Someone asked me yesterday if I was a local and without even thinking, I answered “yes” and proceeded to give them directions to where they were trying to go. And this morning, I walked into the deli I go to every morning for coffee and the guy working already knew exactly what I wanted. While the reality is that I’ve been here a month and I’m totally not a local and I’m fully capable of making my own coffee when I go home, I use all of this to say that with one week left in my trip, I have a hard time coping with the fact that I’ll have to say goodbye to a place that has become familiar. But I’ll save the reflective, reminiscent post for my post-project days; this one is all about week 3 of my time in the city.
First of all, I just want to say a huge thank you to all of you who reached out to me last week after my last post; I received so many messages and texts encouraging me to persevere and assuring me of your prayers over our team — it was so humbling to see how many people are invested in what is happening here, and I am truly grateful.
All I know to say after week 3 is that God is good. I started off the week feeling like nothing was coming together; I was tired of getting rejected by students and I was convinced that even if a student was willing to talk, I didn’t have what it took to articulate the gospel in a way that would encourage them to explore it more. Even though I knew that none of this depended on me and my strength wasn’t my own, my heart just wasn’t buying it. It’s when I look back on times like these that I’m so grateful that the Lord is patient, but also knows how to push us through challenges.
On Tuesday, a girl from Brooklyn College that I had been trying to meet up with for 2 weeks finally told me that she could meet for an hour before work, which forced me to pull it together and channel all of my energy into relying on God for the words to say. She ended up bringing a friend, and we talked about their frustrations with Christianity and they began asking more and more questions, and at the end of it all they both expressed how nice it was to have the opportunity to talk about why they had a hard time believing rather than hearing someone tell them why they should. The girl even called into work and asked if she could come in late so that we could keep talking! It was awesome.
I met a guy at Columbia the next day who was far, far above me intellectually. He told me his objections to Christianity, and then he did something to me that I hadn’t had anyone do — he asked me to defend my own beliefs by giving objections to other belief systems (for example, he asked me to defend monotheism by giving objections to polytheism). The first time he asked me one of these questions, I experienced a solid 5 seconds of “Crap. I literally have no scholarly argument in my head for this question.” And then, all of a sudden, the words came and answers were given. I don’t know why it surprised me so much, because I know that the Lord never leaves us defenseless, but it was amazing to see in action. We continued to talk and when we got into a discussion about the state of human nature, I told him that we believe that human nature is broken and that our good works will never fix that, only Christ will. He told me that he found that offensive, because he feels like it underscores his efforts to be a morally good person… and there it was. He was finally starting to get it. The gospel is offensive; it tells us that salvation is not obtained by good works and it tells us that we are sinful.
“Our message is offensive. Jesus promised it would be. Peter and Paul both experienced it… We can preach without offending. But we cannot preach the full counsel of God without offending. We can proclaim a message that makes people feel good. But the gospel brings people face to face with their sin and failure. The gospel that saves is also the gospel that offends.”
I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn on this trip is that someone saying, “you are absolutely right about everything you’ve said; I’m ready to give my life to Christ” is not the only indication that the gospel is coming alive in people’s hearts. People are offended and they’re asking questions, and that’s a good thing when it’s done in the right context. And maybe it’s my conversations with the most backlash that are actually reaping the greatest realizations.
The gospel changes everything. It is a story I’ve told countless times over the past few weeks, and it never seems to lose its beauty. It deserves to be told a thousand times over, so continue to pray that the people of New York City will be offended to the point of being transformed by the greatest love story ever told.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”