Ask anyone from our group and they would tell you that Friday-Monday felt like the longest days ever. As one of our team members put it, “every day is a day.” While this was true, in reality, every day felt like six days. Maybe it was the car ride. Maybe it was being in a different part of the country. Whatever it was had drained all of energy out of us, but by Tuesday, we had recovered–somewhat.
Because we were college students, we thought it would be a fitting idea to prayer walk the campus of NYU. Some of the brightest and wealthiest minds of our generation go to school there. We knew that they needed Jesus just as much as we do. So we went.
Again, we split up into our small groups to cover the campus. My group–notoriously known for addictive coffee drinking habits–stopped at the nearest Starbucks and talked about what our plan was going to be.
Since our previous treasure hunt was a good first step, Brittney encouraged us to take another step in our next outreach. Instead of just praying for people as we walked by, Brittney wanted us to actually initiate a conversation. But, how many times have you tried to have a conversation with a stranger about your faith and you come to the end too quickly? You come to an awkward moment and you do not know what to say next. The Holy Spirit has a way of saving the day–if you let Him–but some of us just need a little bit of help to push through those moments. So, Brittney had an idea.
Most of our outreaches centered around declaring truth or giving encouraging words to others. This was one of the most fulfilling parts of the whole trip. Just to see the look on their face when you tell them that Jesus loves them and telling them that you want to pray for them… it makes everything seem worth it. But, one of the drawbacks is that when you talk to someone your words only carry as much impact as long as that person remembers them. They can have a shelf-life of 10 minutes, 1 hour, or a day. You never know how long a person will hold onto the truth you spoke or how soon they will forget it.
Brittney’s idea was to try and bridge this uncontrollable disconnect. Instead of just talking to someone, we wanted to give them something tangible they could walk away with as a reminder of what God had spoken over them. It was not only that, but it was also a good conversation starter rathe than the cold turkey, “Hey, God wanted me to tell you this…”
My group rallied behind the idea and spent the next 30 to 40 minutes in Starbucks praying and seeking the Lord, asking Him to reveal to us what to write down to give to people.
Some were pointed to Bible verses.
Some were given messages in another language.
Some were given short, encouraging notes.
I was given two things.
The first one was inescapably for a girl. From what I can remember, God just impressed on me to write how much worth He had placed in her. No matter what she had been through–failure, abuse, or pain–God was still there with His arms wide open. He wanted her to know that He loved her regardless of what her past tried to label her as.
The second one dealt with generosity. As I walked throughout New York I noticed just how affluent some of the parts were. God really laid this idea of “You have been given much so that you can give much” on my heart. So I wrote a note talking about how much Jesus had given, and how, in turn, we were supposed to give out of our abundance.
We packed up our stuff and started to walk the NYU campus.
I’ll admit, God showed me the person I was supposed to give the first note to no more than 50 feet outside of the door of Starbucks. I questioned and rationed away the thought and ended up not being obedient. I was actually very let down because of that, but in that same moment I felt a wave of grace. Yes, disobedience is a sin. Yes, I was overcome by the fear of man–what would she say, what would she think, how would she respond? But, God knew my heart and intentions. They were not malicious. He filled the gap that I had in my heart from not obeying. He gave me another chance, because that’s what God does.
He gives us second chances.
And third chances,
and fourth chances,
and fifth chances…
We wandered down to a local park where there were people sitting everywhere, talking, laughing, and just enjoying the New York weather–albeit too cold for my taste. There, we had one from our group drop a note along with a couple dollars into a street musician’s case, one talk to a man who was sitting by himself on a park bench, and another give an encouraging note to a hot dog vendor.
We were 3 for 3 and it was only our first stop! We were feeling a little bit of momentum because you hear the horror stories of outreach where people are shot down left and right or persecuted to no end. But this was not happening to us. We were feeling pretty good.
Then I saw the man I was supposed to give my second note to. He was a business man in a suit and tie rolling a briefcase behind him. He was walking the opposite direction. It was definitely one of those moments where you know you are supposed to do something and you are going to kick yourself if you don’t do it. So I started power-walking after him.
I chased him down, tapped him on the shoulder and asked for a minute of his time. He looked like he was in a hurry, but he stopped. I stammered through something like, “I know this is going to sound crazy…I feel like God told me to give you this…would you mind taking it?”
Like I’ve said before, I’m not evangelist.
Regardless of my fumbling around for the right words, he said yes, thanks and walked on.
It was as simple as that. It also gave me confidence for the next time I would talk to someone. It did not blow up in my face. I did not get rejected. Sure, it was kind of rocky, but God worked through my shortcomings.
