Today, the second day of the Sunshine Gospel Ministries mission week, was a day full of observation. Sometimes I feel that we just need to open our eyes. Spending time in the Southside of Chicago has been eye-opening to say the least. The El Experience (not related to the Spanish particle), a social journey on the elevated train, was particularly enlightening. We had to talk to strangers and engage them in conversation all the way to the end of the red line. Through this experience I have seen how the simple act of talking has a certain power to open hearts and open minds and to show how we are all created in God’s image by God. One person I talked to was unable to speak English, however, I persisted and used my limited Spanish to hear some things about his life. When he heard me using Spanish he immediately became more cheerful and when we he had to exit the train it seemed to me that we had established a good relationship that had potential to grow. I imagine that any sort of talking between strangers has the potential to grow into something more. One conversation can change the course of someone’s day.
A city is a sea of people, all with the ability to talk and to share their own story. Everyone has a need to tell his or her story and everyone has a story. The act of listening demonstrates to the speaker that he/she has value. Talking to strangers in a positive way helps to spread God’s love. I imagine the surprise that strangers on the el train feel when someone attempts to engage in conversation can function as a gateway to his/her more positive view on others. To break the norm, to talk and not just stare out the window hidden behind the walls of earphones, sunglasses, or i-phones, leads to an increased appreciation for humanity and at the most fundamental level, an acknowledgment of humanity. How can we feel love for strangers in our hearts? I believe it starts with practice. By practicing talking to strangers we will begin to understand how everyone has value and the ways in which we can love. Practice not only makes perfect but also makes “less awkward”. The thoughts in my head should be: How can I help you? What questions can I ask to understand more about your life? What can I learn from everything that you know? You are unique. You have been through hardship. You need love and communication. You need to feel that people care. You deserve my open ears. If I show that you deserve me own ears perhaps you will see that I deserve yours. Jesus can enter into your heart. Talking to you brings Jesus into my own heart.
Though this experience, in some ways, felt like an assignment, it also served as a stimulating, practical, and condensed example of how the act of talking to strangers can occur on the street, in our own neighborhoods, and elsewhere. Talking crosses cultures, ethnicity, and defeats barriers that we have created. Heaven does not have these barriers. I believe that God wants us to show love in this way. I have often felt dislike for others and even disgust. I have often felt no desire to interact with strangers. But what is strange? Strange is the divide we have created between us, strange is lack of communication, and strange is a train full of silent, self-absorbed people. Strange is my tendency to ignore those that I can help and that God wants me to help. When we keep our mouths closed, we also help to further close our hearts.