“Then we knock on this first door, and it’s this 6'2" black woman. And she outweighs me by one hundred pounds. Well, actually first her son opens the door, and marijuana smoke comes out of the house. Then we say, ‘Hey we’re just walking through the neighborhood and seeing if you need some prayer.’ He was like, ‘Let me go get my mom.’ He didn’t want to talk to these crazy white people at his door. So he goes and gets his mom. So he left us there on the front porch and I was angry, like my attitude was so bad. I did not want to be walking door to door. I'm not Mormon, why are we doing this?
“Then his mom walks to the door, and she just begins to weep. I don’t even get any words out of my mouth and she just starts crying. Like she was just there waiting for someone to walk up to her door and ask her that. She was ready to hear about Jesus and she lived right up our street.”
Paul kind of stops here. He is catching his breath now, and I can see that he is crying a little.
“So, you ask me about some moment, well it was at that moment. We can see that the Holy Spirit had orchestrated all these things, to bring us to this moment. There is nothing that we can do in our power to bring people to Jesus. It’s in his timing. It is going door-to-door on a Saturday, when marijuana smoke is coming out of the house, or it’s at midnight when we’re celebrating Tera’s birthday. It’s about taking advantage of those moments. My attitude was so bad walking up to that door, I didn’t want to be there or doing that, but God still used us.”
Tera is Paul’s wife, and the birthday celebration he is talking about is kind of why I am writing this story. I’m Tyler, and I was baptized at that birthday party. In a bathtub, and at midnight, but we will get to that part later. This is when Tera comes in.
“And what Paul isn’t telling you is that…”
“Oh here we go,” Paul lets out in a playful tone. The two of them both begin to laugh and have a little round of some playful banter. Then Tera starts back in:
“He totally stumbled over all of his words. He was so nervous that the story that he was trying to tell her - the one about a sinful woman who poured perfume on Jesus’ feet - comes out completely wrong. Paul even offered to come back on another day to retell the story. Regardless of all of that she just continued to weep and listen to us. Our words didn’t matter.”
Now Tera takes a pause in a similar way that Paul did. Little tears well up behind her sunglasses, and in her eyes. I can’t see them but I can hear them. She terminates the pause, speaking once more…
“Our words don’t matter-- it doesn’t matter about us. It doesn’t matter what Paul said. The Holy Spirit was working in her and so it didn’t matter what we said. I saw in that moment that all we need is to just be diligent for these moments. All we had to do was say yes to walking up to her door.”
As this conversation is happening I suddenly find myself in a daydream. My mind wanders from the park I am currently sitting at in Riverside back into Denver’s mile-high arms. It’s probably 2:00 a.m. in this memory. I woke up either half-drunk, or wishing I was, to my best friend walking into my room. One half of his face was covered by roadrash, and the over was covered by an oddly serious look. It had been two days since I picked him up from the psych ward. He had a bad reaction to some drugs he took, went nuts, got tackled by some cops and ended up committed. He had a rough couple days. But who hasn’t?
I can’t tell you word for word what proceeded to leave his mouth that night, but I can tell you they weren’t his words. It wasn’t even his voice. He went on about how we were living wrong, how he was going to change. Drugs were bad, and he didn’t want to do them anymore. Then he brought up this name I knew from childhood-- Jesus.
There were multiple levels of rage I felt when I heard that name. Disgust followed right behind the rage, and then hatred rounded out the bunch. His words landed with the subtlety of a car crash, and they felt just as good. I was laying there in my bed refusing to look at him, and wondering how badly he had fried his brain. The speech finished and he walked out of my room. Staring at my ceiling, I replayed what he said all night as I lay awake. A few days later he moved back to California, and a few months later I did the same.
In later conversations with that friend, Luke is his name, he told me that God woke him up that night and told him to come into my room and tell me all that stuff. He was afraid that I would hate him for it, and I did. I would eventually come to my senses, and ultimately Jesus, but it was his actions that first shifted my view toward God. The words escape my memory, but his actions never will.
We all laugh, as Tera wonders aloud if she can say something like that and my attention is pulled back to the conversation.
