I gave myself 30 minutes to shop for groceries at T&T on Halloween afternoon. I stopped for a-steal-of-a-deal mangos and started to snort them to figure out how much sugar was in there. An elderly lady came right by me and asked if "war swour or war me sweemt?" It took me a while before I could understand she was asking if I thought they were sour or sweet. I could tell she was Asian so I spoke to her in Mandarin, but she was quite happy to practice her English on me. Her oversized clothes were dishevelled, her uncombed hair under an old wolly cap and she had gold caps on most of her teeth which aren’t already rotten off.
Her name? Jackie.
When I have conversations with strangers, 9 out of 10 times was because I had initiated it. To be on the receiving end is always a bit surprising, especially since I was counting the minutes before I had to go and meet Myron at our meeting place. But she was determined to have a conversation. She told me she's from China and she began to ask where I was from and how long I've lived here in Canada. She seemed very interested in who I was. One topic led to another and she talked about the sad state of the Canadian government. She belittled their efforts for taking care of the country and BC because there are so many people who are homeless and are taking drugs. She went on to say that she has never voted even though she can. Right away, I got on my You've-got-to-voice-your-vote soapbox.
I took that as a cue to say what I thought about the sad state of politics by saying "I am a Christian and we need to pray for our-" I never got further than that. The next few minutes were probably the longest minutes God held my tongue. Almost rehearsed in her mind were the words that "God doesn't exist, He doesn't love, just look at the state of the world, that (pointing a finger at me) I've been brainwashed, that Jesus has nothing to do with the Chinese because he's a Jewish man, from Israel! Christianity is an ad. It's like all the other religions and so she doesn’t follow any religion.” She had such a long list of things she chose not to believe in and all this while, my brain was mired in "1. How to talk about spiritual things? 2. How to share my 3-minute testimony and 3. How to give her the Gospel and 4. How to invite her into the Kingdom?"
The formulaic way of bringing her closer to Jesus was going in the spiritual shredder! I could not get a word in edgewise. God held my tongue and from the moment I knew I had no choice but to listen, I chose to give up my "proven methods". I became silent inside and it became clearer each time her voice rose the lesson God was teaching me. People were sneaking around us to pinch a mango or five into plastic bags but Jackie was not moving from that spot.
She talked about her cousin who won at every gambling match in the casino in China. He never lost. That's almost like how he would bring home the bacon. I kept thinking that nobody is ever *that* lucky, he'll lose one day, gambling like that! But he died suddenly, at age 27- the ultimate “loss”. She was only a young girl then, but she remembered her aunt went crazy with grief because that was her youngest son, and her favourite. Jackie must've known the the finality of death through her aunt's eyes, and it must have marred her long enough to recall this incident as if it happened yesterday.
You know, God speaks when we are silent before Him and listening to the person He wants us to love into His embrace. I put my arms around her and looked her right in her eyes and I said "you've seen a lot of pain in your life, haven't you?" In that instant, Jackie caved in and tears welled up in her tired, weary eyes. I hadn't seen it before but it was right there, plain as day. "I can see your heart is full of wounds, and you've been carrying these around a long time, haven't you?" She simply wept.
Her silence gave me the opportunity to seek permission to pray because God so clearly wanted me to simply meet the need. What was her need at that moment? She just wanted to be. She smiled weakly and I put my arms around her shoulders and prayed that God will reveal Himself to her, that He would show her how much He loved her. I never said such a short prayer ever, but really, that was all that was needed.
When I opened my eyes, she was smiling wanly. I called her Auntie Jackie and I asked if she could ever imagine me as someone who had lost a husband, a mother and a brother. That my son was only 20 months when his dad died of lung cancer at 35. That was 12 years ago. That was a shock to her and she acknowledged that I too, understood loss and grief. I shared how any ad (she alluded to that before) is not true until you try out the product. In many ways, she's right, Jesus is only an ad. There's no truth to Him or His abilities until you try Him personally. Then I could address her decision to believe that Jesus is culturally non-Chinese and therefore has nothing to do with her. I shared only one Chinese character “Xiang” for “Blessed”, that our ancestors were telling us to look out for God’s lamb and the only lamb I know in any dominant world religion is Jesus. That made her think a little, but then she asked if I was ever sad when my husband died so young. Well, of course I was, not forgetting I was angry too and hurt at the loss of my best friend and the father of my child. Being a Christian doesn't mean I don't feel hurt but it means I have hope, hope to see my husband, my mother and my brother because of their faith in Jesus, and what He did on the cross.
In the twenty minutes we hovered by the mangoes, I felt God saying something to me more than I was saying to Jackie. That Spirit-filled is doing things supernaturally, that having everything somewhat scripted in my mind is good, but it may not be God's best for that person. To be prepared to share the reason for our faith is Biblical, but to be prepared to listen is a supernatural act of the Spirit to humble me before God and man.
Myron finally found me and putting his arms around me said "hi" to Auntie Jackie. Her eyes grew wide at the child I talked about, who now, 12 years later, is saying with his body language "I love my mom. We're close." It's as if, all that I said is now confirmed as true because my son appeared and we're going shopping arms linked together for something quite as ordinary as eggs and milk and there really is a God who takes care of the grieving, the helpless and the lonely.
The mangoes were sour, by the way, but my encounter with Jackie, undeniably sweet.
Humility is the key to God and the key to the human heart.