Recently, I attended training for street evangelization. At the end of the training class, we went out into downtown Austin to put this into practice. This experience reminds me of a middle school dance. It all started with spending the day learning to dance. We went through the mechanics and even tried out a few things under the instructors care. It felt awkward as I stepped out of my comfort zone and tried to put into practice the new steps I was learning. I got up with a friend for a little role play. We thought we had this nailed but found that the reality was quite a bit harder than talking about it. Yes, trying to learn the skills of evangelizing was just as awkward as learning to waltz or two-step. In spite of the awkwardness, I felt some excitement at what we were learning to do. I envisioned myself going out to accomplish great things, even if I was nervous.
The long day of training was now behind us and it was time to head out to the dance. I drove over to downtown Austin and met up with the rest of my class. I was wearing a black suit and felt pretty self-conscious, like my mother had dressed me up. I felt a bit goofy and overdressed. I teamed up with Oscar and Elston, each of us armed with our rosaries and literature. It was time to enter the dance, my two best buddies in tow. We would not separate from each other, somehow gathering strength from being together. If we failed, it would be as a group. And so, all of the little groups headed onto the dance floor of downtown Austin looking for our first dance.
I walked along, cautiously, making eye contact with each stranger that walked by giving them a weak hello. I was paralyzed. I couldn’t get out more than just a, “Hi”. I was terrified walking around with my handful of rosaries. It was middle school all over again, walking by the groups of middle school girls, hoping and praying that one of them would ask me to dance because I just couldn’t. These strangers that I came to evangelize were scary. What would I do?
Oscar came to the rescue. There is always one kid at the dance that is not shy and this was Oscar’s gift. He would boldly walk up to people and ask them for a minute so we could talk to them. Once someone said yes, I would step in and talk, aka dance, with them. I found this part easier. I found that I could dance fairly well. I would ask about them and where God was in their life. I would offer to pray with them. With each person that Oscar would bring to me, my confidence would grow. I was finally able to ask someone to dance. I was finally successful in starting the conversation. It was still scary but it was fun and exhilarating at the same time.
After a while it was getting easier and we even had a few people come up to us and ask us to ‘dance’. Our time was nearing its end and we needed to head back to the Cathedral and we started walking that way. A voice cried out, “Elder, Elder!” Elston got my attention and said that the young man was talking to me. I guess this suit that I thought was a bit too much had been what God used to attract this man to call to me, to cry out for God. I went back and listened to the young man for quite some time. He was clearly tormented by his situation and said he wanted to go home but didn’t know how he could ever return to Kansas. He had to have been homeless for quite some time. He smelled but there was something about him – I need to be there.
He was asking about the rosary and the luminous mysteries. I told him I would be able to give those to him. I then asked him if I could pray with him. He said yes and held out his hands. I held his hands in prayer. He gripped me very tightly wanting to make sure I would not pull away too soon. We prayed together, that God would bring him peace and a clear path home. It was like the last dance of the night. It was a slow one and we gripped each other tightly. He, John, did not want this one to end. The prayer (dance) ended, we let go and said goodbye. It was time for us to leave for today.
But I would be back, there would be another dance and another chance to evangelize. In the days after this experience, I have been reflecting and feeling the urging of the Holy Spirit. I see where great good happened but I also see where more could be done. I want to take the next step, the invitation, inviting people to take that step of deeper faith, inviting them to church so they can enjoy the fullness of the faith offered in the Catholic Church. The Father above longs for all to have a deeper relationship with Him. I can actually be a conduit to bring people closer to Jesus.
Someone came up to me before mass this past weekend and asked if I had a Catholic bible to give to someone. I told them I did not have one with me. I eventually found one, but more importantly, it has prompted me to put together an evangelization kit and keep it in my truck. I can keep Bibles, rosaries, pamphlets and miraculous medals in my truck until the new owners come to get them.