Reaching eighteen and graduating high school is important for many reasons, most of which involve the “What am I going to do with my life?” question. Within the church, the implied question within the question was, “What is going to be your mission field?” That was the insider way of asking in what venue you were going to serve God and tell people about Jesus. Our church put a heavy emphasis on joining YWAM (Youth With a Mission). Many teens involved in the church, including myself, had gone on several short-term mission trips in high school; YWAM was a much longer commitment, usually at least a year or two. We frequently had young people return to the church and talk about the great things that were going on in the far-flung regions of the world. I was jealous in some ways, mostly the part about being in Africa or Ireland or Thailand. Due to my circumstances (getting married, going to school), it never worked out for me to go on a mission, and I was fine with that. I didn’t really want to, but I felt like I should.
I could never fully buy the implication that you serve God wherever you are. It seemed clear to me that some jobs, like being a minister or missionary, were more about serving God than others. Since I didn’t really want to be a missionary, I had to find some other direct way to serve God and convert people.
I should be clear that I don’t think people ever used the word “convert” in a verbal form in my Christian context. I use it because it is more neutral and accessible than “giving your heart to God” or “coming to Jesus” or “coming into the Kingdom,” among many other euphemisms. Besides, the rhetoric was that God converted people; we were just there when it happened.
Anyway, I found an outlet for sharing my Christianity through music. Though I’d only sung in choirs and church concerts growing up, I took up the bass guitar, and then acoustic guitar, in order to play music in church. I was only ever good enough to barely play worship music, but it’s not that difficult to play. However, I also began to play (a few years later) in a Christian band outside of church as well. I’ll talk more about that another time, as there are many good stories from those years. I bring it up now to discuss the only opportunity I can remember of praying with someone to convert, to “receive Christ.”
As I’ve noted, it was disheartening to me that even after my entire life as a Christian, I’d failed at my job. Throughout my twenties, this was a recurrent theme in my thoughts. While playing a gig in Portland, OR, though, I finally got my chance. My band and several others were playing a free concert in Pioneer Square in the downtown area. I can’t remember the details of our set, but I usually ended our last song by saying that the bandwould love to talk to or pray with people after the show.
Usually, we just chatted it up with people that liked our music or wanted to buy a CD. In any case, a guy came up to talk to me afterward. I could tell he was bothered by something. We walked out of the crowd and began to talk. He told me that he was from the East Coast, but that his girlfriend worked in the Portland area. He had flown out because she had gotten pregnant with their child and he had encouraged her to get an abortion. She was uncertain, so he flew out and went with her to the procedure. When he came to Pioneer Square, he was on his way back out of town. He felt conflicted about what had happened and didn’t know what to do. I didn’t either.
My mind was racing because I knew abortion was wrong. (I don’t think the issue is so black-and-white now, but I did then.) It wouldn’t do any good to berate him about that, though. Instead, I just asked him if he wanted to receive forgiveness. To my great astonishment, he said yes. I led him through a simple prayer to become a Christian. Sadly, I remember very little else, but I know I failed to do much else. I’m sure I got his name, gave him a hug and some encouragement, and sent him on his way.
From a distance of over a decade since, the episode is extremely interesting to me. From an inside perspective, it was abundantly clear that the event was arranged by God. What other possible explanation could there have been for that chain of events that led him to me? Everything had to have an explanation. I feel no need now to give an explanation for how/why it happened. The guy was at a low point in his life, feeling conflicted about his course of action, both in the face of contradictory versions of reality telling him what to do and certainly the emotions of his girlfriend through what must have been a trying situation.
What would I do now in that situation? I suppose I wouldn’t be in that situation in the first place. All the bands who played in those concerts loved music, and we knew that it has a powerful effect on the emotions. It’s amazing, really. If you’ve been to a club or a concert or a church service, you know that people can get “interesting” when the music is pumping. Though it certainly wasn’t with malicious intent, we used the power of music to influence people with a particular message.
If, despite the contingencies, I was in that situation now, I would just listen. If I knew the person, I would make a point to check in withhim again. If not, I would try to connect him to someone local who he would be able to continue to talk with. The difference is the solution. I had one then, I don’t have one now. I could tell him that he’s simply anxious over the dizzying array of choices he must make in this existence that is a constituent part of his humanity, but it would mean little to him. Christianity was a solution for any problem, but it was a solution for me, not necessarily for him.
I wonder what happened to the guy. I’m sure he had a down time, and then he got through it and moved on. Is he still with his girlfriend? Are they married? Does he remember the day like I do? Is he a Christian? Unless he surrounded himself by Christians, it’s unlikely. You have to be trained to communicate with God. I’ll never know.
Conversion (and deconversion) is a complicated thing. The web of social and personal influences, known and unknown, that we are involved in is complex. But is no simple answer that lasts without consistent reinforcement.