By Sharleen Chia
We knew what Pope Francis’ invitation was: “Hit the streets”. Go out, approach people, be present, have a conversation. That was precisely what we intended to do. Having said that, actually getting down to doing it wasn’t easy at all. Our group consisted of introverts; individuals who much preferred to listen than to take an active role to initiate conversation. While some of us were often perceived to transform into ‘social butterflies’ amongst peers, even then, conversations with strangers seemed intimidating nonetheless.
We didn’t know who to approach and how we would be received. “Will they think we are weird? Will anyone even want to speak to us?” We certainly did not want to come across as overzealous individuals with hidden agendas. We simply wanted to listen to them share their stories – if they so allowed us that opportunity to have a peek into their lives. These worries quickly vanished, as the Lord sent people our way.
The plan was to go for a quick lunch before heading to Bras Basah Complex for this little adventure. However, an impromptu chat with a drinks stall aunty which transpired during lunch resulted in our decision to remain where we were at. It was clear that the Lord was paving the way for us – we were fearful of initiating conversation, yet here, we had met someone who was eager to speak to us. Perhaps He knew that we needed some help to get our engines going. This initial interaction with the drinks stall aunty certainly warmed us up to this way of evangelisation that none of us had experience with.
Adrianus happened to know Linda, another drinks stall aunty, from previous interactions. We decided to approach her first. The conversation was largely carried out in Bahasa Indonesia, of which Adrianus was most fluent in, Keith understood a little of, and I… well, I felt like a fish out of water (cue: fade into the background). Adrianus and Keith made certain to keep me in the loop every now and then, which I was very appreciative of. But of course, I felt out of place either way, and at times, left out. I was beginning to feel like there was no purpose to this conversation for me, and that I was a hindrance to a conversation that Linda would otherwise feel more comfortable to have if I were not there. I wanted to be more useful, to be able to listen attentively and to engage with her too. Then, it dawned on me that presence is key. I might not be able to converse with her, but I can simply remain present with her and accompany her as she had her late lunch. In the same vein, there would be no point in me being there if I could understand the language, but had my mind wander off to another land.
We also spoke to another drinks stall aunty, Mdm Tay who was very eager to share with us about the blessings that she believes God has bestowed upon her. What inspired me most from the conversation that we had with Mdm Tay was her ability to see God in her surroundings and situations – even though she is not a believer herself – as well as her desire to love those around her. In her own words, “God is very good to me, He really bless me one! So I try to help other people.” Isn’t that something that we should model after too? To give because we have been given?
And then there was Gwyneth, a young noodle stall hawker, together with her friend who had been helping her out during the lunchtime service. While some approach hawkering as a way to earn one’s keeps, Gwyneth shared with us about her mission that brought her into the heartlands: To show the world how noodles should be cooked! While many young people simply drift through life, or find themselves stuck in routines, structures, or are guilty of sabotaging the realisation of their own dreams, Gwyneth took a leap of faith. She knew what she wanted, and demonstrated resilience in the pursuit of her dreams. She was not content with working within the constraints set out by predecessors in the industry, and thus committed to transforming her dreams into reality – something achievable, something she can make of her own.
If there is just one thing that we got out of this experience, it is this: People want to share. They want to be heard. In fact, these individuals that spoke to us were happy to chat. It almost seemed as though the conversations could go on for hours more! Perhaps it is us, who often assume that we will be unwelcomed, that keeps us away from reaching out to them. If we would just take that step out of our comfort zones, perhaps we can then step into their lives and be Jesus to them – even if it may be in a small way, through our mere accompaniment.
This work of “hitting the streets” may still be something that we are not most comfortable with. Nevertheless, our recent experience has broadened our minds in various ways and opened our hearts to want to continue to reach out and to listen to those around us share their lives. We encourage you to give it a shot, especially if you have never done something of this nature before. Below are some things that we learnt that you might want to carry with you as you embark on this new adventure.
- Approach with a friend: What really helped was that neither of us were approaching the conversation with the stranger alone. Having someone with you makes approaching a stranger less intimidating. Furthermore, your friend can step in whenever you find yourself stuck, or if you find yourself in the situation I was in, where there was a language barrier.
- Ensure that the individual is available: The likelihood of someone agreeing to speak to you would be higher if they are not busy or in a hurry to leave. It is with this in mind, that we only approached the hawkers when the crowd had dissipated.
- Begin with a common topic: By using a common experience as a starting point, we are in fact bridging the gap that exists between strangers. For us, we decided to begin our conversations by asking the hawkers how COVID-19 has had an impact on their business.
- Meet them where they are at: Be open to whatever the individual might want to share. Instead of carrying preconceived notions and agendas or trying to steer the conversation a certain way, simply be present with them and allow the gift of your presence to bless them.
Or perhaps the Lord may be inviting you to speak with someone you’ve already known for years – a friend, a neighbour, a schoolmate, perhaps even a family member. Let us too, encounter them where they are and as they are.
As St Teresa of Calcutta tells us, “It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.” Indeed, speaking to our loved ones, especially our family members, might not be the easiest task. But often, that is precisely where we must start.