The train was crowded--droves of people stepped on board with us as the theatre district let out for the night. C. found a seat, and I started out standing next to her. But four or five stops later, a seat opened up, so I scooped it up and set to sipping my decaf and ignoring the bustle of people around me.
Specifically, I was attempting to ignore the man sitting next to me, but this took some work. He was fiddling with the headphones of his personal radio, and this was quite the task because he had only one arm. I wasn't exactly sure how to respond. Do I offer a helping hand?--I could already see that could be in bad taste. But wouldn't I want someone to help me untangle my headphones.
He broke the silence first. "I'm not getting off; I'm just switching radios. This one gets bad reception. My cell phone radio is better up here." I asked him about his cell phone, about pre-pay cell phones in general, and I eventually helped him untangle his earbuds.
We compared cell phones. I pulled out my beat-up freebie-with-sign-up model. He asked if I was a student. I told him I'm going to seminary. He asked how I'd decided to do that.
And the conversation seized up. How do I answer that on the train? I stumbled about a bit, gestured that it would be a long story, and spluttered something about wanting to tell people about Jesus. The guy nodded with a knowing look.
It was the kind of moment where you might think God is testing you. What do you really believe, Josh? Will you confess my name? Will you speak the good news even when it could get awkward?
We talked a bit more. He'd grown up in a ministry family in a very repressive Holiness church. Now he's an artist, a photographer--though he chose his words very carefully in telling me what he did. He'd walked away from church and found it hard to relate to the people at the church where he'd grown up. A lot of his friends had died.
He was headed further north than me. As we rolled into my stop, I gritted my teeth, my muscles tightened, and I told him why I'm in ministry. "Things look so hopeless right now. I want to tell people that there's hope, that when Jesus came back to life after dying on a cross it proved that God is with us and wants to bring us into his good life."
I stood to walk out into the night. "My name's I.," he said. "It's been good talking with you." He grasped my hand. I said I hoped to see him around sometime, and I walked out onto the platform.