I woke up on a borrowed air mattress in a borrowed apartment. The view from the windows covering the walls proved I was floating eye-level with the surrounding skyscrapers. The view brings me back to my accommodations during work training in August of 2015 (and I thought that would be my career).
The city of New York has a peculiar feel I haven’t experienced anywhere else.
I use a borrowed shower, brush my teeth over a borrowed sink, unplug my phone from a borrowed outlet, and walk out the door. No worries, I got dressed somewhere in there.
I walk to the subway, and the subway takes me to The Brooklyn Tabernacle. I went to hear Dr. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian apologist (defender of the faith). I admire this man as much as I admire anyone living, as far as I can recount. Since we, without collusion, decided to visit the city on the same weekend, I thought it right that I hear from him in person.
An hour prior to the service, a line has already wrapped the block. It continues to grow far beyond the seating capacity. I stand silently in line for approximately thirty minutes. This is the amount of time it takes to fully analyze the situation and decide that I should have the courage to talk to the person next to me, also standing quietly. Long lines are peculiar, like the city of New York. If you attempt to strike up conversation and it dwindles abruptly, you get to feel awkward for the duration of your wait. Fortunately, Adam was prepared to converse with a long-haired southerner. I was grateful that God had us in line together.
Do you think it was not God that brought this to be? God is sovereign. He is sovereign over my “snoozed” alarm clock, over my time in the subway station, over my accidental passing by the church initially as I cut off my phone (and Google Maps) to conserve battery, and over my returning to find the line, and standing next to my brother in Christ: Adam. I serve a God that is over the variables, a God that works through the variables, a God who is not variable: the One and only living God. Your life is not a product of chance. Your experiences, favorable and unfavorable, have purpose. Your encounters are not coincidental. The people you are surrounded by daily, or momentarily, are missional opportunities; opportunities for you to show and to share the love of Christ. They are people, not to be dismissed (That’s my sermon for today).
Anyways, it was encouraging to meet a friend in the city. We discussed work and Jesus, and encouraged one other. I was thankful we exchanged contact information; maybe we will continue our conversation over coffee at some point. The doors opened, and the line started to move.
I sat next to a man named Alex. I had to ask him his name twice before I remembered; I try to be intentional with learning names, and it upsets me when I forget. Actually, there have been many instances where I halfway miss the sentence or two following when someone tells me their name, because I am repeating their name in my head to ensure that I remember. It matters. It shows we value people when we remember their names.
Alex made my day. He went a step further than the cordial, Christian head nod or half-smile (or perhaps the not-so-cordial sigh) directed at the stranger encroaching on his space. He did something crazy. He started a conversation with me. Alex must not have a smartphone.
Actually, I’m quite confident Alex does indeed have a phone, but he chose to interact with the human being in the seat next to him, which happened to be me. He chose to engage. It could be called an inconvenience in our individualistic, self-serving society: Alex cared. Alex allowed me to share my story from the last year with him, as well as the upcoming plans. We discussed the faithfulness of God. Then Alex took it a step further: he asked to pray with me, and for me. In the midst of several hundred people bustling around, trying to find a seat in order to hear from the guest speaker, people laughing and talking about the weekend, people trying to find their children (I don’t know, maybe) or make them behave, my brother in Christ, Alex, who I met 25 minutes prior, prayed with me.
I don’t think I’ll forget that moment. He prayed with thought and consideration. He prayed from his heart. His prayer let me know he had listened to all that I had shared. Alex was an awesome witness of the love of Christ. I am so grateful God had me to sit next to Alex, out of the thousands of seat options in that sanctuary.
Hearing from Dr. Zacharias in person was a blessing, just as his YouTube videos have been, only more so. There is an essence associated with real-time experience that can never be captured in a video. This is the only reason any person attends a concert or a comedy show or a theatrical performance, rather than catching a video after the fact. In-the-moment attendance has the ability to evoke emotion in a way that a video cannot recreate.
Ravi spoke on the original source of divisions in the Middle East. He spoke on the breakdown of the cohesiveness of the family. He spoke on disruption and favoritism, deceitfulness and poor communication. He spoke from Scripture and personal life experience. He shared worldview and poetry. He discussed politics. He spoke on Jesus cutting to the heart, where symptomatic solutions fail to reach. I encourage you to watch some of his videos.
Ravi is well-read, well-known, and remains humble. We shook hands, and I had the opportunity to speak briefly with his wife. I am grateful for their joint commitment in the work of Christ. I was grateful for the diversity present in the room on Sunday afternoon, those hearing this message of Jesus for the first time; not from blind religion, but from a rational, educated, gentle, yet steadfast, follower’s perspective.
