I’m about to tell you a story about something that happened to me last week. And it all started with just one smile…
I had about an hour to go out for a walk before my husband needed to head back to work for the evening. So off I went across the street to do a couple of laps around a football field.
With my headphones plugged-in and my music playing I got into a nice rhythm of fast-walking. Many faces passed me by in the opposite direction. All of us smiling and saying hi as we went. It was a beautiful day. Spring has truly sprung in my little corner of the world and all of us were clearly enjoying this welcome blessing.
Another lady walking in the opposite direction passed me by, I smiled, while walking fast in pace. I noticed the buds on the tree’s ahead of me and the breeze making the branch’s sway, when I heard some talking directly behind me. I quickly pulled out my ear buds and turned around to see the woman I had just passed moments before. She assured me she wasn’t crazy, but had one question for me, “Did you just smile at me?” she said.
“Uhhh, yes.” I said, wondering if this was offensive to her. She was stunned. And her next words floored me. “I am a refugee from Syria and I’ve been living here for a year and half and you are the first person to smile at me.”
What? How could this be?
She went on to tell me that sadly she has experienced some real prejudice since moving here. And as she told me story after terrible story of people judging her for reasons we can only assume to be her accent and head covering, I was embarrassed for my city. But I also felt the sting of my own sin, knowing that I too have judged people based purely on their outer appearance before.
She looked at me dead in the face and with all seriousness said, “But not you. You are different. What makes you different?”
The boldness of her question made me realise that I needed to be bold in my response and tell her the truth. I quickly called on the Holy Spirit to come help me and as she and I began walking together I let her know that I’m a Christian who believes in a God who created all races and has no cultural bounds to His love.
She stopped abruptly in her tracks and told me how amazing our encounter was. She had never spoken to a Protestant before. This made her jubilant. As an astute woman who identifies as being Muslim and is currently working on her Masters in phycology, she told me she has always been fascinated by human behaviour and this was now another opportunity for her to learn.
She went on to praise me for being so remarkably different and she told me she sensed our meeting was meant-to-be, then unloaded beautifully worded compliments on me.
And that is where I needed to stop her. I told her that there really was nothing special about me. And whatever great thing she saw in me was purely Christ. I assured her of my own sin and need for a Savior. Which intrigued her further, so she needed to know more about my beliefs. We walked and talked about the gospel, eternity, and the difference between Catholicism and Christianity. She asked questions and I tried to answer to the best of my ability. I explained to her about grace and judgement. And the whole conversation excited her.
At the end of it all we exchanged phone numbers and spoke about doing dinner together. She said she felt God was with us and that our meeting was all part of His plan. I couldn’t have agreed more.
It was an absolute pleasure talking to her. She is delightful.
And when I got home and was able to think through this divine encounter, I was struck by four important things.
First: The Holy Spirit will come if you ask Him to come – especially in matters of evangelism (Acts 8:26-40). Even though I know this and have felt it before, this experience served as a needed reminder. Normally I am extremely nervous talking to new people and even more so (regrettably) when I am sharing my faith. But this time I was completely calm and cool-headed. It was just lots of fun. And that is only because the Holy Spirit showed up.
Second: My preconceived ideas on evangelism were challenged when I was confronted with a Muslim woman who isn’t as jazzed about grace as you would expect. In fact it was the grace part of our faith that seemed to confuse her most. Judgement was not a problem for her. She absolutely had no trouble accepting the idea of Hell, which could not be more different from the Western culture I live in. But this gave me a better understanding about where she is coming from in her walk of life.
Third: Simply giving her my testimony would not have satisfied her. I did still share with her a bit of my own story which she enjoyed. But what she wanted to know most and with great detail was what I believe. The full gospel. And in order for me to give her satisfying answers I had to know things about other religions also. Which made me realize how important it is for us as Christians to be able to communicate the fullness of our faith and have an answer to the hard questions of Christianity. Simplistic answers would not have sufficed. And really, they shouldn’t.
Fourth: Conversion is not in my hands. When I came home, I was inundated with feelings of failure. I should have said this. Why didn’t I mention that. I am convinced this was Satan’s pathetic attempt at discouraging me. But I quickly remembered 1 Corinthians 3:7, So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. God is in control of what happens next, not me.
I can’t wait to see my new friend again. I sure hope we continue our chats about Jesus. I can’t wait to try her homemade Mediterranean food! But mostly, I desire for her to find true satisfaction in Christ one day, by whatever means the Lord wills.
I sure am grateful that I pulled those ear buds out of my ears and turned around…
…because all of this began with just one simple smile.