I actually got the chance to share this story at my first speaking engagement in New Jersey. See the video here and share if it meant something to you. (PS: I am looking to do more things like this – so I am happy to connect if you’re interested in bringing me into your circle!)
One Sunday, I was taking the train back to my apartment after a very long, gut wrenching day at church. It had been a long day of volunteering, serving, and connecting with new and old friends. Headphones in, with forty minutes of commuting to go, I sunk into my thoughts until I was causally interrupted by a brown man trying to get my attention.
“Are you Indian?”
“Where are you going?”
I moved to NYC nine months ago and have never felt unsafe on the subway. This scenario? Instant red flag. Here was a middle aged Indian man asking me where I was going. Instinctively, I put my guard up. I am a woman, I am three thousand miles away from my family, and I honestly didn’t have it in me to start a conversation with a man who I thought was going to chop me up and divide the remains of my body into fourteen freezer bags. I proceeded to ignore him and went back to my thoughts. However, this man continued to badger me with questions about being Indian. After engaging him in standard pleasantries, I finally just turned away from him and went back to my own thoughts.
I have to admit I am a lot more friendly, interested, and engaging than this. However that day, I was completely absorbed by whatever was currently on my mind that day. The train stops halfway home and I realized this man had started to cry. Up until this point, we had a bit of a language barrier, so I was not only uninterested, but I genuinely did not understand him. I decided to switch it up and give him a posture of concern.
That morning, this middle aged Indian man had been released from immigration jail after 14 months. He had been on the F train all day looking for someone who looked like him to help him. His only request was for some water and a ticket for the Long Island Rail Road. He told me today was the first time he had spoken to his wife and children in 14 months. During this phone call, he found out that his mother had passed away while he was in jail.
I just want to start by saying that I felt like nothing more than a complete asshole after that conversation.
I also want to acknowledge that God loves the middle aged brown man who was released from immigration jail, whose mother had died before he had a chance to say goodbye, and who hadn’t spoken to his wife and children in fourteen months. I would even dare to say that God loves that man infinitely more than you love the most important person in your orbit.
I think the most important role I play as a Christian in God’s world is having God’s heart and attention for those who don’t appear to be important to the world, forgotten, irrelevant, tossed to the side, and in the fringes. I would single handedly argue the only way we can bring people into the hands and feet of Jesus – simply by noticing, paying attention, and treating them with the overflow of God’s heart in us.
This is not easy to do. Often times we can get so caught up in ourselves, in what we do, who we are, what we are qualified or not qualified to be, that we simply lose sight of God’s biggest directive for us – to listen, pay attention, and love as deeply as the Love that was bestowed to us. Let’s be the kind of people who make the most of every opportunity – which means that we have to ignore the noise and start having difficult, challenging, and honest conversations with the people who come into our orbit. These people are not there by accident – God uses everything and will start showing you how relevant every single person is to how you are meant to propel the kingdom forward.
I bought this Indian man a water bottle and a LIRR ticket. I probably will never see him again. Yet, those moments taught me the importance of loving God’s babies well, despite what they look like, what they can offer you, and what you assume about them. That is the best God lesson I have ever learnt – brought to you by a man who knew nothing about the church, God, the Bible.