After the service I spoke with Thomas. He had long hair and Merrell hiking shoes, so I had a good thought we would be friends. I told him that. We shook hands and talked for 15 minutes on missions and Jesus, his school and my work, and the message that had been delivered. Thomas is from California, but studies in NYC (About a year and a half left!). He is interested in mission work. I’m hoping we can maintain contact. At the end of our time together Thomas said, “I’m glad I wore these shoes.” I was glad he wore those shoes too.
I rode the subway towards the Presbyterian church I visited in the city on a previous trip, where an evening service is held. Naturally, I rode the wrong train first, which narrowed my options and funneled me onto the correct train. I met Ed in the church lobby. We talked for 20 minutes. Ed is from upstate, and was a visitor also. His niece lives in Charlotte. He liked North Carolina when he visited for her wedding. We shared about Christian pastors we listen to and about life in general. Ed was a genuine guy, with a good handshake. Ed let me share some of my story. I’m glad we met.
I had plans to meet with a former coworker friend at the service, along with two of his awesome friends. They arrived, and we headed to the sanctuary. The evening service has jazz musicians in the worship band. It was a good kind of different. I enjoyed the hymns and prayers, which you never would have heard me say as a child, youth, or even a few years ago. They have more weight now. The sermon was theologically rich, maybe too deep for an evening service, but thought provoking. We discussed what it means to live a fruitful life, connected to the vine called Jesus. Union with Christ was the focus.
After service, I said goodbye to Ed and he wished me well on the upcoming adventure. I told him all of life is an adventure. I headed to dinner with my friend Mike and my new friends Chris and Ting-Ting. I think I drank a few gallons of water; I had forgotten to stop all day. The food was great, the conversation even better. We discussed missions and small groups, work, travel, and life in general. I live for these types of interactions. I’m always thankful to meet new friends.
Mike and I headed for the subway, and that was a wrap on my Sunday in the city.
Why am I in New York? God. That would be the correct answer if you were in my middle school small group; you could never go wrong with that one. And it is still the correct answer, if it had to be simplified to one word. Providence would work too. Anyways, I’m headed to Belgium to partner with some amazing missionary friends, and various ministries in the area, sharing the love of Jesus. I’ll explain more in another post!
My life is lived economically. That’s what I call it; my friends call me frugal. Life is different when you don’t have regular income, and you want to make the most of every dollar (we all should). The cheapest flight from the any destination in the USA to Europe was out of NYC, so I decided to work my way up here. Several awesome people made that happen (I’ll share that story too).
Some people have asked, “how can I help?” Others have said, “let me know if you get into trouble.” I appreciate those who say these things earnestly. I want to challenge you to help before the immediate need is there.
The fact of the matter is, I have very few regular financial supporters: 2 to be exact. A married couple has supported me faithfully over the last several months. The other, an awesome missionary friend serving the Lord faithfully in India. Beyond this, one time gifts of $5 or $25 or $500 have kept this ministry alive. If you have been encouraged and challenged through the work that is done, the stories, Scripture, and thoughts shared, please consider partnering with me financially. This is no cry for help, only a response to the questions of many.
I want to share with you that my hope is to continue in this field of work for the foreseeable future, which is made possible through your support. While I have worked odd jobs for donations while at home, the majority of my time is not spent at home. The majority of my time is spent conversing with others and serving where there are open doors, free of charge. I have not had a regular pay check in over a year now.
I have used, and will continue to use, the resources God has given to me for His glory. I want to thank everyone, deeply from my heart, who has supplied a bed, a shower, a car ride, a meal, community, or all of the above. Those who have put me on a bus or a plane or a train, paid my baggage fee, covered coffee or meals or shoes for others, allowed me to share stories and Scripture with a group, and everything else. Those who supplied me with this laptop I’m typing from, the graphic at the top of this webpage, the phone that I use a few hours a day, money to feed Tom (who lives on the street) Saturday night, and the journal I write in.
Above all, I’m thankful for those of you who keep me, and those I encounter, in your regular prayers. They are felt. I know that apart from these prayers, life would not look as it does. I daily see that God is answering, as he paves the path ahead of me. I’m thankful to each of you who takes the time to send me a loving text or a message with a word of encouragement. Those matter more than you know.
Keep me in your prayers over the next few days as I continue to meet with acquaintances, friends, and strangers in the city. Pray for hearts to be open and receptive to testimony and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This is what we live for.
I would love to hear from you while I am on the road. Questions and comments welcome @ email@example.com.