Authored by Maria van Rheenen (a guest contribution)
“Thank you very much for delivering that message to me at the Barra beach in 2001; it changed my life. God bless you forever for that.”
I saw Rody’s message on my Facebook wall and my time machine of a mind immediately kicked into high gear, speeding back to the memory of a man jogging toward me that evening at a Rio beach, eleven years ago.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I now realize why it was so hard to approach this stranger jogging by. I’ve even come up with a diagnosis for my condition: “Hello-phobia.” To this day, approaching a stranger and saying a simple “hello” feels like pulling teeth, lots of them.
I recall needing to make a phone call to someone I didn’t know, and because of my “hello-phobia” I offered to clean my flatmate’s room, wash her dishes and her laundry, so that she could make this phone call for me! You see, talking wasn’t the issue; it was saying that first hello or introducing myself to any stranger that froze me up. There have been times that I have sat in awkward muteness near a stranger until they finally said, “Hi.” From then on out I’m fine and back to my outgoing, bubbly, and unrestrained self. What’s with that? I wonder if hello-phobia is actually a thing.
My mind interrupts my daisy collecting and throws me back to the beach scenario.
Scatterbrain, it teases.
Look who’s talking, I retort.
So, I am 18, holding a stack of “To You, with Love” tracts in my hand—the title hinting at the message about Jesus’ love and care. I cringe as the jogger approaches; the most difficult part of beach outreach is upon me yet again. Wearing the boldest smile I can muster, I reach out, tract in hand, saying something like, “Here’s a little note for your heart.”
Corny! But I had to try that line sometime—it takes the edge off the already unnerving “hello” moment. I notice the jogger out of breath and signing with his hands that he can’t stop. He’s running past me! Oh no you don’t! I lunge at him, pretty much shoving the tract into his unsuspecting hand, and off he runs.
Blah. All that for nothing, I muse with frustration. I bet he’ll drop that tract at the nearest garbage disposal—if he even waits that long. I begin to wonder if it’s worth all the effort being here, trying to do my bit to share my Jesus with others. Well, at least I tried.
Only later did I learn how the rest of the story unfolded.
It turns out that the jogger (I’m calling him Rody) had gone for a run to think about his life. Yes, I’m sure he saw me as an unwelcome interruption, leaving him holding a piece of paper for the rest of his run. But as the run neared its end, he decided to sit by the ocean for a rest, at which point he read that little piece of paper. Something about the love in the words, combined with what he was experiencing in his own life at that time, brought him to tears.
Somebody does care.
Soon after, he spotted a friend (we’ll call him John) fishing nearby, and walked up to him, saying something to the effect of, “You need to read this. It’s going to change your life.”
They read it together, and John was also brought to tears. Though this exchange might seem commonplace, the fact is that as he fished that evening, John’s thoughts had centered on taking his own life. Yet something about that message brought him hope, courage, and the knowledge that he wasn’t alone.
Rody doubled back to find the giver of this life-changing message, John by his side. Unbeknownst to me (since by then I was at another beach spot, continuing my challenging tract-distributing task), they caught up with my friends from our youth outreach team who happily listened to their amazing stories and then pulled out a guitar to sing them some thought-provoking songs. As the sun set over the horizon, they exchanged contact info and a plan to meet up again soon for more music and a Bible study.
Weeks or maybe months later I bumped into Rody at a dinner, and he gave me the 411 on the domino effect of that one tract. I was flummoxed! What fascinated me the most is that my role was such a tiny one—just that one comfort-zone-smashing plunge. God had a purpose for both Rody and John, and He used a number of people and factors to bring them to Him. It made me wonder what would have happened if I had shied away from doing my little part. I don’t think my neglect would have demolished their chances of discovering a relationship with Jesus, but maybe their discovery would have been delayed. I’m glad I didn’t chicken out.
Back to the present, and Facebook. I respond to Rody’s post:
“I should be the one thanking you for the opportunity—albeit short—to give you the message. It’s beautiful that something so simple and small can be the beginning of the wonderful way your life has played out, with help from the One who really deserves all the thanks. Hearing from you makes me smile, thinking about how God can use anything, even me.”
I see John has also commented on the post:
“I am also part of that story! The gratitude is certainly sincere, because it is up to us to reach out with His wonderful love.”
I check out their Facebook walls and notice that both Rody and John are blessed with beautiful wives and children. They are living happy, fulfilled lives, and they attribute it to their relationship with Jesus.
There He goes again!—Taking us where we are at so that when we do what we can because we love Him and want to share the thrill of knowing Him with others—even if it looks like a small thing, a bit of a stretch, not the perfect approach, or even terribly corny—He uses it as yet another brushstroke in the eternal masterpiece He is creating.
Jesus said in John 15:16: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.”1
He wants our “fruit” to last when we take part in sharing Him with others. But being the free-will advocate that He is, He still waits on our decision to say “yes.” That’s all it takes.
1 New International Version
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2012 by The Family International