This is part three of a series from a missions trip I did over my spring break. Check out my previous entries of you want more of Providence, R.I.!
Mondays are always a challenge, and this one was no different in that aspect. The time had finally come for me to face sharing the Good News with the people of Providence. The idea of walking up to a New Englander and straight shooting the conversation to religion — Jesus and his sacrifice for their souls in particular — terrified me. As much as I try to deny it, I am a Southern girl buried underneath my inclination toward skepticism and middle-ground politics. Being direct is no talent of mine, which is exactly how Rhode Islanders communicate everyday. Most people do not make eye contact passing me on the sidewalk and someone mumbling a hello is a rarity. Upfront friendliness to strangers is never their first thought.
After receiving my route and joining two of my teammates, my desire to roam took over. We lost Joshua, the only male in our small group of three, to a homeless woman reading the Bible aloud. A strange sight, even for a Southerner, but what was most revolting was the reaction of the small stream of people passing her by. Instead of politely ignoring the situation, they shouted torrents of four-letter words at her and the occasional “Satan loves you!” I was disturbed by the abrupt aversion these people had toward the unfortunate sight of a ragged woman holding onto the Word, which still serves as a reminder of the darkness at the heart of Providence. In contrast to the hardened locals wondering the streets full of shops and places to grab a cup of coffee, Joshua stopped, spoke and offered lunch to the haggard woman we called Sister Diane.
While he was chatting with her on the street corner searching for commonalities between his and her beliefs, my now only partner and I strolled down the street keeping our eyes open for people with searching hearts. The semi-early hour made for fairly empty streets, but we found a place to perch outside of a few office buildings on a concrete slab. After eavesdropping on small talk between two older men — one whom I had perched by because his lunchbox and coffee cup suggested he was a nice working man on a quick break — I decided it was time to jump in. A comment about the unusually warm weather did the trick, followed by an explanation for two girls with a bit of a drawl being in New England. The man, who indeed was on a short break from his Verizon job, said he had family in the South — Georgia, in fact — and happened to be a churchgoer. Episcopalian was his identity, to which I asked for a definition since those are few and far between back home. Afraid to offend but remembering Rhode Islanders’ appreciation for directness, I snuck in a question about whether or not his congregation talked about the Gospel on a regular basis. He assured me it did, to which Travis, our minister-leader seemed to question later that afternoon. After that small string of questions, my bravery had run out and so had Verizon man’s break time. I celebrated my success and my partner and I trotted back to find the missing part of our trio.
We switched routes after a nice lunch with the rest of our team and leaders filling up two long tables in a nice restaurant downtown. Brown University was our territory for the day, a fact I at first was enthralled by. Then I realized the attitude and spiritual drought of the Ivy Leaguers I would encounter. I was so paralyzed by the assumed intellect of others my age that I did not manage to have a conversation about the Good News or even vague religion once. I once had to take a break from my enthusiastic partner and chitchat with the One I was supposed to be sharing with others. A heart-to-heart was all it would take to break me from digging my heels in like my dog does on stormy nights when we must put him out. Discouragement was at the forefront of my mind that afternoon, but a reminder of the necessity of being broken and humbled too yanked me from being buried in self-pity and a bit of self-loathing.