Recently the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, started a free bus service that runs nearly from my front door straight to downtown. Now all of my excuses for not using public transportation are gone (now it is convenient, consistent, and free!), so I have been making use of it as much as possible. As I have ridden, I have tried to use it as an opportunity to notice the people around me and be open to conversation.
When I ride the bus in the mornings, my co-riders are typically wearing scrubs on their way to work a shift at Butterworth Hospital. At least, I make that educated guess based on what I observe; their earphones and smartphones create an invisible wall between us so that conversation is impossible.
I have found, however, that in the middle of the day, the riders tend to be more aware of the world around them. It was on one of these rides that I met Stephanie, traveling from an Adult Learners Convention at the VanAndel Convention Center back to her apartment, which happens to be close to my house. Our conversation began with her seeking reassurance that she was on the right bus, and I took the opportunity to ask curious questions about her reason for traveling that day. In the course of our 18-minute ride, I learned that she teaches ESL in this final stage of her career. She also asked about my line of work, and we made a connection between the refugees she teaches and the refugees who visit the West Michigan Friendship Center that Resonate Global Mission supports.
These conversations bless me richly, and I observed that Stephanie also felt blessed through it. Someone took notice of her, showed interest in her, and encouraged her as she pursued a challenging vocation. I think that, if Jesus were riding the bus that day, he would have treated her the same way. One practice of Christians who are joining God in mission is to hone the art of conversation. However, when was the last time we struck up a conversation with a stranger, much less our neighbor? What if every person in our churches initiated conversations on a regular basis? What would we learn about where God is working in the world? How would our passion for mission be ignited?
Maybe it is time for the church to see this as an opportunity to help Christians be countercultural as we develop the art of conversation. It may take intentional training to help digitally addicted people to engage with the world around them.
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By Amy Schenkel, US National Director and Great Lakes Regional Mission Leader for Resonate Global Mission