I had finally broken out of the ‘Christian Bubble’ and made friends with my neighbors. They were no longer strangers, but had become really dear friends. And my new friends were coming to know Jesus! But I still felt a vague sense of failure as a ‘witness.’
I felt a kind of uncomfortable compulsion or obligation to share my experience with every stranger I ran across, but most of the time when I had an opportunity to talk to someone I was too tired, too shy, or just somehow couldn’t figure out how to open the topic of God or faith. This was demoralizing. I felt that I wasn’t a very good Christian if I couldn’t share Christ with every stranger I met. It seemed like my husband could start up a spiritual conversation with anyone, anywhere. But I just didn’t have that kind of talent.
Slowly I began to recognize a pattern in those times when I was able to have significant conversations with strangers. Inexplicably, in those situations, it would start with a kind of affection welling up in me, a recognition of someone dear but not yet known to me, like the Japanese woman I sat next to on a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
She sat down next to me in the window seat. Her impeccable suit was complemented by perfectly matched shoes and purse, and her make-up and hair were equally stylish. Looking down at my wrinkled blue jeans and comfy shoes, I was instantly convinced that this woman and I had nothing in common. Out of common courtesy, I greeted her in a friendly way.
As soon as she turned to me, I recognized her. I had never seen her before but I somehow cared deeply about her. I wanted to get to know her. I hesitated but then asked a couple of questions and before I knew it, she was reaching into her perfect purse for a handkerchief, weeping as I told her about my relationship with Jesus. Before we landed in San Francisco, we had prayed together and she was telling me how terribly important, how needful this encounter had been for her.
The Gospels record many times that Jesus was “moved by compassion” for someone and then taught them, challenged them, healed them, or set them free. I am so grateful to realize that I have also experienced the mysterious moving of the Holy Spirit that is described in those passages.
I just sometimes inexplicably love strangers. The 17-year-old exchange student on a transatlantic flight from Spain, the young Latin American couple on another long flight, the elderly woman in the line at the grocery store, the young mother at a doctor’s office. It doesn’t matter where I meet them, what matters is that God wants to love them through me. And once His love stirs in my heart, ‘witnessing’ is no longer a task, I am simply sharing God’s love and good news with dear ones. Once I recognize them, they don’t feel like strangers at all. They feel like future friends.
Jesus said in John 10:27, “my sheep listen to my voice and I know them and they follow me.” I don’t ‘own’ God. I don’t ‘bring’ Him to anyone. God is at work all around me in the people I know and the people I don’t know. It is my privilege to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and share His love with people all around me. Sometimes a word here or there turns into a life-changing encounter. Sometimes it’s just a seed sown. But I am no longer intimidated by strangers. I don’t see strangers around me. I see future friends.
It isn’t hard anymore! It’s an adventure!