“He told me he wanted to go overseas full-time, and I told him ‘hell no.’ I struggle with control and I want to control everything. So Paul started to feel the call to go overseas and I just did not want to go. I even sat him down and told him that we have been given good jobs with good income, and we were not going to give that up. We can support people who want to go, but we won't.
“So Paul met with a pastor and he told Paul to just lead me and pray for me, and to see what happens. That’s what he did. For three years Paul was patient with me.”
Tera takes a pause here, I can hear the tears working their way back to her eyes.
“So God started working on my heart. It was a slow start, I read a few books that started to change my heart. Our small group had started supporting workers who had gone overseas. Then I suffered from postpartum depression really badly after we had our second son. I was sitting in church when they rolled out the whole ‘Bharat 100’ idea and my heart broke for all the women in countries where Jesus isn’t known at all. If I felt this way here in America knowing Jesus, how did all those women feel not even knowing Jesus’s name?”
Tera stops here. She searches for her breath, as she audibly starts to cry. The tears she sheds are ones known only to the truly brave. I can feel her emotions in my own chest.
“I knew it then and there. I heard God speak to me, he wanted us to go overseas. I just sat there and cried, I didn’t want to tell Paul. I did not want to go, but I knew God was calling me.”
“She came home and told me, and I was like okay! Let’s go! Let’s go yesterday!” Paul stabs in, visibly still happy about it.
“Of course we navigated it slowly, and Tera and I had a bunch of talks about it before we made our decision known to anyone. But, that was a year and a half ago, and have been moving forward towards the goal of moving overseas ever since.”
Paul goes into more detail about the planning required to go overseas, as I slowly drift back into my memories. This time, I am sitting in a weird little room with only a toilet and myself. Wearing nothing but a swimsuit, I am searching for any morsel of sense to hang onto. I can hear a hymn being sung by the water as it hits the inside of the tub.
This can’t be happening right now.
As the hot water mixed with the cold inside the valves, I sat there and thought. I thought about my past 25 years of being alive and then about the past 25 minutes I had been at this house. I thought about the hot water in my life, and how often I have been found in it. How the cold water of the Arkansas river rolled over my feet. Thoughts of my life charged into the bathtub of my mind. Copper lines carried me back through all the pain caused by “Christian men” from my childhood. My anger was the waterheater. Fear and loneliness were the valves, and they were wide open. I circulated through every thought, and the plumbing in my brain was shaking.
All of these thoughts and memories mixed in my head, and they spewed into a melody of spiritual conflict. Tired of always being on the fence with God, I ran all the reasons why I didn’t want to commit fully to this kind of life. I had one million reasons to not be there. All those reasons, however, could not combat the conversation I just had at a birthday party. A conversation orchestrated by a God who never stops chasing us, and his followers who answer his calls.
I eventually left that room, and stepped into the master bathroom. About twenty adults lined the bathroom’s walls, as the nighttime peeked in through the windows. Awkwardly I sat in the bathtub, with my knees at my ears. We all laughed at the hilarity of it. It isn’t every day you see a 6’4 man baptized in a standard-sized bathtub. Paul prayed and then dunked me. Then we all prayed together. One by one, everyone walked out of the bathroom, and I was left alone to get changed out of the bathing suit I was wearing.
The truth is, I will never be able to accurately describe that night. Better put, I will never be able to accurately describe my gratitude for that night. If Tera and Paul hadn’t formed a habit of saying yes to God and his unpredictable plan, I don’t think I would have ever been baptized. That night was a turning point in my life, and it was made possible by their willing actions. Not only Paul and Tera, but everyone else there who answered God’s call that night. Funny how words cannot come close in describing how loud their actions still speak from that night.
“We were drinking wine,” Tera’s words snap my attention back to the present conversation.
“We were celebrating my birthday, and Tyler had come to help out with serving the guests. The party was over, and we were all drinking some wine together. Then the guys all went outside to the back porch.”
