Escaping from within the depths of the Smithsonian’s dark, suffocating interior, my friends and I pour out onto the white-hot sidewalk, our squinting eyes finding shelter in the comfort of our sunglasses. The temperature this fine afternoon is a winning ninety-seven and the sun swelters the five of us as we stroll down the sidewalks of our nation’s capital. Today, I get to take my Pennsylvania friends on a mock-tour of the wonderfully boring District of Columbia. Of course, it doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you’re with friends, so we’ve miraculously found the “tour” interesting and relatively delightful.
Unfortunately, along with the museums, monuments, and other lavish sights of D.C. comes the unavoidable need for food breaks. And in D.C., the food is not cheap.
After wandering aimlessly from one vender to another, from one museum restaurant to the next, I tell Tina, Jo, Su and Shelley of the reasonably-priced cafeteria in the Air & Space Museum. We agree on eating there, and embark on our small journey down the street. But first, we must cross this street and get to the opposite side.
Across we trot, the small, one-way tar trail penetrating the souls of our shoes to warm our feet. Suddenly, we are approached by a strange looking man carrying a number of small books and pamphlets in his arms. The half-bald man wears a loose, Indian robe and upon his goateed mouth stretches an insanely vibrant smile. Immediately, my eyes catch sight of colorful, square smiley face stickers in his hand, and I think, “Cool. Free stickers!”
The man gives us a silly explanation as to why he stopped us, claiming that Jo looked like Cindy Crawford and Su looked like Claudia Shiffer. I was disappointed that he did not find me to resemble Stephanie Seymour. This objection of mine seeped up my throat, but right before the words tumbled over my smiling lips, he begins to describe the New Age group that he belongs to and works for. I casually tune out whatever this guy is saying, knowing full well that New Age thinking conflicts heavily with the Christian worldview and ideas that I believe to be the truth.
Reluctantly and impatiently, I wait for the man to give me a sticker and the opportunity to say “No. I’m not interested.” I know my Pennsylvania friends are extremely hungry, and I have no intention of wasting a minute of the preciously limited time I have with them on this man’s foolishness. All of my friends, except Tina, take the initiative of walking away from the man, leaving myself and Tina with the difficult task of telling the poor guy “No.”
After a few of the man’s pointless praises of his New Age group and repeated attempts to sell us some of his pamphlets, my friend turns to him and tells him that we are born again Christians and that we don’t agree with what his group is teaching. With a quick, surprised step back, the man grins and exclaims, “Christians?! You all look like punk rockers to me!”
Puzzled by the man’s seemingly illogical train of thought, I let out a small chuckle, but my friend responds quickly and sincerely says, “We believe that Jesus Christ gives us a certain liberty to be… ‘punk rockers’…” And with that, the man quickly darts away from us, apparently hostile to the name “Jesus.”
Now, I stand there, benumbed and silent, replaying the still-fresh events of the last couple of minutes in my mind. Tina turns to me and says, “Well, I guess he didn’t want to talk about Jesus…!”
Did he not? I think about what had happened. I think about what the man did. But I also think about what I did, or in this case, didn’t do. I didn’t want to talk about Jesus, either. During the entire encounter, I was looking for an opportunity to disconnect from this guy and get away from him. I didn’t see the perfect opportunity to witness, as my friend did. It never even crossed my mind. …but I know it should have.
As a Christian, it is my duty and obligation to tell as many people as I can about the free gift of salvation that Jesus Christ offers. Christ himself tells every Christian to “go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” I know these words by heart. I even tell other Christians to witness and spread the Good News, because it’s our Christian duty. Yet, this day, it is I who have failed in my duty. For something so important to me, it is hard for me to understand why I did not share the hope within me to a man that did not know the way to Heaven.
My friends and I regroup with our still-hungry stomachs, and resume our pilgrimage down the hot, white D.C. sidewalk. The jokes resume within our little group, and our laughter continues throughout the day. There is no further mention of the man we ran into outside the Smithsonian. And there is no mention of the great shame I felt inside.