by Byron Pellecer, WDC Associate Conference Minister (Texas-Based)
After a long day of traveling, I needed to stop by a grocery store and purchase some food. Right next to the black beans aisle there was Hector, a store employee who was replenishing the shelves. As I reached for a specific brand that this store carries, Guatemalan beans, Hector and I greeted and introduced ourselves.
The young lad noticed that I pulled several cans of beans and then he asked: “What is so special about these beans?” I hesitated for a few seconds but then I shared that it reminded me of both my family and my birth place.
We engaged in a conversation that went on for at least half an hour. He also shared with me about his family and the challenges they were currently facing. After I offered a few words of encouragement, he asked about my religious background and I took that opportunity to briefly share about it.
As I reflected on this experience, I concluded that God will create the conditions for us Christians to share about our faith journey. It seems that God does not just want us to get acquainted with people, he wants us to meet them, and love them too.
Reading Levi’s conversion and discipleship call experience in the account of Luke 5:27-32, one can notice that in his response he does not show any hesitation to follow Jesus. He got up, he left everything immediately and then he followed him. To top it off, Levi threw a get-together party!
Pathak in The Art of Neighboring asserts that “Jesus didn’t tell us to become acquaintances with neighbors; he called us to love them.” However, to be acquainted with another person, one needs to establish some form of connection. After one learns and remembers that person’s name, then one is ready to move into building a relationship. Consequently, learning to love someone does not happen overnight, it takes time.
I believe that loving our neighbors, the persons next to us, starts with having an actual relationship with them regardless of the physical, political, religious, racial and immigration status. This call to love implies concrete actions and it is not a utopia, a Sunday worship speech or a round table discussion, just to name a few.
It is impossible to love someone without establishing a relationship. Let us take Jesus’ example. He attended parties to move from getting acquainted to building relationships with people. It seems to be that getting together is so powerful.
Levi kind of knew this; he invited Jesus and his followers to a house party, to a get together movement, so to speak.
Among the attendees to the party, we find a large crowd of tax collectors, Pharisees, and teachers of the law in addition to Jesus and his followers.
One can only imaging the type of conversations and the friction in this gathering. Perhaps for some people this ambiance was very uncomfortable. After all, they were associating with individuals that looked, lived, and believed differently.
More importantly, is the fact that Levi created the perfect environment for people to interact and connect with Jesus.
As we follow Jesus, we are challenged to be open to connect with people despite the uncomfortable situations that we might find ourselves in. Inviting people to our own turf and terms is not enough. We need to be willing to enter another people’s world too.
In summary, it is in the midst of getting together with other people that we create a good atmosphere for them to become followers of Christ and for a good friendship.