Have We Lost the Art of Conversation?

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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.

By Amy Schenkel, US National Director and Great Lakes Regional Mission Leader for Resonate Global Mission

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Excellent approach to outreach and caring.  I have used this approach for many years in other countries as a missionary.  In those countries mass-transit is THE means of transportation for the majority of people.  Great to hear your story.  We all need to learn to break out from our isolation and the shell is getting thicker.  Wayne

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Amy, your experience reminds me of an anecdote I heard a pastor describe in his sermon this past weekend. He was seated in an airport boarding area waiting to depart. The only seat available was next to a young woman who was in the midst of an intense phone conversation with her brother. As he overheard the conversation, he discovered that she was trying to persuade her brother from ending his life. As the conversation ended he heard her call their father, from whom her brother was estranged. She pled with their father to call her brother, explaining that his call might convince her brother to not follow through with his plan to take his own life.

Following that call, the pastor responded to the Holy Spirit's "nudge" to initiate a conversation with the young woman. He said "I am a pastor, and I would like your permission to pray for your brother?" She immediately said yes. He touched her shoulder and offered a simple prayer of intercession for her brother and their family. Following the prayer, she was tearful, yet thankful, to the pastor. Then they went their separate ways.  He never knew what happened to the young women's brother. He not only did the only thing he could do, her did the best thing he could do - leave it in God's hands. God took it from there.

The experience of the pastor reminded me (again!) that I am in circumstances daily of opportunities to initiate conversations with others at times of the Spirit's choosing. Two questions for me are 1) Am I listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit?, and 2) Am I obedient to the Spirit's call at that time - believing that I have been placed there by God for that purpose?

Thank you, Amy, for your experience and reminder that we are placed where we are by God to bring glory to Jesus and possibly even save another's life.