“Yeah, we were smoking cigars.” Paul adds in. “Tyler and I had some conversations about faith a few times before. I had a basic understanding of where he was at with Jesus, and Tera and I had known him for a while. I knew that he was beginning to really think about things. But that night, I just had this feeling like he was going to open up more. So we had this conversation on the porch that night while we were all smoking cigars, and when the conversation ended I asked him if he wanted to get baptized. And he did.”
“Yeah Tyler really opened up to the guys outside. They were all out there talking for a couple hours, and then Paul pops his head in and says, ‘Hey let’s get the bathtub filled up, we’re going to have a baptism.’ So we went and started to fill up the bathtub.”
Tera laughs as she recalls, “And then we had a baptism at midnight while everyone from the party joined in.”
“So yeah, I guess you can say that was pretty crazy,” Paul tosses out as we all erupt in laughter. “It was definitely the first time I’ve baptized someone in a bathtub.”
Amidst the laughter I walk back into my memory once more as I recalled how their actions did not stop after that baptism. In fact, they multiplied. They checked in with me regularly after that night, giving me direction on what to do next. Paul, Tera, and their two boys would come over to the house I rent a room in to teach everyone there. They explained the Bible, and showing a true concern for the lives before us, they sacrificed their time and guided us as we grew. Their actions screamed over the lies, and we were all shown the truth.
A couple weeks after my bathtub baptism, my two roommates were baptized in the pool in our backyard. Like a wildfire licking at the brush, something indescribable began to move. Those roommates began to share their faith with some other friends, and we started a small group in our home. Families and friends began to witness and see that something was happening.
That indescribable, and inexplicable, wildfire continued to rage. It ate every notion I ever had of God in its wake, leaving a charred path of wonder and bewilderment. Those flames burned the box that I had placed God in, and the months that followed my baptism were like a rewiring of my brain, crescendoing with me baptizing my friend Luke.
Yes, that same best friend who walked into my room at 2:00 a.m. back in Denver, wanted to get baptized. And with Tera and Paul’s encouragement, I was the one who got to do it. If I told you that any of this made sense, I would be a liar. In the upside-down, tough-to-describe way that things happen, I got to be the one who baptized my best friend. Funny how actions lead to more, and then lead to more.
“Yeah, that was a year and a half ago that we decided to go overseas, and I guess it’s been about a year since Tyler was baptized.” Again, Tera’s words bring me back out of my memory.
“We just started living in a way of total obedience. I heard somewhere that the brightest lights here, shine the brightest out there. I think Paul and I have just really chosen to cling to that as we go through the process to move. We just realized that there was so much to be done here in Riverside. God just really put it on our hearts to get started sharing the gospel here. We are not perfect, and God knows that. He isn’t looking for perfect people, he is looking for willing people.”
You can see the pride in Paul’s eyes as his wife is saying all that. She stops and Paul jumps right in.
“Yeah man, look at Jesus’s life. He came and made disciples. That’s what it’s about man. In those moments it’s not about my theology, or how well versed I am in it. It’s about saying yes to God. It’s about taking every single moment and deciding to be faithful to God. It’s all about obedience.”
I find my mind back in Denver once more. The sunrises were Godly there. They’d hang like psychedelic hot lava, impressionistic pieces over Denver’s snow capped, rocky and crooked smile. I used to wake up to those paintings every morning, and curse the painter’s name. The fact that even as I cursed his artwork, he was planning on all these people coming into my life to bring me back to him will never be something I’ll understand. Though I cannot make perfect sense of it, I want to be a part of it.
Echoing the obedience that saved my own life, I want to perpetuate that culture of action.
A woman said “hell no,” and did it anyway. A guy walked up to a door he didn’t want to knock on, and knocked on it anyway. Days out of a psych ward, a man had strength enough to speak into his friend’s life, possibly for the last time. All these imperfect people, with imperfect lives, decided to say yes to God’s voice. And those seemingly arbitrary, even bizarre, actions all blended together to save at least one very lost soul. You can’t make this stuff up.
All that I can say is that words only get us halfway there. Actions perpetually define our words. Jesus made himself known in action. In the breaking of bread with imperfect people. So maybe it’s time to get out of our comfortability, and go break some bread with a very, very, hungry world.