I used to dream of being the next Billy Graham, filling Heaven with new believers. But evangelism is not my gifting. In fact, my testimony (shared in detail in my latest book, Graceful Flight) is one that most unbelievers simply cannot relate to at all. So I share my faith whenever prompted by the Holy Spirit, but otherwise I stick to the ministry that God has given me: to encourage His people.
A couple of weeks ago, Paul, an acquaintance here at the retirement residence, started sharing his passion for mythical creatures with me. It’s a passion that I not only don’t share, but can’t even relate to. I have to admit that most mythical creatures are hideous, disgusting, and evoke a demonic association. Paul is loud because of severe hearing loss, fiercely competitive, and hyperactive. It would be very easy to dismiss him as an insensitive creep, and I was prepared to do so. But then the Lord showed me that in reality Paul is very sweet.
Paul buys shirts on e-bay with pictures his mythical creatures. Paul loves to find bargains on e-bay. He is constantly finding beautiful, unique costume jewelry for our neighbors at incredibly cheap prices. This has made him very popular among the women here. They tell him what they are looking for and he finds it for them. With prices starting at 99 cents, Paul is obviously not making any money. One day I remembered the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, and realized that Paul’s love language is receiving gifts. He does it all as an act of love for the people of our community.
Paul’s girlfriend, Beverly, recently had a death in the family that hit her very hard. He has been very supportive, trying to help her through all this. His kind of support has been both good (going to chapel services with her) and bad (buying and consuming large amounts of wine with her).
Paul and I usually cross paths in the computer room before breakfast. I didn’t know him well, but we had played team trivia together. After realizing about his love language, I started to like Paul, despite the obsession with mythical creatures. Then one day he came into the computer room and told me about hearing from his college roommate. He was really excited and happy about reconnecting with an old friend. But then he proceeded to tell me a dirty story about his friend’s girlfriend. He wasn’t looking at me, so he couldn’t see my expression, and I knew that it was pointless to try and interrupt, so I just tried to ignore what he was saying and continue with my computer work instead.
This morning while I was thinking about the encounter, I realized that when dealing with non-Christians, we are crossing cultures. Just as I had to learn Italian culture and customs, and adapt accordingly, so in dealing with Paul, I’ve had to learn his culture and customs. Paul came by our apartment recently asking if we had a portable CD player that he and Beverly could borrow. Much to my surprise, Mom had one that I hadn’t even known about. We loaned it to him until his is repaired. The next day, Beverly came up to me all smiles and said, “You made a little boy (meaning Paul) very happy!” A few minutes later, Paul came to me and gave me a perfume bottle with dragons all over it. He was so happy, and this was his way of thanking me. Although I think the thing is ugly, I graciously accepted it.
The next time I saw Paul and Beverly was when the church choir from My Misfit Church came and sang for the residents. The choirmaster passed out hymnals, and we sang along with the choir, including Paul and Beverly. One song we sang was When the Saints go Marching In. In a moment of insane inspiration I hopped to my feet and started marching in time with the music. I felt like a complete fool, but at the same time, it was fun. Afterwards several people came up to tell me what fun and an inspiration I was, marching around like an idiot. Beverly was one of them. She had tears in her eyes because they had also sang Amazing Grace, which had been sung at the funeral. But she also couldn’t keep a smile from her lips as she talked about my nutty march.
The thing about dealing cross-culturally with people is that you have to be flexible and willing to step out of your comfort zone. These days, the gap between us and the rest of the world is as wide as the ocean. Cross-cultural ministry can happen in your own town, and even in your own neighborhood. God is good!