Friday, August 19, 2011

Sharing @ Granville

     Last Sunday, I once again went to downtown Vancouver after Church to engage people in conversation after two weeks of being away. After the recent riots that had occurred in the UK, I wanted to hear what people had to say about evil, justice and forgiveness, and the relevance of the Gospel and the Christian faith in these important realities of life. It was the first time that I was conversing with the average pedestrian on the street, rather than the management and staff of the stores that had been vandalised during the Stanley Cup riots. This time, however, I was very happy to have had the company of three of my friends - Bryan, Tommy and Victor who were really enthusiastic about similarly engaging people in conversation. So sometime in the early afternoon, Bryan and I arrived at Granville Street and decided to start talking to people while waiting for Tommy and Victor. The afternoon turned out to be simply incredible for all of us.

    While strolling down to Granville and Robson, Bryan and I encountered a security guard in front of a shop entrance, standing at the street corner and looking in the direction from where we had come. When Bryan (who works in the security industry) approached and asked him what he was guarding, he was initially suspicious, wondering if we might be thieves attempting to distract him. I don't blame him, given that a lot of vandalism had occurred in the blocks around the area during the Stanley Cup riots. Once we explained what we were doing in the area and that we meant no harm, the three of us had a most engaging and interesting conversation on the nature and reality of moral evil, justice and forgiveness and whether academic theories of sociology and psychology could provide better and more relevant explanations for the state of human nature.

    Citing now-famous studies on population density and its effects on behaviour performed between 1963 - 1983 at the National Insitute of Medical Health by the late Dr. John B. Calhoun [1], our friend attributed most 'evil' human behaviour to the "behavioural sink" coined in the aftermath of Dr. Calhoun's studies. Engaging an invigorating and lively debate about the secular vs. Christian perspective of evil, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that he knew the Bible quite well. As we talked about the nature of truth and justice, the conversation took an surprising turn when our friend asserted that the core of all systems of faith, Christianity included, was really about treating other people right. I respectfully disagreed, pointing out the core message of the Gospel in the Christian faith, from which all application to life and relationships were defined as secondary. I also had an opportunity to share my own personal history and experience of major monotheistic and polythestic religions, having grown up in an environment saturated with the beliefs of Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. It was, is, and always will be my unshakeable conviction that they do not "all lead to the same God", as social wisdom would have us believe. They differ on almost every major aspect of belief - reality, sin, evil, justice, heaven, hell, God and salvation; and that is just the beginning of the list. We talked about this for quite some time.

    As it was time for us to go, we asked if he was usually there on Sundays, so that we could continue our conversation next time from where we had ended. He replied that he was. As I've had time to think over the things we talked about, I'm looking forward to seeing him next week and discussing our worldviews in greater detail! As we headed back in the direction we had come, we spied Tommy and Victor talking to an elderly gentleman half-way up the street. When they joined us some time later, they had a most interesting experience to share, as the man turned out to have been deeply mistreated and scarred by the church in Europe, both as a boy and later on in life as a young man. His story was made more tragic by the suffering his father had endured as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II. Though he did not want to talk about the Christian faith, Tommy and Victor listened to him patiently and sympathetically, and asked if they could pray for him.

Victor and Tommy talking to the elderly gentleman
     Mulling over what I had heard, I found it both sad and ironic. As much as we were trying to reflect the light of Christ and share the beauty of the message of His Cross with those who did not know Him, the same church of whose body we were a part had also inflicted terrible pain and suffering on the very people it was meant to bring hope and healing to.

    How grievous it is that we as the church throughout history have brought such shame and disgrace to the name of our Lord and Master through our shameful behaviour, and forgotten the grace and mercy that saved us from eternal hell! We have often been guilty of the words spoken by Christ to the first-century church at Sardis:

    “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.'" - Revelation (3:15-19)

    As Bryan had some tracts with him, we decided to spend some time handing them out to people on the street. And we really saw God work in some unexpected and amazing ways in the next one hour or so. We split up into pairs, with Bryan and I at the corner of Granville and Howe. Tommy and Victor went down into the Vancouver City Centre SkyTrain entrance, and tried handing out tracts there. Initially, none of the passers-by took any, and they felt discouraged, feeling that no-one wanted to know anything about the Gospel. Then, just as that thought crossed their minds, someone took one out of their hands without it being offered. And then another person, and then another. Within minutes, all their tracts were gone, without them having offered any on their own. As Victor said later, "it was as though God was reminding us that even though we were easily discouraged, He was still faithful." Meanwhile, up top, Bryan and I had some wonderful experiences of our own. After handing out our English tracts, we were left with some Chinese, Japanese and Spanish ones. Out of curiosity, Bryan turned to the couple sitting on a bench next to us, and asked if they might be Spanish. "Yes. Why?", came the reply. We were stunned. There was a hot dog stand in front of us manned by an oriental man and woman. We discovered in short order that they were Japanese, and gave them a Japanese tract! We handed out all our Chinese tracts as well :)

Victor, Bryan and Tommy with our tracts :)
     When Tommy and Victor came back up to the street, we remembered that there was a famous Japanese hot-dog stand located on Burrard called "Japadog", and decided to walk over there and hand the workers there a few Japanese tracts too. I took some snaps of us at the Japadog stand, which I've posted below.

Tommy at Japadog with Japanese tracts

All out for the glory of God!
     As we wound up our time of sharing together, we looked at each other with happiness and great joy. It felt wonderful to be out on the street, actively engaging others in conversation about our faith and challenging them to think carefully about ther worldview, how it shaped their perception of life, and the centrality and relevance of the person Jesus Christ in the midst of it all. I'm looking forward to venturing out again with these wonderful brothers in Christ, and more exciting conversations next week!
- The Wisdom Seeker