Two weeks ago I participated in an event called “Encounter the Light.” The purpose of “Encounter the Light” was to provide the opportunity for people to have an encounter with the Lord by coming to spend time with him through quiet time, reflection, and prayer. This opportunity was made available because Holy Cross Church in Federal Hill opened their doors on a Saturday night from 9pm – midnight. I heard about this event through ChristLife, the young adult group I am a member of. The idea sounded neat to me and since I like new experiences and the faith I wanted to see what this “Encountering the Light” was all about.
The event was put on through joint collaboration between three Catholic young adult groups: ChristLife, The Catholic Community of South Baltimore, and Frassati. Those of us who volunteered at the event assisted in a variety of ways to create and invite others into a space of peace and prayer. Some volunteers led beautiful reflective music, others greeted those coming into the church, while others stood on the streets nearby the church making the invitation for passerby to stop in the church to light a candle and spend time in the presence of the Lord. The church was around the corner from the area of nightlife activity so pairs of volunteers walked around the nearby streets in an effort to spread the invite to encounter the Lord.
Being that I like people and I like talking, I thought the last option would be a good role for me and I was excited about giving it a go. Some of the young adults who were volunteering had pervious experience in street evangelizing and since this was my first time, luckily I was paired with Zack, a veteran volunteer. As activity in the streets increased I got more excited. My partner and I took a box of candles and headed out.
We walked around the streets of Federal Hill stopping to talk with anyone who was interested in what we had to say. Typically our conversations consisted of introducing ourselves, asking those we were talking to if there was anything they wanted us to pray for, for them, and then inviting them to take a candle and stop by the church to light it and stay in the presence of the Lord as little or long as they would like.
Of all the people we chatted with about 50% stopped to talk and gave us prayer intentions. We asked them if we could pray with them right there and myself or my partner led a simple prayer thanking God, asking Him to bless and provide for their needs. From the people we prayed with about 10% took a candle and went to stop by the church.
This experience was special for me in several ways. I realized that the encounter, stopping and talking with people, is what makes a difference in their life and mine. On a non-faith level, talking with people is a means of exchanging information and ideas that both parties may not have had before. This exchange plants seeds and points the people in the encounter toward directions they might not have previously been going.
The same holds true for any kind of conversation and I believe that planting the seeds of truth by attempting to offer an encounter with the Lord through prayer is one of the most powerful exchanges we can have with others. This experience made me think of all the people in the Bible who encountered Jesus. I looked at the stories in a new light, thinking about how special those moments must have been for the people who talked with him, touched him, or prayed with him.
One group in particular that Zack and I prayed with made an impression on me. We stopped to chat with a group of restaurant workers who were sitting outside their restaurant. It looked like they were on a break from work. We introduced ourselves and asked them if they had any prayer intentions. Right away they got excited and shared that they were Muslim and prayed several times a day. Being that I didn’t know much about Muslims and they didn’t know much about Catholics we shared the treasures of our faiths with each other. The encounter ended in us praying together. We showed them how Catholics make the sign of the cross and they showed us how Muslims cup their hands and lift them up while praying to offer their hearts to God. They took candles and said if they finished cleaning up the restaurant in time they would stop by the church to light them and pray. For me, this part of the night was a beautiful experience of inter-faith sharing. I realized how being willing to share my faith not only blesses those who I might minister to, but they in turn bless me.
This made me think again of those people who encountered Jesus in the gospels. I wonder if he was in turn blessed by the encounter with them. I think that he was.
There were other people we prayed with that touched me as well, the woman who cried when I lead the prayer and said she really needed that, the two guys who said talking with us made them want to go back to church, and the girl who was moving to a new town and appreciated that we stopped to talk to her. All the experiences touched me in a positive way and I think those people were blessed as well.
I was so engaged in what we were doing I wasn’t really keeping track of time, but it didn’t matter because the experience I was having was great.
Along our walk we passed a woman doing psychic readings. Thinking about what she was offering really got me thinking about what we were offering. I realized that if she can be out on the streets at night with her agenda, then I can be out on the streets at night with Jesus’ message. I’m a person who is big into fairness and equality and I suddenly saw evangelizing as part of fairness. Across the board I believe people should be able to have all the information so they can make the best choice from all the options. So, when thinking about this philosophy in regards to beliefs, I began to wonder, how can people chose what to believe in if they don’t know all the choices that are out there?
When I went to church the next day I was thinking about my experiences sharing the faith the night before. I thought of the parable from the Bible (found in Matthew 13:1-9) which describes the different types of soil the seeds get sown on and the different things that happen to the seeds after they are sown. I realize that I want to be the sower. I want to spread the word of God as much and far as I can because I believe it’s the best type of seed to be planting. I can’t control the type of soil it will land on or what will happen to the seed once it’s there, but I can do my part – and God will take care of the rest.
All in all my experience talking and praying with people and inviting them to stop in church and light a candle was wonderful. Participating in this type of sharing the faith opened some new doors for me in ways I can use my talents. My personality lends itself to enjoy talking with all types of people and I realized that sharing the faith can and in my opinion should be enjoyable! I’m grateful for the experiences I had during “Encounter the Light” and I hope for chances like it to share the faith in the future.