Fruit Packer Evangelism

This is a story of how God breaks down stereotypes, restores faith in humanity and gives you what you need.

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Recently I had an early flight out from a conference in Portland, OR. I was taking the cities public transit (light rail) to the airport. The stop was an above-ground, outdoor platform across the street from my hotel, which was in a slightly gritty part of town. I found myself at 4:45 am, in this mostly dark and quiet place, at the automated ticketing booth failing to get the machine to print the ticket for me. As I am sitting there waving my credit card around with one hand and clutching my luggage with the other in frustration (an obvious tourist), this young disheveled man comes up from behind me. I was already nervous at being out that early and now my fear meter started going off the charts. I assumed that he was going to mug me. I new I wasn’t being rational so I pretended nothing was wrong

The young man saw thru my ruse, walked right up to me and…. helped me get my ticket. Apparently I don’t speak Portlandese and missed the “print here” button. He was kind and polite and made some joke about how the machine even confused him sometimes. My fear meter dropped significantly, enough so that I could get a good look at him. He had messy dirty hair, dirty clothes, old sneakers but a nice pair of headphones. Now my stereotyping judging side kicked in. I assumed the guy was one of those drug addicted urban campers (as my brother-in-law calls homeless people) and was buttering me up to ask for money. Oh, I like to help people in need just not at 4:45 am in a strange town (very Christian I know).

He started a conversation with me. We talked about Star Wars for a little while. For those of you in the know apparently the newest movie is terrible because it rewrites years of Star Wars lore. Though I liked the movie I pretended to agree with this guy, I really didn’t want to be in the conversation. No request for money ever came by the way. He finally asked what I was doing in Portland. When I told him I was here for a church conference he revealed to me that he was a preachers kid, but not one of the good ones because he had run afoul of the law. This was the first chip in my well-laid wall of protection and separation. A wall I too often find myself behind. I started, well sort of started, to see him as more than the homeless kid/young adult stereotype with which I had labeled him.

We then started talking about the bible. He very excitedly explained to me that dragons were real and proved by the bible as evidenced by the leviathan. It is amazing how fast my walls can go back up. Now I was thinking, not only is this dude homeless, he is several cards shy of a full deck! I hadn’t had the best time the night before and was down on myself because I perceived some of my work to be lower quality than I demand of myself. So, now I was feeling beat up upon, not only do I feel cruddy but I also have to deal with a crazy guy. Thanks God. I was hoping that the train would show up real soon. No luck.

At about this time a second person showed up at the train station. He looked slightly more put together and seemed to know the first guy I was talking to. They ended up introducing themselves and I learned that the first guy I had been talking to was named Jason. Jason began telling us his favorite story in the bible, “Job.” We ended up having a long conversation that lasted onto the train and all the way to their stop. We talked about how power and money corrupts and the true message Jesus was trying to share with the world. This was God’s one two punch to my wall of protection and separation, these guys were speaking my language and my walls crumbled.

Both of these guys were very spiritual and religious. They talked about having to give, in order to receive, but not give in a way that you expect something in return. The second guy talked about how his faith saved him from alcoholism and how he now “focuses on the man upstairs and not money.” We talked about having to live in the world but not be of it. We even discussed gay marriage and both of these guys expressed that they had no right to judge anyone.

It turns out Jason was not a crook, not homeless and not mentally ill. Jason and this other guy were just getting off the graveyard shift from a fruit packing company. They were dirty and tired from work yet they had no problem helping a stranger and sharing their faith and their love for God. The second guy was on his way to church and Jason was at the start of his three-hour commute home.

Upon reflecting on this afterwards I was reminded of the poor widow and her two copper coins. I was so caught up in protecting myself, like the rich only putting money in from their excess, that I almost missed God’s grace unfolding in front of me. I was mired in self-pity and God drew me out of it with an energizing and life giving conversation. I was afraid and God turned that upside down by showing me the kindness of others. I was judgmental and God reminded me of the complexity of every human person. God gave me just what I needed that morning, some good old fruit packer evangelism. Thanks God.

