Every time I’ve had an encounter with evangelical folks has been against my will. I was once accosted by two Americans in Singapore asking which of the three malls in spitting distance of us had the most people they could give out pamphlets about Jesus to.
They then tried to give me one, and in the nicest words, I told them to take a hike.
A couple weeks ago, I decided to march straight towards the Christian evangelists. My friend had shown me a little flyer that was thrust into her hands about a group trying to “reach a lost generation with the message of Jesus.” I thought damn, that might be interesting.
I sat in the very front to ensure I could be the first one in Jesus’ line-of-sight in case he decided now was the time for Judgment Day. A girl beside me struck up a conversation to talk about Jesus (as one does in these kinds of places). I told her I was Buddhist, and she told me that Jesus still loves me, and I wondered how it’d fly if I said I still love him even though he’s Jewish.
A woman went up to the front to talk about the “tour.” She and some other people were traveling the country to different campuses to serve God, who she said was “so excited to meet his people,” as if they were keeping him in the van and gonna bring him out like a mascot.
She shared a story about a girl who limped into one of their events with a sprained ankle and later screamed and started running around.
“It was truly a miracle from God,” she said.
These are their favorite kinds of stories. After she was done with her spiel, their band started playing some worship music, which honestly wasn’t too bad. Some people were trying to pseudo-mosh, there was a girl collapsed on the floor Really Feeling It. Good times.
After a few songs, Ben, the Preacher Man, took the stage.
Ben started by saying, “As I’m sharing, I may come across intense. I just want to say it’s because I love Jesus, I’m actually a very happy guy.”
That got me right up to the edge of my seat. I was disappointed. His intensity was a little lacking to me; he didn’t even condemn me to fire and brimstone. His sermon was just about what you’d expect, talked about how life was bad, Jesus saved him and he can save you too.
At one point, he said a prayer for everyone that had a migraine or whose back hurt or something. There was also an absurd part where everybody was asked to hold their shoes over their head for Jesus. I dunno if he’d really appreciate that to be honest.
After the sermon was done, they played some more music and I wormed my way over and asked Ben if he’d have time to talk to me about Jesus afterwards because I was on a Great Spiritual Journey.
“I’d love to,” he smiled.
So I asked him the core question of every ideology: why do I suffer and how do I stop suffering? That’s what we’re all trying to figure out, right?
Ben said that it was a good question, one that he didn’t have a definitive answer. But, he could say that suffering is initiated by Satan, and its purpose is for us to grow closer to God, and that we need to love him despite all that and be blessed by him.
Can’t say that was the answer I was looking for. I spoke to him at length about various other theological/ideological topics. Though I didn’t buy everything he said, my main takeaway was that this man was a genuine person. Sure, he still tried to convert me, but I got the sense that he truly believed what he was saying. And hey, if that’s what helps him in life, all the power to him.
He was disappointed; I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit by the end of our conversation and asked if he could pray for me. Hell, I made this guy talk to me for almost an hour, so I let him go ahead with it.
On my way home, I reflected more on my initial question. Why do I suffer and how do I stop suffering? In truth, that’s what brought me there. I think that’s what compels anyone to take on a Great Spiritual Journey. To be human is to be hurt. My girlfriend had broken up with me a few weeks prior because I wasn’t good enough, and nothing felt like it made sense anymore.
I’d like to turn to God and let that solve all my problems, but I just can’t put my heart into it. If that’s what does it for you though, I’m happy for you. But for me, I think it’ll take decades before I figure things out.
Until then, all I can do, all anyone can do, is take things a step at a time and try to find those rare, bright moments. Where the suffering’s on pause, we’re surrounded by people who care about us, the world seems just right for a second and we can collapse in joy on the floor Really Feeling It.
That’s a lot easier said than done. But that’s why life is so long, and we need all the time we can get to try and figure this out.