We walked on wandering the streets around NYU. I ended up giving out one more for one of our girls to a guy that she felt it was not right for her to give it to him. It was a brief exchange, but I had the opportunity to deconstruct an idea that we had judged him from afar.
All of our encounters were not perfect. In fact, we had a stretch where we were getting turned down left and right. It was deflating for sure, but we did not let it get to us. We just kept walking, praying, and listening, believing God would show us who to talk to next.
Our last stop was the NYU Bookstore. One of the girls in our group wanted to put small strips of paper with Bible verses on them in various books in different places in the bookstore, so when someone was randomly reading one of them they would find that paper. Simple, yet brilliant.
I still had the first note in my pocket. I did not want to hold onto it, because I knew it was not for me. I knew someone else needed to read its words and be encouraged. As I wandered around the bookstore I found a NYU girl’s hoodie on one of the racks and slipped the paper into the hoodie pocket. In God’s sovereignty, the person who buys or–by now–bought that hoodie needed that note.
I am thankful for second chances.
We met back up with our group and ate lunch. Everyone ended up sharing stories about what had happened during the day. The short of it was God put us in places for some divine appointments and to see Him move in our conversations was incredible.
We made a detour to do a little bit of shopping. And by shopping I mean window shopping. Sure, we went into a couple stores, but only a handful of people got anything. We went to a cool department store, but everything in there was too trendy for my taste. So, most of the guys ended up just waiting around until the girls were done.
And by the time that rolled around, most of us were pretty grumpy. After we finally corralled the rest of the group, we made it back to the hostel to pass out for a little while until we left for the evening.
That night we had the opportunity to visit Brooklyn Tabernacle once again. This time for their Tuesday Night Prayer Service.
We met early with their pastor of young adults for him to give us a rundown of what to expect that night as well as meet some of the other collegiate groups that were attending. It was cool to be able to hear the story of Brooklyn Tab and their mission from someone on the inside, rather than just from the pulpit. We also had the opportunity to hear an amazing story from a girl from one of the other groups about how God rescued her from the Middle East. It was amazing to be in the room with other Brothers and Sisters in Christ our age. A sobering reminder that Jesus is a global movement, not just local.
The heart of the Tuesday Night Prayer Service is to intercede, plain and simple. Pastor Cymbala does not measure the growth of the church by who attends on Sunday mornings. Instead, their measuring stick is their Tuesday Night Prayer Service. And if that is the case, believe me, the are busting at the seams. For the 7 PM service, you have to be there no later than 6 PM to get a seat.
To be honest, the flow of the service as not much different than Sunday morning–minus the choir. There was an extended time of worship and a message. The biggest difference was the corporate prayer time we were a part of. If anyone has even been to a Passion event, it reminded me a lot of that. Pastor Cymbala invited each man to find two other men to pray with and each woman to find two other women to pray with. He encouraged us not to be selective but just choose two and start praying. So we did.
To hear everyone lifting up prayers, thanksgiving, and petitions to God at the same time sounded like a holy murmur. Some were whispering. Some were shouting. Some were speaking in English. Some were speaking in languages we never heard. But, the central focus was all the same: Jesus. It was beautiful.
After the service we made a stop at the New York famous pizza joint Grimbaldi’s. While the exterior and location may make you think this place is on its last leg or struggling for business, I would heartily disagree. Probably the best pizza I have ever eaten. It is nothing fancy, but that is the beauty of it. Just bread, cheese, sauce, and meat. Although it may not have been in the best part of town, had the best employees, or best business ethics, I would go back in a heartbeat for more of that pizza. Delicious.
At the end of the day we were all worn out. We had been walking around NYC for the past three days, catching subway cars, and sharing Jesus with those we met. You could definitely tell people were beginning to drag a little bit, but that did not keep a handful of us from staying up to play Bananagrams until 3 AM!
At the end of the day Tuesday I think the word that God hammered home was obedience. We have to be obedient in the little things, because when we do, we begin to build momentum. We begin to start trusting God will come through. So when those moments of defeat come–because they do–we are not brought to a stand still.
That does not just go for what God tells you to do when giving out encouraging notes in NYC. It goes for when you are prompted to pray for someone. It goes for when you are reminded to read your Bible. It goes for when you are living the Christian life daily. It is applicable in NYC, Athens, Atlanta, or any where in between. Obedience is not a suggestion; it is a command.
But we cannot always follow that command. Sometimes our human nature takes over or the fear of man takes over. We become disobedient.
But the beauty of who God is is that no matter how many times we are disobedient, He gives us another chance. We may hold onto the piece of paper until the last minute, but at the moment we choose to let go and do what He has asked us to do, His grace and mercy will flood over all our shortcomings and His sovereignty wins out in the end—despite our mess ups.
That, is a beautiful, reassuring thought.