How I was touched by two different Christians in their witnessing to me
When I was in the navy, way back in the late sixties, I was stationed in San Diego for a short time in order to go to yeoman school. A yeoman is one who works in administration; though I spent most of my Navy career in personnel work. Dealing with personal records etc, something I liked but certainly would not want to make a lifetime go at it. For me doing admin work is like trying to climb out of a deep mud hole while it is raining. No matter how much you do, the paper work keeps on covering you, it is endless, dong the exactly the same thing over and over again.
I liked San Diego, though being in the Navy there was a very lonely time for me. Navy personnel, which were between 18 and 22 years of age, were like grains of sand on the beach, we were everywhere, so most of us were invisible. The city back then was not too large, though very beautiful and I would like to just walk around the town and see the sites. The public transportation system was also great; no car was needed in that fair city. On Broadway there was a square where a lot of Navy personal waited for their bus to take them back to base. So I also spent a lot of time waiting for my connection back to school. It is about my presence there that is part of this story.
While waiting, I quickly learned about a group from some church or another, who would go there a few times a week and preach to the men while they waited for the bus. There would be between seven and ten men and women, who would accompany the preacher, sang some songs and would also encourage him in his teaching. I guess the only thing I could say about him was that he was a screamer, a very loud yeller, who seemed to think that the louder he was, the quicker people would listen to him. He also seemed to take it for granted that we were all lost and on the way to hell. I would at times actually stop and listen to him, and he would glare at me while preaching as if I was something contemptible, vile, and needed a good talking down to. I did not react but found it interesting that he thought that contempt, or at least a contemptuous tone, would somehow reach people. He did however get on the nerves of more than a few of the regulars who had to catch buses everyday from that stop. To this day I don’t understand how some preachers think that hells fire and brimstone will reach even a few people. For fear is cheap fuel for conversion. Causing either resistance or some shallow conversion that will not last.
I was at the time a Christian, though I was young, just 19. However, his crude antics did not in anyway lead me to have the least bit of desire, for him to have any influence with my walk with God. He himself was I am sure filled with good will, and perhaps his yelling was based on a sincere desire to reach others, and my judgments were totally wrong. That could be true, even probable, for being a Catholic, at least at that tender age, I was not used to that kind of preaching, or some of the language he was using. In any case, in some way I found him entertaining even when not liking his style at all. Yeah inconsistent, but humans are complex beings, so I guess that is pretty normal. So I tried to give him a fair hearing, but in the end nothing that he said seemed to sink in.
One Saturday afternoon I had to go downtown to do some business at the “Seven Seas” store and so expected to see the preacher when I reached the bus stop in the early afternoon, at about 2:30 PM. He was not there, which surprised me. So I sat down to wait for the bus, thankful that there was no back ground filibustering going on. There was another navy man next to me reading the newspaper and after a few minutes I asked him about the preacher. He gave me a smile, and then chuckled at bit before he said anything. “Well” he began, “this morning at about 11:30 AM, or so I have heard, he began yelling scriptures to a group of young men who had too much to drink and were making a lot of noise. It seems that the preacher said a few choice words to them, with scripture quotes to back him up. The young men, came over, listened for a short time and then beat him up pretty bad. They got away, but an ambulance had to come to take the preacher to the hospital, at least that is what I heard”. I thanked him, and after thinking about it, I was not surprised at what had happened, though I was saddened by it.
It is one thing to be persecuted for what one believes, but another thing all together to be beat up for perhaps persecuting others. Often I thought the preacher over stepped when he took it upon himself to judge strangers on the basis that they were young, or were in the Navy. We are told not to judge for a reason; we simply can’t do it; we are really lousy at trying to weigh each other. In fact I have often found that the louder the preaching and the more angry it comes across, the more the preacher is either hiding something, preaching to himself, or lacks any real level of self knowledge, that would lead him to have compassion and empathy on those being preached to. So yes, if he was not beat up, I doubt that I would be remembering him after all these years. We can sometimes make ourselves into ‘straw men’, negative stereotypes easy to file and then forget. Sad to say, the preacher filled that to a tee.
I had another experience a year and a half before in San Diego while I was in boot camp. At that time we got one Sunday off to go into the city to church. So I went in to go to the Catholic Church near downtown. I got off at the YMCA waiting for the second bus I needed to board to take me to my church. As I was waiting a group of older adults, perhaps in their fifties or sixties, approached me to talk; there were three of them. They knew of course that I was in boot camp. I had a shaved head; also my uniform was at least one size too big for me, so I was easy to spot. One of the women approached me and invited me to attend their church. She had a kind demeanor, spoke very softly and seemed sincere in her invitation. I told her I was catholic and I was going to my own church. She nodded and stated; “don’t we worship the same Lord”, so why not come with us. I declined with a smile, thanked her and went to mass. However, later, as I was pondering the experience, I found that I was deeply touched by her simple gentleness and also her courage in approaching me in that way.
Over the years, her image has only become stronger in my heart, and I regret now in not taking up her offer. For I think I would indeed have liked to know her on a deeper level. I would imagine that I could have learned a great deal from her and would have welcomed her wisdom, since I was only at the beginning of my walk with the Lord. In fact I guess I still am.
So the preacher who yelled made little difference my life, even though I had to hear his haranguing over a protracted period of time. While the gentle lady, who seemed to be filled with compassion touched me deeply. Perhaps it was Christ who touched me, for I certainly responded on a very deep level, despite the fact, that the fruit of the short exchange took some time to surface. This morning as I was praying I thought of her, and I can say that there was genuine love for her in my heart, for I feel, like Christ she saw me and had compassion and empathy for my common plight. A young man just out of High School, in boot camp, lost in a city of a million other very young lonely sailors. Funny thing, I am sure she forgot all about our exchange, for I was one of many, while she was one among many. Yes unknown to herself she planted some deep seeds in my heart.
Christ could judge, because he truly saw, perhaps that is why he was kind to most and loving to the weak. Saving his anger for those who were the religious ones; perhaps it was anger that they needed in order to be reached; for Christ could make that call. While Christians often get it backwards, coming across in a harsh manner to those that Christ only showed love and compassion for. Preaching or witnessing can be very self revealing to those who listen, perhaps that is why it is often fruitless for many. One touch by a lady filled with Christ compassion, beat out hours of preaching by a well meaning but harsh judge.
We are always planting seeds. No matter whom we are, believer or non-believer, what we say and do to one another has long lasting consequences; my experience is just one example. So I pray for my lady friend whose name is known only to Christ. She is probably gone now, for if she was alive she would be near a hundred years of age, yet she lives in my heart and I love her. As a catholic we are taught that the body of Christ is one, so those who pass on are still connected to us, and yes we also pray for those who pass over. For the love of Christ, His grace is still at work; it never stops. For we are called to an infinite journey; traveling ever deeper into the mind of Christ, eternally expanding in the love of the Spirit, and an every deepening intimacy with the Father. Yes God is one, and we are called into that unity.