Julien Goulet, Assistant to Communications and Administration, the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Lent Madness Starts Tomorrow

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(Excerpted from the Lent Madness website)

Lent Madness began in 2010 as the brainchild of the Rev. Tim Schenck. In seeking a fun, engaging way for people to learn about the men and women comprising the Church’s Calendar of Saints, Tim came up with this unique Lenten devotion. Combining his love of sports with his passion for the lives of the saints.

Click here to go straight to this year’s bracket.

The format is straightforward: 32 saints are placed into a tournament-like single elimination bracket. Each pairing remains open for a set period of time and Who will win the Golden Halo?people vote for their favorite saint. 16 saints make it to the Round of the Saintly Sixteen; eight advance to the Round of the Elate Eight; four make it to the Faithful Four; two to the Championship; and the winner is awarded the coveted Golden Halo. The first round consists of basic biographical information about each of the 32 saints. Things get a bit more interesting in the subsequent rounds as we offer quotes and quirks, explore legends, and even move into the area of saintly kitsch.

Lent Madness has also inspired thousands of people along the way by forming an online community of people who are passionate about taking their faith but not themselves too seriously. Articles and spots about Lent Madness have appeared in the Washington Post, NPR, Huffington Post, FOXNews, NBC, USAToday, and even Sports Illustrated.

Lent Madness has allowed people to get to know some amazing people who have come before us in the faith and reminds us that there’s no reason for a dreary Lenten discipline. If this helps people connect with the risen Christ during this season of penitence and renewal, and have a bit of fun in the process, then it continues to be worthwhile.

We hope you’ll participate fully this Lent and vote with reckless abandon!

Click here to get started.

‘Enamored With India’ by Nina Palattella

Welcome to the new series where we will hear from Nina Palattella about her experience as a Christian in her senior year of High School.  Nina will write a blog post about once a month over the course of the school year. This is her fifth installment.  Click here to see the others.

316 Hello there and welcome to my fifth blog post! I hope that you all are staying warm and safe. I have now entered into the second semester of my senior year of high school, which is both exciting (that’s so little time!) and excruciating (just get me out of here!) With all of the news coverage about the cold temperatures and heavy snowfall in places, it seems hard to believe that, at about this time last year, I was experiencing drastically different weather as well as a radically different way of life—I was in the midst of a trip to the state of Kerala, India, with my family and eight other parishioners from The Cathedral of St. Paul. That trip was a life-changing experience like no other and the subject of this blog post.

I enjoy traveling, but before this trip I had never visited another continent, let alone a country as seemingly other-worldly as India. I was wary due to the preventative medicines my family had to take for foreign ailments such as dengue fever and malaria, and I was also unsettled by the knowledge that I would have to be alert about things that all my life I had taken for granted—such as not drinking the water and not eating the fruit. The journey to our destination consisted of three flights totaling approximately 20 hours with layovers in three different countries, and, combined with the time difference of plus ten-and-a-half hours, it took almost two days for us to actually get to India. Our trip officially started when we were picked up at the Cochin International Airport, a busy place even at three-thirty in the morning, and taken to a “refreshment center,” which, despite its designation, defied all western expectations of refreshment. It was a small house adjacent to the travel agency office, occupied by a family and possibly other travelers. Though my brother and I were exhausted—I would be awake for forty hours straight—our mother instructed us to keep our shoes on when we laid down on the bed, so sleep was impossible. At one point during our short but hazy stay, a woman walked around and appeared to be counting all of us; we learned that she was determining the number of guests for whom she needed to make food.

