime-looking cartoon tract which spelled out exactly what I needed to do to go to heaven. She had a selection of several languages.
I read it as she sat next to me silently. It was hard not to laugh out loud. The girl and the boy and the talking dog were pretty funny. The dog really was rooting for the boy to go to hell. And the girl wouldn’t get “involved” with the boy until he got saved.
I finished it before she got off, and I was thinking I should maybe hand it back to her. But I thought she might be offended.
She handed the bus driver another one as she got off.