This post is the seventh installment in a series of a mission trip I took with my university to Providence, R.I. The adventure is almost over, so keep coming back to see how it ends!
My team’s last full day with our beloved Rhode Island friends started with a student leader meeting and Bible study. During the study, I was struck with the group’s dedication to sticking to the Bible. At the gathering, which included our team, the Christian Student Fellowship leaders and other Johnson and Wales students, the only necessity was a Bible. No commentaries or pre-written discussion questions were a part of this weekly get together. The hungry students sat down and read a chapter then asked any questions they had and connected it to their daily struggles. One girl with a Jewish background even shared how the questions we covered that morning became a part of her regular phone conversations with her mother, who did not understand why her daughter was so interested in Jesus Christ. The eagerness and lack of familiarity with stories many Southerners grow up listening to was refreshing, and drew me to admire these searching students.
Our last afternoon was spent however we chose, which in my case was exploring the Brown University bookstore and surrounding shops, but we were instructed to be intentional about sharing the Gospel with those we encountered. A friend and I first had to make a pit stop for allergy medicine. My cough from before we departed for Rhode Island still plagued me, and my roommate was tired of putting up with the constant noise at night.
After downing some sweetened syrup for relief, the two of us wandered through a couple pricy thrift stores before running into Jose. He was one of those grungy, wild looking street vendors selling handmade leather bracelets. At first we passed him, but my partner decided to turn around to find a gift for her sister. Little did we know this encounter with the bushy-browed, Spanish man would turn into my only conversation directly involving the Gospel that week. He told us stories of his youth, including tales of his uncommitted Canadian girlfriend and failed attempt to become a priest as a young boy. He was Catholic by heritage and shot one eyebrow up in the air when we told him we believed Jesus was born of a virgin and died and rose to save us from our sin. Apparently not even priests had to believe back when he was a child. Although we shared our thoughts on religion with the man, he continued using wishy-washy spiritual language and went back to his stories about women. We left him forty minutes later after purchasing two braided bracelets, and I was both exhausted from listening to the mix of Spanish and English and excited that I had finally mounted the courage to share what I believe. Jose was both a woe and a delight.
Leaving behind the scruffy man downtown, my team joined back up just in time for a meal and fellowship with one more Grace Harbor family. The Reids, who I had shared one of my first lunches with in Providence, brought us into their home to share their heart: adopting children within their city’s foster care system. We met each of their children and heard stories of the many who had passed through that very house and back into the care of their biological families. Seeing a couple so dedicated to loving small ones who often feel unloved or neglected showed me and my team just how much risking your own feelings — the Reids had sent many of the little ones they wished to call their own back to their original families — for others is beautiful and worth chasing after. Though the night involved serious and heartfelt conversation, fun and laughter was still a part of my last evening in Providence. I learned to dance and cradled a squirmy baby, but most of all I learned that taking action to purposefully love those who initially do not seem like or look like me brings more joy and unexpected friendships than I could imagine.
The adventure is almost over…