389 Despite the frightening introduction, I quickly became enamored with India and all its eccentricities. I took pictures of practically everything I encountered, from a goat that I saw standing in the middle of the street to a tree made of Communist flags, crowned on top with a golden hammer and sickle. I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater and tried many new cuisines, including idli, a Southern Indian dish of rice patties that I ate every day for breakfast and still long for every now and then; however, I was equally delighted to encounter the familiar macaroni and cheese on the menu of a restaurant recommended to our group by our driver, a citizen of the region, who served not just as transportation but also as a saving grace in more than one instance. We visited the Eravikulam National Park and encountered the Nilgiri tahr, an endangered species of sheep whose population is limited to certain areas of the southwestern Ghat Mountains. The dean of my church and his wife, 147who had visited India and this park before, said that they had seen only a few of these animals from a distance on their previous trip, but they walked among us freely. I rode an elephant and hiked to a tea plantation, one of many near our resort in the beautiful mountain city of Munnar. I learned that, in an unfamiliar place, even the mundane activities become exciting; traveling through the city was a stressful and seemingly perilous act, and without the benefit of our driver I guarantee that I would not be here to write this post.

203            Without a doubt, the most spiritually enriching part of our journey was our visit to the St. Paul’s CSI Church of South India; as I have mentioned in previous posts, with the help of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, our sister church in India was able to revitalize their church building, and on this trip we delivered to them a donation to help them build a Sunday school, which is serious business in India. Our group was greeted by a procession of musical instruments, bright colors, decorative umbrellas and a village full of parishioners, all of whom wanted to greet us and thank us for our generosity. The church building was filled with people for the service, which was spoken almost entirely in Malayalum, the predominant language of the state of Kerala. The time of our visit was also that of a local festival; after the service, we had the pleasure of staying for an additional celebration, during which I had the opportunity to drink directly from a coconut. Although I may not have been able to communicate at 206length with many of the people I met, their faith, gratitude and excitement were plainly evident, and I was overjoyed to be present in their company. This is true of people whom I encountered throughout our stay: my brother readily became friends with boys whom he met through a shared love of soccer, and strangers whom we encountered at different places we visited wanted to ask us our names, where we were from, and possibly even invite us to take photos with them. It was their welcoming attitude that made a foreign place seem not so much different than any other place I could call home.

Nina Palattella

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Deep Deep Inside

“Deep, deep inside we finally meet the reality of our need for God and God alone.”

contemplate-694358_1920Where is God? Now I know where we meet; we meet in the heart. But there’s lots of open space in this human heart, so many ways to travel without seemingly finding that reality. I don’t even know what that experience with God would look like, feel like, smell like. Something would probably shift or open inside of me but I don’t know. What I know is the starkness of that place deep, deep inside. What I know is how challenging it is to sit in that space and await God. What I know is the despair of countless hours with seemingly no response. And yet I get up every day and say my prayers and read my Bible and sit in the quiet of God’s Spirit because I’ve tried all the other paths and they simply don’t work. Last night I couldn’t dial the phone numbers quick enough, nor puff on the cigar with more strength if I had wanted to. I knew what the problem was: that empty place in my heart that screams for God was busy eating away at my spirit. Calling friends would have helped a bit, but calling someone who sees me as “special” would be the perfect cocktail of emotional relief. My soul hungered for one person in particular. It made no difference to my starving soul that the relationship in reality and experience offered little grace and life. Projection is a powerful tool in the hands of the tired and lonely. How time and overwhelming hunger help us forget the last time we got the stomach flu with a vow to never eat that food again yet catapults us into the belief that the experience will be different this time. And that little voice that keeps reminding me that things will never be different, let this alone and move on? That’s what fly swatters are for; get out the fly swatter and put that devious voice out of its misery because tonight the darkness invites the belief that all things are possible.  Lord, I pray, help me sit right here with myself, this wonderful and complicated creature you have made, and give me the gift of patient waiting. I’ve gazed upon that reality so many times we’ve become old friends seemingly always sizing each other up in the perpetual challenge for who’s present and who isn’t. I have no argument with the statement above. Only radical agreement and deep yearning and, believe it or not, the wonder of a child! Where is my God?

Canon Al Johnson, Canon for Congregational Vitality and Innovation Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

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