“Share the good news at all times. If necessary, use words.”
—St. Francis of Assisi, paraphrased
Ding-dong. When my friend Beth answered her door one day, she found a pair of earnest Mormon missionaries: young men wishing to chat with her about their religion.
Beth being Beth, she invited her visitors in, listened to what they had to say, and in response shared her “good news” — her beliefs about justice and inclusion; of being responsible for the most vulnerable among us; of countering oppression with love. The point wasn’t to change their minds, and the missionaries must have realized that they weren’t going to change hers. Beth’s intention was to create a moment of connection beyond—or in spite of—opposing beliefs.
At the end of their visit, one of the Mormons asked, “Shall we pray together before we leave?”
"Yes,” said Beth, “I’ll go first.” And so she said a prayer, and then the missionaries said a prayer, and they parted ways.
Days went by; the weather grew oppressively hot. Again one afternoon, Beth heard her doorbell. On her doorstep were the same missionaries, wilting in the harsh sun.
"Can we have some water?” one of them asked.
"Hello?,” replied Beth. “‘I was thirsty and you gave me drink!’* Of course: come in.”
The young men drank their water, thanked her, and left. Beth never saw them again — but those missionaries have never left my mind, because their story forces me to examine my own heart and the way its doors sometimes stay stubbornly closed.
If you or I knew that a stranger was suffering from thirst outside our door, wouldn’t we readily bring them water? But in order to offer that hospitality, we first have to identify ourselves — sometimes in inconvenient or uncomfortable ways — as helpers; as willing to offer kindness or connection to someone we might disagree with.
Of all the doors they’d knocked on, in all the neighborhoods in Beth’s town, a pair of devoted Mormons sought help from Beth not just because she had embodied the religion of kindness, but also because she risked opening her door to them the first time they visited.
I never leave your current, Great Ocean of Mercy and Storm, and so we both know that I could be kinder to strangers, whom I am sometimes tempted to judge. Help me to demonstrate loving kindness to everyone I encounter, for my actions may speak louder than my words.
Rev. Dr. Beth Johnson gave permission for Erika to tell this story.