“Don’t ride in cars with people you don’t know. Don’t tell random people where you’re going to be. Don’t talk to strangers.“
These were all protective directives I heard on repeat growing up. They were meant to create personal boundaries that reminded my little 6 year old self to be aware of the world around me and to stay safe. And it worked…when I was 6.
I’m sure this happens to everyone on some level, that the lessons we pick up when we were younger, carry on into adulthood. The lesson I learned was stay alert, stay alive. Don’t say too much because people out in the world are out to do you harm and you must protect yourself against it. So I walked fast and spoke to only those I knew. I became a timid and fearful person who with a gentle smile would get out of awkward situations with strangers in a hurry. To include the following:
The hungry man drinking water at the back of a fast food restaurant.
My lonely schoolmate who just moved into town.
The bruised woman crying at a park bench.
I remember their postures; the brokenness clear as day. But I would never be able to tell you their names. I wouldn’t be able to tell you the color of their eyes, much less the story of their lives. Because in a world where we are too busy protecting ourselves – we miss out on the opportunities to bring healing to those whose hearts need saving.
Almost a year ago I sat at a café next to my co-worker and friend, Lindsey Fischer, founder of the anti-trafficking organization, All Worthy of Love. She spoke with a soon to be AWOL outreach volunteer with such conviction and love about rescuing those entangled in a life that robbed them of their very identity. My heart jumped with excitement as I imagined a woman coming to know Jesus, the lover of her soul, just as I had. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that? Almost immediately, the broken record played in my head. The woman she spoke to had done this before. She had prayed with convicted criminals and shown God’s love to people she met daily. This outreach would require me to ride in a car with people I didn’t know yet. To tell the girls I just met on the streets that I’m going to be here again next week. And most importantly, it would mean I would have to talk to strangers. I looked at them both in awe. Two women, my age – unafraid.
I was given an opportunity to be a part of something huge. But the fear that had strangled me and kept me in a chokehold for years was continuing to hold me back. So I went to God’s word.
“The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
6 The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
7 The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
8 The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.”
This verse is as true for me as it is for the men and women we meet on the streets every week. They need to know that they are seen, that they are not alone, and that they are so worthy of being loved. But they are most likely not going to hear it from someone they already know. They may just need to hear it from a stranger.
Sophie Martinez is an AWOL Outreach volunteer in Austin, TX. She loves God and finds fulfillment in making friends everywhere she goes. She hopes to help others find freedom through a relationship with Christ and with others, just as she has.