I went for a walk today, to clear my head, do a bit of geocaching, just generally take a Sabbath. On my way back from the park, hiking UP Goshen Turnpike (if you’ve ever walked it, you know it’s a definite UP), I ran into three young men – African American, late high school. They’re on Spring Break, and were walking – WALKING – from, call it Scotchtown Place to downtown Middletown. Via the scary bridge over 84 (or is it 17?), and the almost-scarier tunnel under the railroad tracks.
But we talked. I told them I was the pastor up here, and they awkwardly quoted some scriptures (well done, lads). They told me about their college ambitions, to go to Syracuse and become corrections officers, and one of them to Texas for another unspecified career. We talked school and cars, weather and food. And we spent a long while walking in uncomfortable silence.
When we passed by the church, they sat on the front steps, and I shared some bottles of water from my larder with them. And we sat, all three of them fiddling with their cell phones, and watched the cars drive by.
I do not believe that multicultural ministry takes a lot. In my experience, at least, it starts and ends with treating people like human beings. I shook hands. I looked them in the eye. I remembered their names. I offered them hospitality, water on a dry, cool day, during a long, hard walk.
And I don’t really think I’ll see any of them, or their parents, make an appearance here again. I don’t really think I’ll make an enormous, world-shattering impact by sharing a bottle of water on the front steps of my church. But I do think I’ll make a tiny, world-shattering impact every time I welcome a stranger (or love a neighbour) in my life. These chance encounters are what make my ministry scary and exhilarating and alarming and wonderful and wild and worth doing. I did not save a soul today. But I pray to God that I made a difference, and that those boys will remember that God loves them. And I pray that they’ll remember that once upon a time, a pastor showed them that.